"I once heard George Jones say in an interview that country music was
like religion to
him. I couldn’t agree more," says Dierks Bentley. "It’s where I turn when
times are tough
and I need answers and it’s where I go when I want to cut loose and have
fun. As a singer
and songwriter, it’s not only how I make a living but what gives me
purpose in life."
That’s completely obvious when you hear Dierks?self-titled album. It’s a
country record, made by someone who knows and loves the traditional
stuff, and who has
a few variations of his own to add. Originally from Phoenix, Dierks (who
was given a
family name as a first name) grew up listening to George Strait and Hank
his dad. He moved from listener to player when he picked up an electric
guitar at 13.
"When I first discovered the electric guitar it wasn’t about ‘play the
guitar and get girls,?/p>
it was just this instrument where you could go from a moment when you’re
then pick up the guitar and all of a sudden you transfer yourself to a
He started out playing the music his classmates listened to ?mostly
rock. Then came the
moment in high school that changed his focus. "A friend of mine gave me a
cold beer and
played me a song called ‘Man to Man?by Hank Jr.," he recalls.
"Everything inside just
lined up and I knew exactly what I wanted to do."
He moved to Nashville at 19 and immediately immersed himself in the local
"I don’t have a storybook tale to tell, as many entertainers do, about
growing up in a
musical family," he says. "I wasn’t singing harmonies in the church by
age five and I
wasn’t fronting the family band by age ten. Everything I learned
musically, I had to learn
on my own. My country music education has consisted of listening to a lot
of records and
spending a lot of time listening and playing in Nashville bars and
"Most people who don’t live in Nashville probably associate the music
scene here with
what they hear on their radio, but there is so much more going on.
There’s a lot of great
live music that doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition outside of the
discovered that side of the city at a point when he was getting
discouraged with the
Nashville music business. It was a time of one cowboy-hatted, starched
singer after another, and Dierks figured he just didn’t fit that mold.
Call it fate or luck,
but at that low point, he stumbled on the Station Inn, a club that is in
many ways a
"mecca" for bluegrass fans worldwide. "I discovered a whole community of
and singers who played music for all the right reasons," he says. "They
because they wanted to be stars or be in music videos, they played
because they loved the
music. Being there made such an impression on me that for five years I
spent just about
every Tuesday night there absorbing all I could take in."
The environment completely revived him. "The harmony singing, the level
musicianship and the realness of it just changed my whole perspective on
music and on
why I was in Nashville. I moved here to be a star, then I discovered this
place and started
playing music for music alone ?I play and sing just to play and sing."
He took some of what he learned from bluegrass and applied it to the
country music that
was in his bones. He began to dig deeper into the music, to learn more
about the artists
who came before him. It didn’t hurt that his day job at The Nashville
involved digging through old footage of country performances past.
"Getting paid to
look at old footage, to go through Faron Young’s entire video footage
catalog, and all the
Porter Wagoner shows, the Johnny Cash shows, the Grand Ole Opry shows…it
ideal job," Dierks says. "I was a big George Jones fan when I moved to
after I got into bluegrass, instead of just
to his music, I started to
understand every bend and break in his voice."
Taking what he learned, Dierks played all sorts of places ?the hushed
around town, where a musically savvy audience waits for you to prove your
beer-soaked backyard parties and barbecues, and an ever-revolving lineup
of local bars.
But the first place he played regularly was a legendary Nashville dive of
a music venue
called Springwater. "I remember playing there one rainy night and water
was pouring on
to the stage from cracks in the ceiling. We were all trying to find a
place on the stage that
was dry…I thought for sure I was going to be electrocuted," he remembers.
"By the end
of the night, me and my guitar were soaked. But it was my first place to
have a regular
gig and I didn’t care. I was just happy to be playing music in Music
Market Street Brewery, a bar/restaurant in downtown Nashville, had a
"It’s out of the limelight, and I was still developing what I was trying
to do," he says. "I
didn’t have to play "Rocky Top" and "Free Bird," so playing there was a
way to keep it
fresh for me."
One night Dierks was playing at Market Street when Vince Gill and Amy
through the door. Vince had his mandolin with him and he sat down at the
bar about five
feet away from the stage. Dierks asked Vince if he would come up and sing
a few songs
and without hesitation, Vince nodded yes. "I thought he would sing a song
or two and sit
back down but he ended up picking with us for almost an hour and half.
unbelievable?is the only way I can describe it. I thought that if my
music dreams never
went any further, that would be alright because I got to share the stage
(albeit a very
small one!) with Vince Gill."
One of the musicians he met as he settled deeper into the Nashville scene
Ward. They had the same attitude toward country music and began writing
for the pure joy of creating songs that they liked. Mike believed in
Dierks as an artist, and
encouraged him to make a record.
Don’t Leave Me In Love,
produced by Mike and
Dierks, was a small budget affair with a big heart. When it reached the
ears of some key
folks on Music Row, Dierks finally achieved one of his biggest goals:
publishing deal. He became a full time songwriter for Sony/Tree
Publishing, which has a
history of great writers like Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, and Bill
years of working on the fringes and figuring things out for himself, now
surrounded by a team of people who believed in him and what he wanted to
One of those people was Sony/Tree song-plugger Arthur Buenahora, who
up with another Tree writer, Brett Beavers. "I knew right away that Brett
and I were
going to get along. The fact that he’s a musician, and has been out on
the road with
various acts for the last eleven years, means a lot to me because they
are the people I
respect most in this town. He loves traditional country music and as a
understands the importance of keepin?it country and keepin?it real, but
also of trying to
take the music somewhere new."
It wasn’t long after they began collaborating that a few of their demos
were heard by a
couple of record labels, both expressing serious interest. Dierks decided
to sign with
Capitol and immediately got to work on his album, with Brett coming on as
producer. Though his Capitol album had a bit more in the budget than his
record, Dierks took the same approach to making it. He wrote or co-wrote
11 of the 13
songs and brought in some of the up and coming musicians he’d worked with
dive bars and honky tonks.
"In today’s politically correct world, it often isn’t appropriate to talk
about drinking, but I
wanted to make a record you can drink a couple of beers to," Dierks
jokes. ‘What Was I
Thinkin? ‘How Am I Doin? ‘Forget About You,?and obviously,
‘Bartenders, etc…’ are
all up-tempo songs that make you want to get up on your feet…great
The first single, "What Was I Thinkin?quot; took off like lightning.
Fast-paced and fun, it
tells the story of a wild date, complete with gun-toting daddy, jealous
ex-boyfriend and a
girl in an irresistible white tank top. "I think we’re getting that
response because we made
music the right way," Dierks says. "We made a record for ourselves,
something that we
liked, figuring that there’s probably a lot of other people who like the
Of course any real country record has a healthy collection of heartbreak
like ‘Whiskey Tears,?‘I Bought The Shoes,?‘Distant Shore?and ‘Wish It
might make you want to sip on a beer and get lonesome for a little bit,"
says Dierks, "but
that’s what country music to me is all about…the good and the bad."
"I feel like I represent a side of Nashville that a lot of people outside
of the city don’t
know about. All the guys and girls that play downtown on Lower Broadway
such a depth of knowledge of country music and play those bars night
after night, for four
hour shifts. All the bluegrassers that get together for "pickin?
parties," where everyone
brings an instrument and their favorite beverage, and stays up 'til dawn
singing. That’s the Nashville I know and the Nashville I hope to bring
through my music."
Return to Top