Last month, Montgomery Gentry — known for its edgier, hard-charging country sound — was inducted into the famed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
"It hasn't really sunk in," Troy Gentry says. "It's pretty nice to be a part of the Opry. When we came to town, that was one of our goals."
Gentry and musical partner Eddie Montgomery came up in the club scene in Lexington in the '80s.
"Kentucky has a lot of history in country music," Gentry says. "When Marty Stuart inducted us, it kinda reminded us of all the great talent: Ralph Stanley, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Loretta" Lynn.
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One of Gentry's first performances in public was in Lexington at the Austin City Saloon with the Greg Austin Band (a band I was a member of for four years). Gentry's then-girlfriend coaxed Austin into letting her boyfriend sing a song with the band, and he did a capable job on the Georgia Satellites' Keep Your Hands to Yourself.
Gentry became a fixture of the local music scene. He eventually met Montgomery, who played drums with another Austin City Saloon regular — his brother John Michael Montgomery. (John Michael would later get a record deal on Atlantic and has since sold 15 million CDs.)
For a time, the three were known as Early Tymz, then Young Country. Eventually, Eddie and Troy struck out on their own to form Montgomery Gentry and secured a deal with Columbia Records in 1999. They have since released six albums.
With songs like Hillbilly Shoes, Tattoos and Scars, Trying to Survive and Daddy Won't Sell the Farm, the guys in Montgomery Gentry weren't your typical clean-cut country boys next door with the big hats and fake smiles. They were rowdy, rebel rednecks, and fans found their realism refreshing.
"We're being very genuine about ourselves," Gentry says. "We're not candy-coated in any way."
Unlike other acts that are assembled by managers or labels, Montgomery and Gentry were friends first — and it shows.
"Eddie and I developed our unique brand back home in Kentucky and took it and sold it to Nashville, (rather) than being formed or put together. We brought something new, a little more edgier, up-tempo, breath of fresh air."
They didn't just write for blue-collar America; that's what they were.
"The songs that we sing and put out, all of America and working-class people can identify with," Gentry says. "Our stuff is about everyday life, the ups and downs, the hard knocks and the things the average person could identify with and put themselves into the story, and into the songs."
That sense of identification has given them a strong sense of character.
"We were already set in who we were and what we wanted to do," Gentry says. "Nobody had to push us into a direction or format; we were just who we were and the label let us just be us."
Gentry says his success isn't just about fans connecting with him, but also about him connecting with his heroes.
"One of my dreams was to be able to hunt or fish with Hank Williams Jr.," Gentry says. "A few years back, I did, in Paris, Tennessee." He also recorded a song with Waylon Jennings.
Success notwithstanding, Gentry has a place in his heart for the old days.
"The best part," he said, "is doing the live shows, especially the smaller venues. That brings me back to the club days."