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In Memory Of Kenny Montgomery: From Tent Revivials To Western Swing Bands

May 19, 2012

This is just one of those posts that makes a blog like this as there are not many in the nation that will ever mention this man’s name.  I think some stories need to be told, and this is my way of making an attempt to spread the word about someone who is just one of a kind.

I read the following story on a Santa Barbara news site, and it just evoked something very real that made me want to post it here on my blog.  While the passing of Kenny Montgomery took place last  month there remains a wonderful folksy and memorable story that I want others to know.

While the whole article can be read here, I want to highlight a few parts below.

Kenny Montgomery still had the first guitar he ever owned, hanging on the wall in his music room. He was 12 years old when he got that guitar. He’d already been playing for six years on borrowed guitars.

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Kenny Montgomery was never far from his beloved guitar. (Montgomery family photo)

Kenneth Paul Montgomery died April 5, 2012. He was three weeks shy of his 84th birthday. “Kenny” was born in Shawnee, Okla. He played music every day. Even when his shoulder ached and the doctor said he had worn the cartilage to the bone, Kenny would not stop playing lead guitar on his beloved Fender Stratacaster. He said it kept him young. One minute he was juicing the blues on his Stratacaster, the next minute he’d strap on his 12 string and soar with Marty Robbins.

Kenny’s musical career started in a tent revival. He was 6 years old when he picked up a guitar and started playing along with the choir. His father, the preacher, took this as a sign to spread the gospel throughout the land. They traveled in a Model T to small towns in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. They’d set up in a brush arbor or an old schoolhouse. Kenny would strap a pie tin on his overalls as a collection plate and stroll down the aisles strumming his guitar. But in his mind’s eye it wasn’t an old schoolhouse, it was the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. And he was playing to a packed house of country-music-loving fans.

By the time Kenny was a teenager,he had joined a western swing band, the Triple M Boys. Dude Rawson, 86, played fiddle and sang. He says the first time he saw Kenneth was in a revival: “He was quite a showman and one fine guitar player. He’d take his left hand and come up over the finger board and play upside down like that.”

Kenny went on to play with the Oklahoma Playboys. They had their own radio show every Friday at 5 p.m. The band’s name was a tip of the cowboy hat to everyone’s western swing hero, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. According to legendary guitarist Merle Travis, “Western swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have western swing.”

Over the decades, Kenny entertained countless fans throughout Oklahoma and, later, California, where he moved in 1956. He turned down several opportunities to go on the road with big-name country entertainers, including Hank Thompson and Wynn Stewart.

Kenny loved country music, but there was one thing he loved even more — his family. One time while playing in Las Vegas with Jack Reeves, Glen Campbell’s cousin, Kenny returned home after only one week and proclaimed he was never going on the road again. He said the fast life was not for him. Kenny preferred to play in small clubs near his home in Upland. During the week he worked as an electrician in the aerospace industry. On the weekends he played the local honky tonks and clubs with his longtime singer and dear friend, Jerry Haney.

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