NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Eddie Montgomery is quick to correct the use of the “f” word.
“We call them friends, not fans,” says Montgomery, describing the basic, party-hearty, not-primped-for-media approach that he and Troy Gentry employ when dealing with die-hard enthusiasts.
“Me and T-Roy, we come up through the nightclubs. We didn’t have media training or choreography,” said the hatted half of the rowdy duo, which has embarked on a new endeavor that capitalizes on the attitude and music that ignited Montgomery Gentry’s initial explosion.
The duo’s no-frills approach to delivering the musical truth to their fan base … oops, friend base … has their new label chief, Average Joes President Tom Baldrica, comparing them to the Grateful Dead. He first worked with the honky-tonk homeboys from Kentucky when he was VP of Marketing at Sony; today, he sees Average Joes as a place to nurture the explosive sound that cultivated all those “friends” early in the Sony BMG Nashville days.
Baldrica’s enthusiasm for Montgomery Gentry’s gifts opened the door for them to land squarely on their feet at Average Joes after their Sony deal expired in 2010. The motives were simple: He appreciated and embraced the bar-next-door flavor of their music from the Tattoos & Scars era and its appeal to hardcore fans. He knew the label and duo were teaming at the right place and time for an amped-up plunge into the hearts of a legion of loyal concertgoers, downloaders and CD buyers.
Of course, that plunge had plenty of momentum behind it, established over the duo’s 13-year track record. They’ve released more than 20 charted singles, 14 of them making it into the Top 10, including five that peaked at No. 1: “Back When I Knew It All” (written by Gary Hannan, Phil O’Donnell and Trent Willmon), “If You Ever Stop Loving Me” (Bob DiPiero, Rivers Rutherford and Tom Shapiro), “Lucky Man” (David Cory Lee and Dave Turnbull), “Roll with Me” (Clint Daniels and Tommy Karlas) and “Something to Be Proud Of” (Jeffrey Steele and Chris Wallin).
An array of awards and honors complement these impressive stats. Winner of the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year Award in 2000, the duo was welcomed as members of the Grand Ole Opry in 2009. They’ve also contributed their time and talent to the T.J. Martell Foundation, Camp Horsin’ Around and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee, among many other charities.
The key to success for Montgomery Gentry and their Average Joes debut Rebels on the Run is their keen sense of “fishing where the fish are,” according to Baldrica, while using their songbook’s old familiars and rowdy newcomers as bait. “It’s this notion that everything has to be authentic and radiate from what comes from the stage,” he added, explaining why the new album’s raw-edged sound is truer to the sawdust-and-longnecks ethos of this duo than some of their more recent efforts.”
This music does evoke the world that Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry knew back in Lancaster and Lexington, Ky., respectively. The opening lines of “Damn Right I Am” (Michael Dulaney, Neil Thrasher and Jimmy Yeary), set over a pulsing root note that suggests a storm about to break, proclaim the patriotism, pride and defiance that are fundamental to the duo and their audience.
The same values animate “Where I Come From” (Rodney Clawson and Dallas Davidson), an affirmation of small-town living — and a jab at those who are too quick to judge it. The fine art of partying full speed and all night long is celebrated on “Ain’t No Law Against That” (Ira Dean, Eddie Montgomery and David Lee Murphy) with a foot-stomp beat that harks back to their earlier catalog; the same theme surfaces with a political spin and a shout-along chorus on “Work Hard, Play Harder” (Jim Collins, Troy Gentry and Rivers Rutherford).
All of these qualities are fundamental to Montgomery Gentry’s live shows.
“If you are legitimate and authentic on the stage, people will come back and be your friends,” Baldrica insisted. “They will buy the records. They will post them on Facebook. We felt that this was where the world is going, for both the good and the bad.”
And here we zoom in on Baldrica’s Grateful Dead reference. The rapid-fire communications of our time, the online word of mouth that draws “friends” to repeated shows and to purchase whole albums rather than just single downloads owes a huge debt to the model pioneered by the psychedelic icons and their “Deadhead” following. From a marketing perspective, he pointed out, “if you think about it, they’re doing it like the Grateful Dead. Remember, the Grateful Dead went from town to town, meeting people. They wanted people to record their concerts. It’s like file-sharing now, and there’s a lot of that going on.”
The comparison “applies to Montgomery Gentry in the sense that they go out and play for the people,” Baldrica continued. “The Dead found those towns, built their own groove. They were close with those folks. Those fans were friends. I think the idea of having that direct relationship with fans who knew you and knew your point of view helped, because those people were able to tell other people.”
Montgomery emphasizes the importance of that relationship with the folks who have loyally followed them down the sometimes long and lonesome highway. “We’ll be sitting in a nightclub and hear one of our songs cranking up (on the sound system), and we’ll look over and we’ll get a wave from friends — we don’t call them fans,” he said. “It’s the coolest thing in the world, you know. It’s working-class people living life — living the American Dream.”
Both members of the duo note that “Rebels on the Run” is much closer to the Montgomery Gentry flavor of their breakthrough hit “Hillbilly Shoes” (written by Mike Geiger, Woody Mullis and Bobby Lynn Taylor) than to the later albums issued by Sony. Neither harbors ill will toward their former label.
“There are a lot of geniuses there and at other mainstream labels on Music Row,” Montgomery said.
“We can’t say enough good things about Sony and what they have done for the career of Montgomery Gentry over the years,” added Gentry. “We were lucky enough to survive four different presidents over there.”
Still, they admit to feeling liberated by the lower profile and small-label feel at Average Joes.
“I’m not afraid to say it: I didn’t like some of the later music we did. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t the kind of songs me and T grew up on,” said Montgomery, who went so far as to describe much of their mid-career music as “politically correct. If I’d played that music to a friend, he’d listen to it and whup my ass” because it wasn’t true to who they are.
“The more hands that got in the pot twisted the sound of Montgomery Gentry a little bit in the last few years,” Gentry elaborated. “We had been around long enough that we had established the Montgomery Gentry name, our brand, our sound. We were getting lost in the shuffle.”
The “mutual parting of the ways,” as Gentry put it, opened the door for the boys to go back to “our brand.” “Average Joes told us to go in there and make a Montgomery Gentry record,” said Gentry.
That’s just what they did. “
Average Joes is like the record business used to be,” Montgomery said. “They aren’t scared. They aren’t reading no trend — they’re setting it. It’s more of a feeling that we’re all in this together.”
“They said that the company is all about artists being themselves, letting everybody do their own thing,” Gentry observed.
Baldrica confirms that the label asked for the real deal, the stuff Montgomery Gentry honed on the honky-tonk circuit long before launching into the big time.
“I think from a musical standpoint, Montgomery Gentry is very much what Average Joes is: a little bit of a hell-raising rebel,” he mused.
“They’ve come out on the other side with a renewed energy. That energy reflects in the music. Nobody does what they do. There is nobody in this format that takes the space they have: Hell-raising, proud of where you come from.”
Baldrica expects “great things” to happen as “Eddie and T-Roy” take their new satchel of tunes to stages large and small.
“We believe they can draw their fans,” he insisted. “And if they draw fans, we can sell music, the club can sell beer and the band can sell merchandise.”
The cash registers are already ringing, as they hit the road in January in a novel tour that features Montgomery Gentry onstage and an all-star lineup of bull riders and huge, angry bulls, courtesy of The Professional Championship Bullriders.
“It’s like a rebirth of Montgomery Gentry,” said Gentry.
“Welcome back, boys,” said Baldrica. “It’s good to have Montgomery Gentry back.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Eddie Montgomery is quick to correct the use of the “f” word.
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