After a helicopter crash killed his longtime bandmate and "brother" Troy Gentry, Eddie Montgomery needed time. He didn't know how much time — he didn't know if he'd be able to carry on with Montgomery Gentry at all. He didn't know ... until he knew.

Gentry was 50 years old at the time of the accident. Montgomery can't say much about that day (Sept. 8, 2017) because of the ongoing investigation, but he's not ashamed to talk about how it shook him and a band family that extends beyond kin and music, management and record labels, all the way to the thousands and thousands of fans. The duo have always called them friends, and Montgomery will correct you quickly.

I called the band up, too ... I was like 'You know what, T-Roy would kick my ass if we didn't keep it rocking right now,

"I had a lot of sleepless nights," the 54-year-old country veteran tells Taste of Country, "and then I remembered a conversation that me and T-Roy had a long time ago. Of course, we put this duo together ... Nashville didn't."

Friends for 35 years, road warriors for nearly as long and hitmakers for almost 20 years, Montgomery Gentry had time to have just about every conversation you could think of. Together, they'd decided that if one of them should go down, the other needed to keep rocking.

"I called the band up, too ... I was like 'You know what, T-Roy would kick my ass if we didn't keep it rocking right now," Montgomery says.

And so here we are, days away from the Feb. 2 release of Here's to You, their ninth studio album finished just two days before the helicopter crash. Earlier this month Montgomery returned to the road. Relying on his band and fans, they'll make their way through Gentry's parts of songs, as well as his own. Old hits like "Gone," "Something to Be Proud Of" and "My Town" beg for emotional tributes. The group's new single "Better Me" may be most difficult. It's the only song Montgomery can ever remember Gentry asking to sing — an anecdote he finds eerie posthumously. Another song called "Drive on Home" also speaks to the man Gentry was becoming.

"He loved his wife. I haven't talked a lot about it, but Angie and Kaylee, his daughter ... she lost her best friend and Kaylee lost her daddy. That's something you don't ever get over. Ever!"

"Songs like 'Drive on Home' that's what he was always talking about when he was on the road," Montgomery says. "He was in love with his family."

"They're doing alright, you know," he adds when pressed for how the Gentrys are doing. "Her mother and father moved down here, family. Kaylee's at that age where she's doing sports and doing everything — you know, keeping her pretty busy."

Average Joes Entertainment

Talking about Gentry and (to the degree that he can) the events of the last five months has proved to be therapeutic for this singer. He dives right into the sensitive topic with, "September 8 changed my world and a lot of people's world," never offering anything less than full candor when approached with questions about his emotional state. Returning to the stage for the Nov. 8 CMA Awards was difficult, but helpful. "I gotta thank Dierks and the Flatts boys big time," he says, "because I tell ya what, if I'd have had to sing that whole song I don't think I could've done it."

Now, nearly five months have passed, and while Montgomery is moving on, he's not moving past that late-summer afternoon in Medford, N.J. If fans demand he keep making music, he's open to it. For now, it's one show and, truly, one song at a time.

"I tell you man, that still blows my mind that happened that day," he says near the end of our interview. "We were all there and it just ... it wasn't good. Your whole world is just ... it changes. Everything. And there's not a day that I don't see it or it goes through my heart."

Look for Part 2 of Taste of Country's Unfiltered interview with Eddie Montgomery on Wednesday.

Remembering Troy Gentry ... Photos from the Stage and More

Get the '98.1 Insider' Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter and get the latest Minnesota & music news in your inbox a couple times a week. If we're not awesome, drop us like a hot potato.