Opinion: Montgomery Gentry Needs to Carry On, and This Is How to Do It
Montgomery Gentry have a future without Troy Gentry. While the 50-year-old was vital to the success of the duo, Eddie Montgomery can carry on his legacy without him. In fact, he probably should.
In no way should anyone understate Gentry’s importance to Montgomery Gentry or country music as a whole. The duo were icons for the better part of a decade. Songs like “My Town” and “Gone” resonate in the same way today as they did upon their releases in 2002 and 2004. But this band was Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry in name only — moving forward the group (including their band, crew, families and favorite co-writers) need to carry on.
There’s precedent, especially if you turn to rock music. Van Halen has shuffled through lead singers and gone without original bassist Michael Anthony. At various times you can catch two different versions of Bad Company on the road. The Allman Brothers Band lost a brother in a motorcycle accident in 1971, but toured for more than four decades with only Gregg and company. Queen has toured with everyone short of your fifth grade music teacher at this point, but she probably had to decline on account of the looming holiday recital.
Recently Alabama announced they’d carry on without Jeff Cook during live shows, as he’s battling Parkinson’s disease. That’s a devastating loss for one of country’s all-time great live bands, but they carry on. Who amongst us is really irreplaceable? We replace Batman, Spiderman, athletes and sports franchises. We replace our president every four or eight years. Even the Pope has a term limit, albeit a God-given one. America and Catholicism carry on because the heart and soul of both are the doctrines, morals and values written down over centuries, the “songs” if you will.
No, it will not be the same, but Montgomery Gentry fans will still show up for the songs. At first nostalgia and a sense of owing one to T-Roy will be enough to pack the house. Years from now Montgomery and his band may need to retire to smaller venues or play fewer shows each year, but that was going to happen anyway. Few 50-year-old men pack arenas and amphitheaters. Even fewer want to.
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It’s unlikely songs from the upcoming Montgomery Gentry album (finished before Gentry’s Sept. 8 death) will crack the radio Top 40, and it’s less likely anything without him will stand a chance. This says nothing about the quality of those songs. The men resigned themselves to life with little airplay by signing with Average Joes Entertainment, a record label that doesn’t put a premium on radio. That’s not a reason to quit making new music, however. Gentry’s death has brought a resurgence of their hits and hopefully a few stick around, because songs like “Something to Be Proud” of are needed now more than ever.
There’s another more practical reason to consider why Montgomery Gentry may choose to carry on without Gentry: They might need to. In addition to the duo’s namesakes, there is a band and crew who depend on that paycheck. It’s also fair to wonder abut Montgomery’s own needs moving forward. He hasn’t been a prolific songwriter, and the duo’s music isn’t so omnipresent that he can rest on royalties. He also went through a divorce, cancer and bankruptcy. It’s possible Eddie was smart early on is taken care of for life, but let’s not assume. Like so many musicians, he might need the work for financial reasons, or because it’s good for his mental health. How often have you heard an artist say getting back to work starts the healing process?
As for the “how?” The immediate answer to get Montgomery Gentry back on the road would be to ask any number of longtime friends to take the stage with Montgomery. Someone like Ira Dean comes to mind, or maybe a ’90s hitmaker with a clear concert calendar. Jeffery Steele wrote half their hits and has stage savvy. He’d be a great fill-in.
From there it’d be smart to lock down a permanent solution and move forward, acknowledging Gentry’s loss each night while giving fans the soul-brushing party they look for. The music is bigger than the men who sang the songs. Montgomery Gentry isn’t Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry. It’s “Speed” and the chorus of “Hell Yeah.” It’s the opening guitar riff to “If You Ever Stop Loving Me” and Eddie working your favorite sports team’s name into “Lucky Man.” It’s the pragmatism of “Where I Come From” and the rugged romanticism of “She Couldn’t Change Me.” It’s the Jim Beam and the fans screaming these songs back at the stage on Saturday night. Gentry left us with these gifts, and it’d be rude to let dust settle on top of them.
Several weeks ago songwriter Westin Davis gently compared singer Kip Moore to Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a plane crash in 1977. His point was not related to Troy Gentry at all, but still it resonates.
“They could have taken six other guys and still been Skynyrd, because of Ronnie Van Zant,” he said in an effort to show how Moore made everyone around him better. “He was the mastermind behind that whole thing.”
The “mastermind” died 40 years ago next month, but if you want, you can go see Lynyrd Skynyrd this weekend. In fact, they have three shows along the east coast. They carried on, and so to should Montgomery Gentry.
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