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Published: Sunday, 8/1/2004

Montgomery Gentry full of energy, passion

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FORT LORAMIE, Ohio - The energy needs to be released. He's just not always sure how to release it, so Eddie Montgomery prowls the stage, microphone stand in hand, and jumps. And dances. And spins that microphone stand to the point where you're sure the microphone will go spinning off into the crowd.

And sometimes Eddie just cries. The big man in the long black coat, black cowboy hat, and black leather pants chokes back tears when he talks about the United States and the men and women defending it.

At his side is his longtime buddy Troy, who's been there since those beginning days in Lexington, Ky. Troy Gentry doesn't jump, but he dances, and he runs, usually to the opposite end of the stage from Eddie, carefully sidestepping the spinning microphone as he passes by.

There is so much energy and so much passion. This is Montgomery Gentry, and they love life.

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It's about six hours before showtime when Eddie Montgomery comes streaking by in a golf cart, returning from the campgrounds at this year's Country Concert in southwestern Ohio.

"Man, they're already rockin'. They've got moonshine over there," he says with a laugh.

When Montgomery laughs, it's not a simple laugh, it's a throw-back-the-head laugh.

He's wearing sunglasses plopped atop his head and an Atlanta Braves jersey. A Jim Beam welcome mat is in front of the door of the bus as he climbs aboard and immediately lights up a cigarette.

Troy Gentry is nowhere to be seen. Longtime road manager Robin Majors apologizes.

"He went back to lay by the hotel pool. He wasn't looking too good this morning. He's got what we call the Montgomery Gentry flu," he says with a knowing smile.

That's code, of course, for a hangover. The night before turned into an early morning at a bar in Lansing. Somehow or another, the party usually finds Montgomery Gentry. Most of the time it's aboard the Jim Beam bus, which is the second bus for the band members. It is adorned with a large picture of a Jim Beam bottle. The bus has attained almost legendary status among country music fans for the large, raucous parties it hosts nightly after the group's shows.

In the crowd that was building for the night's show, Kreg Dodge of Arlington, Ohio, gushed about his meeting two years ago with Eddie and Troy.

"They came by on four-wheelers. I asked them where the party was going to be, and they said to come on over later to the bus," he says.

Montgomery chuckles when he hears that story.

"We don't call them fans. We call them our friends. We've been very, very lucky to have a lot of friends," he says.

Music and friends have always been a part of Montgomery Gentry. They met 17 years ago at the Austin City Saloon in Lexington, Ky. The bar owner asked Eddie, his brother John Michael, and Troy to put a band together. They played five nights a week and made $175 apiece.

Sometimes they owed the bar money after buying drinks for their family and friends.

"We were friends before any of this ever started," Eddie says. "I probably shouldn't say this, but we probably know each other better than our wives know us. We're together on the road about 300 days a year. We've gotten each other out of jail. We've been in trouble together, gotten out of trouble together."

After Eddie's father died from cancer in 1994, Eddie and Troy decided to take a chance on Nashville. Three years later, they signed a deal with Sony's Columbia Records.

As far as duos go, they have been the only rivals for Brooks & Dunn. Montgomery Gentry was named the Country Music Association's Duo of the Year in 2000, breaking a string of eight years in a row that Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn held the award. They've churned out hit after hit, including "Cold One Coming On," "My Town," "Hell Yeah," and "She Couldn't Change Me," but until recently, they had never hit No. 1 with a single.

In June, "If You Ever Stop Loving Me," the first single off their current album, "You Do Your Thing," reached the top of the charts.

"I'll tell you what, when I got that phone call at 8 or 9 in the morning [telling us we were No. 1], I was on Cloud 9. Now we've got to step it up, I guess," Montgomery says with a chuckle. "We've been so lucky with all the friends we have. We've sold over 3 million albums, but we'd never had a No. 1, but all those people bought those tickets to come out and see us. We've got to thank those people for covering our [backsides]."

The new album achieved gold status in weeks, meaning sales of more than 500,000 copies. The second single, the title track, is climbing the charts. The album is an oddity in Nashville. It has four producers - Blake Chancey, Rivers Rutherford, Joe Scaife, and Jeffrey Steele. Rutherford wrote the duo's No. 1 hit.

"This is the best work we've ever done," Montgomery says. "Not many albums have four producers, but these are unbelievable songwriters that can produce. What can be better than having the guys who wrote the stuff produce it?" He's proud of the everyday-Joe situations the duo sings about, but the stage show is what defines Montgomery Gentry. The passion and enthusiasm is unbridled and never rehearsed.

"Me and T-roy, we always pull it off the cuff. When we hit the stage, anything can happen, and it usually does," Montgomery says.

"If you're not having fun, you need to go home. The day we quit having fun is the day me and T-roy will pack it up."

At each show, bright pink tape marks the end of the stage so Montgomery doesn't go plummeting into the crowd. Long ago, they learned they also had to duct tape the microphone to the stand. This year's stage set puts the band members back, out of reach of Montgomery's spinning microphone.

"My dad was the greatest entertainer there ever was. My mom and dad played the honky-tonks. In the honky-tonks, if you don't entertain, you don't have a job for long," Montgomery says of the days growing up with John Michael [a Warner Brothers recording artist].

"We joke that mom was the drummer, dad was the guitar player, and the bartenders were our baby-sitters."

With one more puff on a cigarette, Montgomery gets off the bus. Pushing his sunglasses into place, he says with a smile, "I think I'm going out in the crowd to see what's going on."

Montgomery Gentry will be performing at the Monroe County Fair tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the fairgrounds in Monroe. Tickets are $40 for reserved chair seating, $30 for reserved grandstand seating, or $25 for general admission. They can be ordered by credit card at (734) 241-2702 or purchased at the fairgrounds in Monroe at the corner of M-50 (South Custer) and Raisinville Road.

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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