John Michael Montgomery

John Michael Montgomery

Born Jan. 20, 1965, in Danville, Ky., John Michael Montgomery arrived on the country music scene in 1993 with a debut album, Life's a Dance, that became the only million-seller on the country charts by a new artist that year. Its title was a No. 4 hit single and was followed by his first country chart-topper, "I Love the Way You Love Me." The follow-up, Kickin' It Up, hit the top spot on both the country and adult contemporary charts and produced four more successful singles, the chart-topping "I Swear," "Be My Baby Tonight," "If You Got Love" and the No. 4 single "Rope the Moon." At this point, Montgomery was one of the hottest artists in country music, appealing to lovers of both Garth Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He remained unchanged by his success, however, refusing to leave his Lexington, Ky., home to move to Nashville. Instead he continued to enjoy traditional pursuits such as fishing and golfing.

Montgomery and his older brother, Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry, received musical encouragement from their father, who performed in a local country band and taught his son his first chords. John Michael joined the family band as guitarist before taking the lead singing role when his parents divorced. Afterwards, he made a frugal living on the local honky-tonk scene as a solo artist playing what he referred to as "working man's country." Eventually, Atlantic Records signed him, although it was he, rather than the record company, who rejected his own material for inclusion on his debut. ("Mine just weren't good enough.") There were problems during the recording, typified in an anecdote regarding a late-night call to the head of Atlantic that resulted in a change of producer. Atlantic's faith in their artist was subsequently rewarded by his swift rise, even though some questioned his political correctness with songs such as "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)."

His fourth album, What I Do the Best, though a slightly disappointing set, showed no signs of his commercial appeal waning. It later transpired that he had throat surgery during this time. He was almost back to full health for 1998's Leave a Mark, which, like the following year's Home to You, saw him heading in an increasingly middle-of-the-road direction. Following the release of 2000's Brand New Me, he switched labels after Atlantic closed its country division and transferred several of its artists to the Warner Bros. roster. He released Pictures in 2002 and The Very Best of John Michael Montgomery in 2003.

In early 2003, he scored another radio hit with "Letters From Home," a song about a soldier fighting in an overseas war. The song will serve as the title track for his new album, set for release in April 2004.