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Posted on April 19, 2012 | 12:27 p.m.

Kenneth Paul Montgomery, 1928-2012

Funeral will be held Friday for the beloved guitarist and lifelong entertainer

Source: Montgomery Family

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.

When he was 80, Kenny discovered the iPod and Pandora. His grandson, Eric Hardin, introduced him to the world of electronic wonders. Kenny would welcome family and friends into his music room, and with a big smile he’d proudly proclaim, “Today I’m going to be playing along with some friends of mine.” His fingers were almost too big for the iPod controls, but he eventually mastered the new device and with the delight of a child he’d settle into his favorite chair and listen for the next song. He could play everything — from Chet Atkins and Eric Clapton to Muddy Waters and Les Paul.

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.”

Kenny played lead guitar with many old-time country music singers and musicians, such as Freddie Hart and Leon McAuliff, Will’s sensational pedal steel player. He also played with Jack Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s cousin. Jack had a No. 1 hit song, “Oklahoma Hills Where I Was Born.”

Kenny remembers, “I was working at the Hob Nob in Oklahoma City. Jack played there off and on for a year. He sure could hold his own. We were playing on the bandstand. We probably played something the fellow didn’t like, or we didn’t play his song. I don’t know what happened. But here come a big salt shaker sailing across the room and just barely missed Jack and me. I don’t know whether it was meant for me or meant for Jack. Jack said, ‘Whoever threw that salt shaker would he come up here and let me know?’ A guy walked up to the bandstand. Jack hit him one time and knocked him to the floor. The guy came to in a little bit and went back to his seat and sat down. No more commotion after that. I didn’t know at the time that Jack was already sick. He passed away that next year of tuberculosis. He went out singing and swinging.” Kenny was 19. Jack Guthrie was 33.

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.

This year,Kenny and his beautiful bride, Marysue, were celebrating 60 years together. Kenny loved to tell the story of how they met: “I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world when I saw her singing in a choir. I asked a friend who she was and where she went to church. I changed my church and started going to her church. So the next Sunday, after church was over, there were about six guys trying to talk to her and I thought, here’s my chance. Of course, I was playing in the band, the church band, which helped some. Being a musician that helped me out. It wasn’t my good looks because I never had that. So the next Sunday, I walked up to her and said, ‘How would you like to go out and get some ice cream?’ And she said, ‘OK.’ And six guys standing around said, ‘What happened here? Who is this guy?’ About six months later we got married.”

Kenny always tears up and flashes his signature smile when he gets to the final part of the story: “We’ve had a very enjoyable life together. Seems like I’ve been married all my life. All my success I give to her.”

Kenny counted himself as one of the lucky ones. His grandson, Christopher, a fellow guitar picker and songwriter, asked him recently, “If you had it to do all over again, how would you do it?” Kenny immediately answered with a smile, “Oh, I’d do it the same. I wouldn’t change a thing if I had it to do all over again. I’d do it the same.”

Thank you to all the music playing and loving friends in Santa Barbara and Upland who celebrated every Kenny Montgomery command performance. From living rooms to barrooms, we watched in awe and jubilation as his fingers danced across the frets. He is missed and loved, but his music lives on. Thank you to Martha Bell for spiritual guidance and kind ministrations. Thank you to Jerry Haney for 40 years of great music.

Kenneth is preceded in death by his beloved parents, John and Ollie Montgomery of Lindsay, Okla.; sister Cleo Yandell of Lindsay, Okla.; brother James Montgomery of Pauls Valley, Okla.; and daughter Connie Benton of Guthrie, Okla.

He is survived by his cherished wife of 60 years, Marysue Montgomery of Upland; son Craig Montgomery of Upland; daughters Lynn Montgomery of Santa Barbara, Karen Montgomery Sorosky of Upland and Denise Montgomery of Santa Barbara; sons-in-law Robert Sorosky, M.D., of Upland, Richard Kriegler of Santa Barbara and Don Benton of Guthrie, Okla.; grandchildren Lance (Felicia) Benton, Ryan (Amy) Benton, Eric Hardin, Christopher Montgomery, Austin Kriegler and Hannah Kriegler; great-grandchildren Jackson Benton, Lauren Benton and Chrissy Benton; and step-grandchildren Drs. Brad and Susan Sorosky, and Melissa Montgomery. And all his many beloved family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, donations made be sent to the church where Kenny’s grandson Ryan Benton is youth minister: First Christian Church, The Well, 912 West Walnut Ave., Duncan, OK 73533; or to Israel Affairs International, Gerald Derstine, 1200 Glory Way Blvd., Bradenton, FL 34212.

Funeral services will be held at the beautiful 100-year-old, historic chapel, Chaffey Communities Cultural Center, 525 W. 18th St. in Upland. Click here to visit Kenny’s memorial website.


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