Montgomery Gentry Join Writers to Toast “Back When I Knew It All”

ASCAP, BMI Honor Trent Willmon, Phil O'Donnell and Gary Hannan

At any No. 1 party involving Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, the accent is sure to be on “party.” And so it was Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 12) when ASCAP and BMI, the performance rights organizations, staged back-to-back celebrations at their Nashville offices for the writers of the duo’s latest hit, “Back When We Knew It All.”

The songwriters in question were Trent Willmon, a member of ASCAP, and BMI affiliates Gary Hannan and Phil O’Donnell. Montgomery and Gentry attended both events from start to finish — and with obvious enthusiasm.

Crowds overflowed the reception halls at both sites.

At the BMI press conference, Hannan told reporters that he got the idea for the song when he was hanging a picture of himself taken years ago and showing him dressed in his South African Special Forces uniform and sporting a cocky smile.

“That was back when I knew it all,” he said he mused to himself. Soon after, he was on the phone and pitching the angle to O’Donnell. Then they brought in Willmon. Hannan estimated it took them four full days of writing to complete the song.

O’Donnell, who repeatedly proclaimed his Christian beliefs during the celebrations, told ASCAP partygoers, “I was the guy who used to take the Lord’s name in vain [as referred to in the lyrics]. If I can change, anybody can.”

Each writer admitted he had plenty of know-it-all experiences to draw from. But, said Willmon, “The older we get, the more we realize we didn’t have it all figured out in the first place.”

Montgomery remarked, “My kids, they say to me I still think I know it all.”

Once the song was demoed, Hannan played it for Montgomery, who pronounced it a hit on the spot. Originally, the duo thought of recording the song for their Some People Change album but decided they couldn’t fit it in.

Hannan said another artist — one he refused to identify — wanted to cut the song and even promised to release it as a single. However, he and his fellow writers declined the offer because he had committed the song to Montgomery Gentry.

Both singers seemed ecstatic — even poetic — about their continuing successes. (This was their fourth and fastest rising No. 1 single.) “It’s just a great time for Montgomery Gentry,” Gentry rhapsodized. “Our wings have finally come in, our plumage is here.”

He explained that they have switched management companies in search of broader career horizons, and he credited the new managers with getting them into “better places and more places” than they have ever played.

Gentry added that the duo’s tour with Toby Keith offered three hours of solid entertainment and was thus unmatched by shows from any other country artists, save Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban.

Montgomery said some people in his camp were initially skeptical that the blue-collar crowd Montgomery Gentry and Toby Keith appeal to would have the money in these hard financial times to buy tickets to their shows. He said he argued that it was just the opposite: that these were precisely the people most in need and most determined to attend their concerts and blow off steam.

ASCAP’s Connie Bradley, observing that this was Willmon’s first No. 1, presented him a guitar to mark the achievement. Jody Williams, BMI’s vice president of writer and publisher relations, also gave guitars to O’Donnell and Hannan.

After the BMI awards had been handed out, Hannan told the crowd, “Sometimes a song is more than just a song. I want you to meet my dad.”

When his father came on stage, Hannan explained that the past several months had brought the good news of the Montgomery Gentry cut and the bad news that his father had cancer. He said that just about the time the song went No. 1, his father successfully completed his chemotherapy.

View photos from the No. 1 parties.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to