All about the Feeling

BURLESON, TX — Kevin Montgomery neither looks nor acts like a mind reader, but listening to his songs, you have to wonder. In fact, he is well aware of the strangeness of songwriting, even writing a tune called “Song Knows You So Well.” “It was a simple tune that told the story of a guy sitting in a bar, relating to every one of the songs the band played, like they are talking about him,” Kevin explained. “He wondered, ‘How do they know me so well? That’s exactly what’s going on in my life right now!’”

Kevin’s mother and grandmother encouraged him to play classical music from the age of 6, and for over 30 years, Kevin has written songs just like somebody writing a poem. “It’s never been about the commercial end of it. I talk to guys all the time who have written 400 tunes, and they send each one to Nashville or LA. Their whole point is that maybe one of the tunes will make them a fortune. For me, it’s never been about anything but the feeling I had at the time, and I made the decision to put it down to see if people close to me might feel that way, too.”

In fact, this last song from Kevin’s heart — the song that won him the 2009 Song of the Year Award from the Fort Worth Songwriters Association — is the first tune he wrote with the intention to sell. “I actually sat down and wrote using what I felt about a line that was given to me, a hook that goes, ‘If you’re not here after what I’m here after, then you’ll be here after I’m gone.’ One day, we were sitting in the office of my business associate and friend, Tom James, a general contractor in Dallas, and he said, ‘Kevin, I’ve got a hook for you, and if you can write a song for it, it’s yours.’ Another musician was in the room with us, and I said, ‘It sounds like a waltz to me,’ and they all kind of laughed, and that’s what it ended up being,” Kevin said. “You don’t hear waltzes anymore, hardly.”

Other songwriters have expressed appreciation for “After I’m Gone,” calling the song well-written. Kevin will eventually shop the song around, as soon as he gets a copyright. “I submitted it back in January 2010, and still haven’t heard from the copyright office. Once I’ve got some protection, I’ll try to submit it,” Kevin said. “I think it’s a great tune for somebody like Toby Keith or Brad Paisley, who sing those kinds of songs. If it never happens, well, it’s still a good song in my estimation.”

Kevin enjoys a lot of today’s country, but prefers Merle Haggard, George Jones or Marty Robbins. “Those are the guys I listened to. They were very influential on how I sing,” said Kevin, who also credits his progressive sound to Gino Vannelli, Steely Dan and Jimi Hendrix. He sings in a duo called Slippery When Wett with guitar player Rusty Hayley, a fellow he graduated with from Irving High School in 1974. Their band has a full sound, because Kevin produces all the instrumentation and vocals out in his office, which is set up like a professional recording studio. “I’m also in the construction business — you gotta do something to make a living,” Kevin said. “Rusty and I sit and practice out there. We try to get together usually twice a month, to go over stuff and learn. I use computer technology, sequencing programs, to create the music. When you come see us play, it’s not a piano and a guitar; it’s drums, strings, horns, the whole gamut of music that I’ve played onto the computer for us to play along with so you’re getting a full band sound with two players.”

When he is not on stage, Kevin plays good husband as well as good father, encouraging his sons Bobby and Brock in their academics, athletics and musicianship. He also takes time to write songs when the feeling hits. “I’m not one of those songwriters who takes eight hours a day and starts banging out lyrics,”

Kevin said. “But if there’s something that strikes me as being worthy of putting words to, I’ll sit down and do it. It might take three weeks, three months or a year to finish, but I do finish.”

Patience has served Kevin well. “Life was always pretty tough,” he said. “Through my life, there’s been a whole lot of disappointments. I am happy with my wife, Kerry — I have been for over 20 years now. But I’m a Leo, so I love hard and I hurt hard. Through my younger days, I went through some pretty heartbreaking things with relationships. Those things give me the knowledge inside to know what I want to say. It’s a lot easier to reflect on ’em now. I wrote a lot of songs when I was in the position, but never finished ’em. After years go by, you can sit down and reflect and be able to finish the work. Then it’s just a matter of putting it to music. The real important part is making sure the music tells the same story. You want to make sure the music and vocals match the story.

Interestingly, Kevin sees a correlation between the process of songwriting and his chosen profession. “You lay down a bass track and start putting your puzzle together. You go ground up, starting with an idea, which would be similar to a set of plans. Next you have a basis, like laying down the drum track, which would be like the foundation, and then multiple layers, like your wall design and decoration. Your finish work (like painting and colors) would be the final vocal tracks. When you have put it all together, you mix it down,” Kevin said. “Building a song is the same as building a house or a piece of property. You start at point A and use steps to get to point Z to finish; then you hope your product is appealing enough for a homeowner or a major artist who might be interested in recording it for themselves.”

An artist needs discipline and talent to take a mental concept or some heartfelt emotion and put it to paper, canvas, keyboards, tape, disc or hard drive. For Kevin, it also takes a desire to connect with another person’s heart. “Maybe that’s simpleton. The thing about art is, maybe nobody understands it or likes it, but it’s what you feel,” Kevin said. “Sooner or later, somebody’s going to like it and go, ‘I know exactly what you were thinking or feeling at the time.’”