June 24, 2009 — Celebrating 10 years since first appearing on the national charts, Montgomery Gentry joined the Grand Ole Opry Tuesday night with what's likely the edgiest sound to ever commemorate a membership ceremony in the radio show's 83 years.
Immediately after joining the hallowed cast, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry launched into "Hillbilly Shoes," their initial 1999 hit, with buzzing power chords and a blistering guitar riff, adding second-generation Southern rock to the wide musical net that represents the Opry. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives bolstered the sound, which included six electric and acoustic guitars as well as a steel, the kind of power more associated with arena rockers such as Lynyrd Skynyrd than with Opry stalwarts such as Jim Ed Brown or Jeannie Seely.
Every generation of country folds in outside influences, and Montgomery Gentry has — as overtly as any act in the genre — managed to blend the sound and fury of the duo's teen years with the classic honky-tonk music that fellow Opry member Alan Jackson continues to ply. The duo was aware of the change it stood for, particularly since Troy spent part of Tuesday afternoon boning up on his Opry history on his laptop.
"It wasn't 'til the '80s where the big transition of music between the traditional country music and the new wave of what was coming to town, it started to swing through the Opry," Troy told reporters before their induction took place. "I think we're part of that transition. One of the things I love about the Opry is the tradition of the Opry and the traditional music and the way it's embracing the new curve, and I think the way music is going these days, it's going to continue to curve, and that's the great thing about the Opry, that it has no boundaries. It keeps embracing what's coming ahead, and I hope that [just] as we look back on the people that influenced us as part of the Opry, that we will be a part of the group of that decade that future country artists will look back and embrace as well."
The scope of the Opry was well-represented during their induction show. Marty threaded rockabilly into "Hillbilly Rock" and pure honky-tonk into "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'." The Del McCoury Band offered a handful of bluegrass songs, and Jimmy C. Newman threw some Cajun into the mix. Perhaps telling even more about the Opry's embrace of non-country sounds, Jimmy C. delivered his 1957 hit "A Fallen Star," marked by the piano triplets that marked the doo-wop of that era.
Marty and Little Jimmy Dickens jointly inducted the duo, stamping their approval on Troy and Eddie. Marty — whose music is steeped in country, rock, gospel and the blues — is the ultimate Opry genre-buster. Little Jimmy, at age 88, is the only remaining Opry star whose membership extends to the era in which Hank Williams was a member.
"I know these two men here on stage and off stage," Little Jimmy told the Opry House audience. "I find them to be gentlemen in every respect."
"Welcome," he told the duo, "to our family of entertainers. We're delighted to have you."
Montgomery Gentry received a 14-inch trophy that replicates a microphone from WSM Radio, which has broadcast the show since its inception in 1925. The duo and the presenters — including Opry General Manager Pete Fisher — fanned around a circle of wood in the stage taken from the Ryman Auditorium, a section of flooring on which the likes of Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Hank and Patsy Cline stood long ago.
"Your legacy stands right here," Marty said. "This is a big part of Montgomery Gentry's legacy. This is the ultimat e fraternity to be part of, and the closer you get to the heart, soul and spirit of country music in this circle, it is the Mother Church of Country Music."
Marty ticked off the names of other Kentucky-bred performers who've preceded the duo in the Opry: Loretta Lynn, Patty Loveless, Bill Monroe, John Conlee, comedian Stringbean, Skeeter Davis, Grandpa Jones.
"The legacy is mighty," Marty told them, "and you guys have that same legacy."
Montgomery Gentry might be doing the music a little differently than their stylistic ancestors, but they had the same sense of pride in their induction. Eddie wiped back tears as he recalled sitting in "an old junky station wagon" with his father, listening to the Opry on a static-riddled AM radio. His dad told him that no matter what a person accomplished in country music, they hadn't really made it until they became an Opry member.
"My daddy loved what it stood for and what it's about," Eddie said. Then he looked toward the ceiling and clutched the Opry trophy even tighter. "Oh, my gosh. Dad, we made it!"