Don’t worry, Troy Gentry knows you call him “the guy without the hat.”
As the hatless half of the country music duo Montgomery Gentry, he said the name has caused a fair bit of confusion to fans who didn’t realize it is derived from their last names.
“I get called the guy without the hat a lot,” Gentry said with a laugh from the road in Minnesota. “And you’d be surprised how many people still think Montgomery Gentry is one person. Especially back in the early days when we first came out, I’d come out of the bus and someone would say to me, ‘Is Montgomery Gentry up there?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, he sure is.’ ”
Gentry and his hat-wearing partner, Eddie Montgomery, have been tearing up the country charts since they burst on the scene in 1999. Since then, the pair has been nominated for a Grammy, taken home American Music Awards, Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music honors and been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. The Kentucky duo has scored 14 Top 10 hits, including five Billboard country chart toppers with “Something to be Proud Of,” “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Lucky Man,” “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me.”
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Still, it has been three years since the pair released any new music. But now the wait is over as Montgomery Gentry unveiled its newest single, “Headlights,” last week. The rollicking single extols the fun of taking “shotguns, girlfriends, coolers full of Coke cans” to the riverside for an all-night party.
“We’re all about tempo. ‘Headlights’ is just one of those catchy songs,” Gentry said. “Musically, it catches you. Eddie and I have been known in the past for bringing the party to town. This song literally talks about everyone going down to the river to party.”
The single is also the duo’s first with its new label, the independent Blaster Records, which is also home to Hank Williams Jr. and fellow country duo Brother Trouble. Gentry said it was the switch from his and Montgomery’s previous indie label, Average Joes Entertainment, to their current home that caused the delay in new music. But after years spent signed to the major label Columbia Nashville, he said, smaller companies are now a better fit.
“It has been going great with them. A lot of the guys at Blaster we met in the past at other record labels,” Gentry said. “One of the advantages of going to Blaster is because it is small, you get a lot of the focus and the attention. With the majors, they have so many different artists assigned to them, people’s workloads get thinned out. The (smaller labels) are able to do more for you.”
Since coming onto the music scene 15 years ago, Gentry said, a lot has changed in the industry. The rise of digital downloads and the proliferation of social media have transformed the way acts like Montgomery Gentry promote themselves. “Headlights” debuted online exclusively at Yahoo! Music. He said bands that want to sustain their success have to change with the times.
“The biggest change is just the media avenues. Going from CD to Mp3 to selling albums to single downloads. There is Twitter and Facebook, all the different outlets to get your name and music out to people,” he said. “That’s helpful to acts like us who have been around for a while, but also to newer acts. So many acts are doing well off of YouTube. It’s all different.”
But the basics like touring and playing live still remain the same, and as important as ever. He said with all the complexities of the music industry today, touring can be an artist’s lifeblood.
“I think it’s important for everybody. For us, the touring is the majority of the income – between touring and merchandising,” he said. “And, really, what brought Eddie and I to the game is performing live. We played in clubs for years before getting national attention and playing on this level. The fans who come to hear this music, they are the reasons we’re able to continue to play on these grand levels.”
Gentry said the group wants to give fans more of the blue-collar, Southern rock-tinged songs they have come to expect from Montgomery Gentry over the years. The pair’s new album will come out toward the end of the year.
“I’d like to say they’re getting the same Montgomery Gentry music, but with a fresher sound,” he said. “It’s new and improved. Every time Eddie and I go into the studio, we try to make it better than the last project.”