Montgomery Gentry singer Eddie Montgomery is opening up about the death of his partner, Troy Gentry, for the first time since he was killed in a helicopter crash in September.

Gentry was gravely injured when the helicopter he was riding in crashed shortly after takeoff prior to a planned Montgomery Gentry gig in New Jersey on Sept. 8. The pilot was killed on impact, but Montgomery tells People that he was at Gentry's bedside when the critically injured singer died later that afternoon at a local hospital.

"A little piece of my soul got lost there," the 54-year-old singer reflects. "It was a horrific day, my world changed as much as the band did. It’s something that you never get over. It’s going to be in my mind and my soul for the rest of my life."

The two were more than musical partners; they were friends whose partnership went all the way back to a band called Early Tymz in 1990, which included Montgomery's brother, John Michael Montgomery. John Michael would go on to solo success in country music, while Gentry joined Eddie Montgomery to form a new duo called Deuce, which became Montgomery Gentry.

They signed a deal with Columbia Records Nashville in 1999 and scored a lengthy string of hit songs that included No. 1 hits with "If You Ever Stop Loving Me," "Lucky Man," "Back When I Knew It All," "Something to Be Proud Of" and "Roll With Me." They also scored other Top 10 hits, including "Gone," which reached No. 3 and became the most-played country song by a duo in 2005.

Remembering Montgomery Gentry's Troy Gentry

Montgomery tells People he and Gentry had "known each other longer than we’ve known our wives. Nashville didn’t put this duo together, we did. We were friends before we were ever in the music business."

Gentry's country music friends came together at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Sept. 14 to remember the life of the beloved country star. The service included performances from Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels, Little Big Town and more, while a tearful Vince Gill admonished Montgomery from the stage, telling him he needed to lean on his Opry family now more than ever.

"He told me: 'Man, don’t shut down on us. The best way to keep Troy alive is to keep going,'" Montgomery recalls.

Montgomery has faced his share of personal woes over the past few years. He battled cancer and got divorced, then declared bankruptcy. His son died of an overdose in 2015.

The singer made his first live appearance since Gentry's death at the 2017 CMA Awards as part of a tribute to Gentry, and he tells People that after taking some time off to mourn, he'll head back out on the road in January of 2018 to keep on playing the songs he and Gentry created together.

"I’ve never done anything else but play music," he says. "It’s all I’ve ever known."

Gentry's spot on the stage will be empty, but Montgomery says Gentry's spirit will still be with him. He calls Gentry "more than just a singer. He was a brother and he was always there. As far as I’m concerned, we’re still making music together."

The duo released a new single titled "Better Me" on Sept. 15, and the song stands as a haunting tribute to Gentry's life and legacy.

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