John Michael Montgomery is a morning person. He called promptly at 8:30 a.m.
“I get up early,” the singer said. “I hate wasting sunshine.”
He’s got a lot to do.
“Today I’m going to be working on my lawnmower, getting the blades sharpened,” he said from his Kentucky home. “I’m one of those kinds of guys; I just like to get out and do things. I can’t sit around the house. I like to be piddlin’, doing something.”
Like putting together a new disc.
“I’ve been working on a documentary-style live album,” he said. “I’ve made live recordings of shows on and off for probably the last decade. And I decided to take some of those songs from those live shows and tell a little story about each song — how I ended up with the song, where it came from and how it ended up getting recorded.”
The man has a lot of songs that topped the country charts: “Be My Baby Tonight,” “If You’ve Got Love,” “I Can Love You Like That,” “The Little Girl.”
Montgomery shared what he called the best story on the disc: “I just came off my first album [‘Life’s a Dance’], which was hugely successful. I didn’t expect it to be that successful, you know, because I’m just an old farm boy from Kentucky. I was just hoping and praying I’d make the Top 40 with something and I’d be tickled to death.
“So ‘I Love the Way You Love Me’ was out, and it was on the first album, and it was going to be No. 1 on the weekend I hooked up with [songwriter] Frank Myers,” Montgomery said.
“We were sitting around and writing here and there. And Bob Kingsley came on the Top 40 American Country Countdown, and he got all the way to No. 1, and this was what I was waiting for my whole life: Bob Kingsley to say my name on the radio as having the No. 1 record. So after he did, I looked at Frank Myers, and I said, ‘I’m not going to be any good the rest of the night.’ I was like, I can’t believe Bob Kingsley just told the whole world that John Michael Montgomery has the No. 1 song on the American Country Countdown.
“So Frank looked at me and said, ‘I totally understand, but I’ve got this song on me that I wrote several years ago, and I’m not with this publishing company anymore and they don’t ever push it, so I have to pitch it myself. And I just want you to take some time and listen to it, see what you think. I think it’s really a big hit.’ It had been on hold by several artists — Alabama, I think, was one of the groups that had it on hold — but it just never did get cut and it ended up falling through the cracks of Nashville. And he was the only one trying to push this song because he believed in it so much.
“The song was ‘I Swear,’ and I put it in the little cassette player we had there and played the song and looked at him and said, ‘That’s a beautiful song.’ I loved the song and ended up cutting it and the rest is history. I thought ‘I Love the Way You Love Me’ was going to be the biggest song I’d ever have; I thought that was going to be my signature song. And then ‘I Swear’ came out and took it to another level.”
“I Swear” was Billboard’s No. 1 country song for 1994. The baritone also chalked up the top song for 1995 with “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).”
Montgomery, who has sold 14 million discs according to the Recording Industry Association of America, has a knack for finding great songs.
“I think you have to be able to sing about stuff that people can relate to on an everyday basis,” he said. “ ‘Life’s a Dance’ is obviously a philosophical-type song that talks about things are going to happen in life and you’ve got to be able to turn the page and pick yourself back up off the ground and move on, and time will heal.
“And then you’ve got songs like ‘I Swear.’ People get married every day and it’s a very special time in their life and they don’t always have the right words to say to the one they love, and I think songs like those are so well-written that they say the things they want to say in a very different way and not your everyday generic I love you.”
One of Montgomery’s hits has touched many. “Letters From Home” is about a military man receiving missives from his mom, his girl and his dad.
“I just kept finding myself hitting repeat,” he said of when he first heard the track. “Every time I listened to it, the more it grabbed me and the more I was blown away.
“I really wasn’t planning cutting anything that had to do with the military because there are other artists that do that and they want to jump on that bandwagon. But this song, this story, is so awesome, it’s got to be told. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite songs that I’ve ever cut.”
Montgomery will serve up a lot of hits at Smoke on the Water—Ribs for the Red Cross on Aug. 7 at
5 p.m. in Promenade Park. Tickets are $5; children 12 and younger and military personnel with ID are free.
When you’re sampling the ribs, look for the headliner.
“I will take me a little walk — nobody notices, they don’t even look for me, because I look just like everybody else, ball cap and T-shirt and shorts — and I’ll be easing around there because I definitely love ribs. And when there’s an abundance of them, you can bet I’m going to be out trying some,” he said.
At home, Montgomery likes to fire up the grill.
“If there’s one thing about grilling that I tell people, if you want a good steak, you’ve got to keep it moist while it’s cooking. And, of course, you know one of the best ways to keep that moist steak, don’t take the good beer, but go and buy some really cheap beer and you’ve just got to pour it over the top while you’re cooking, and it’s amazing. And not only does it help keep it moist while you’re cooking it, but also it adds a little flavor to it.”