“Nobody loved life more than Troy Gentry,” music journalist and author Holly Gleason tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Whatever adventure, all night party or hardcore hillbilly song, he was up for it.”
Gleason, who did publicity for Gentry and bandmate Eddie Montgomery in the early 2000s, last saw her friend Sunday during the band’s set at the Tequila Bay Country Music Festival in Miami.
“He was on that stage, guitars blazing, trading vocals with his partner Eddie — and they made it feel like the biggest party in a place that knows how to party,” Gleason says. “Hot and sweltering as it was, the crowd was up, dancing and yowling and throwing down to ‘Hillbilly Shoes,’ ‘Gone’ and Charlie Daniels’ ‘All Night Long.’”
She adds: “That’s the thing about Troy, it was all in good fun. It all rocked, and it made people feel more dangerous than they were, yet somehow kept them safe as new kittens. To be able to walk that line, maybe it truly does take hillbilly shoes.”
The band confirmed in a statement posted to their Facebook page that Gentry was killed in a helicopter crash in Medford, New Jersey at approximately 1 p.m. on Friday at the age of 50. He leaves behind wife Angie and daughters Taylor and Kaylee. The platinum-selling duo was scheduled to perform later that night at the Flying W Airport & Resort in Medford.
Since first breaking onto the scene in 1999 with their debut album Tattoos & Scars, Montgomery Gentry has been representative of the working man with their blue-collar anthems that Montgomery has called “the good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend.”
Montgomery Gentry’s newest album, Folks Like Us, embraces that same message with their songs “That’s Just Living” and “Better For It.”
“[Gentry] understood what it meant to entertain people who worked, and worked hard,” Gleason says. “When they took a stage, they took it. He spent as much time telling the crowd how much they loved them and inviting them to let their hair down as he did selling the duo’s songs.”
Life for the Montgomery Gentry duo wasn’t without it’s ups and downs in both their professional and personal lives, though. Their first record deal ended, but since then they made a home with Blaster Records. In 2010, a now-healthy Montgomery was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Gentry recently announced that his wife, Angie, is successfully undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
But through it all, Gleason says Gentry had a “smile that was blazing.”