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Montgomery happy to sing ‘timeless’ tunes

Country singer John Michael Montgomery never went to college — and neither did his father, who also sang with a country band.

But sure as shooting, the Kentucky-based Montgomery, known for such enduring hits as I Swear and Sold, wants his own teenage son and daughter to go — regardless of whether they later follow him into the music business.

“I’ve told them, you want to know two people who’ve been to college? George Strait and Brad Paisley,” said Montgomery. He believes these two respected performers prove it doesn’t hurt to put music aspirations on hold for a few years of grounding education.

While lots of people have found success without degrees, Montgomery believes having a business background would have helped him when he rose to fame in the 1990s with a string of No. 1 hits: I Love the Way You Love Me, Be My Baby Tonight, If You’ve Got Love, I Can Love You Like That, and The Little Girl.

The 49-year-old singer, who will perform his hits at Cowboys Bar and Nightclub in Red Deer on Thursday, May 29, credits his high school math smarts for steering him straight. But he knows of other performers who made a lot of money for several years then swiftly went broke once their careers cooled.

He believes that knowing the ins and outs of business deals also more important than it used to be, since the record business has raised the stakes of late. Nashville recently adopted the American Idol-style contract, said Montgomery — which means the industry now gets a cut of a performer’s song royalties and concert and merchandise revenues, as well as album sales.

He believes this has resulted in more singer-songwriters getting signed to recording deals, as a sort of two-for-one package.

It was different when Montgomery was an up-and-comer in the business in the late 1980s, early 1990s. He said industry execs weren’t too interested, at the time, in hearing his original material, but encouraged him to choose from a catalogue of songs written by seasoned Nashville songwriters.

He didn’t mind singing tunes written by others. His feeling was “whatever song fits me the best is the song I will sing,” and this philosophy paid off with his first three albums going multi-platinum in sales.

Although the pendulum has since swung towards artists writing their own stuff, Montgomery is still happy to be associated with “timeless” tunes he still likes to sing, and others like to hear.

For instance, the U.S. trio All-4-One recently asked Montgomery to collaborate on a re-recording of the song I Swear. The soulful love ballad that’s been a staple at many a wedding reception was a huge 1994 hit — first for Montgomery, then for the pop trio.

Montgomery decided to put this new collaborative version of the song, written by Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers, on his new greatest hits album that he hopes will be out this summer. He said he still hears from fans who tell him how much that song means to them.

He also intends to write a new tune or two for the release.

“I used to write music all the time when I was starting out and playing clubs every night,” recalled Montgomery, who grew up influenced by many musical genres and singers — including Frank Sinatra and Lionel Ritchie.

He laughs out loud when asked whether sons of country singers rebel by listening to Motown artists. “I’ve always loved those artists,” he responded. “I don’t know why. I love their voices and attitude.”

As for Sinatra, Montgomery added that as much as he appreciates old and new country music, he can see himself crooning big-band standards someday. “One of my grand delusions is singing Frank Sinatra songs.”

Tickets are $25 in advance from Cowboys, the Bell Fever Lounge, Wei’s Western Wear outlets or the Black Knight Ticket Centre. Doors open at 8 p.m.

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