Born c. 1975 in Phoenix, AZ. Addresses: Record company--Capitol Records, 3322 West End Ave., 11th Fl., Nashville, TN 37203. Management--Erv Woolsey Company, 1000 18th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212. Website--Dierks Bentley Official Website: http://www.dierks.com.
Rising country music star Dierks Bentley hearkens back to both the golden age of country music from the early to mid-1960s, and to the genre's Outlaw movement of the mid-1970s. Both eras emphasized strict adherence to songcraft, with an emphasis on the details of daily life. The earlier period was known for traditional instrumentation and catchy phrases drawn from actual conversations, and the latter period was known for incorporating elements from rock-and-roll, and for featuring such gritty details as infidelity, alcohol abuse, honky-tonk saloons, and broken hearts. Bentley's music has drawn comparisons to similar country music stars Blake Shelton and Joe Nichols, while relying more heavily on such traditional bluegrass instrumentation as fiddle and dobro.
Bentley grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. His somewhat unusual first name is his mother's maiden name. His family was non-musical, and he endeavored to learn guitar after receiving one when he was 13 years old. "I don't have a storybook tale to tell, as many entertainers do, about growing up in a musical family," he stated on his website. "I wasn't singing harmonies in 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." Like most young guitarists his age, he attempted to learn the intricate guitar pyrotechnics of Eddie Van Halen. His inability to emulate the rock god led Bentley to conclude that "rock music just didn't really resonate. It was almost there, but it wasn't there. I just couldn't sing like [Van Halen singer] David Lee Roth. And I wasted three years listening to a lot of bad '80s hair bands," he was quoted by Your Guide to Country Music writer Shelly Fabian. He was exposed to country music through the syndicated television series Hee Haw, the 1970s' pop-music crossover popularity of such artists as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings's theme song for the television series The Dukes of Hazzard. But Bentley largely ignored the genre until a friend exposed him to the Hank Williams Jr. song "Man to Man." "That moment really changed my whole perspective," he recalled to Fabian. "Everything just clicked. I just knew I loved country music."
Under the pretense of attending college, Bentley moved to Nashville after high school. According to Fabian, "College was more than just a ploy, but the location was more than a coincidence." Like Alan Jackson before him, Bentley took a job at video channel The Nashville Network (TNN), working as a researcher in the station's vast archives of filmed and videotaped classic and contemporary country music performances. According to Fabian, Bentley "filled three-ring binders with hundreds of classic and obscure songs, hand-transcribed with careful attention to phrasing, pronunciation and immortal words by the likes of Willie Nelson, Harlan Howard and Mel Tillis."
Using a fake identification to gain entrance to local Nashville bars and nightclubs, Bentley learned that the road to success featured heavy competition from extremely talented songwriters and musicians. He frequented such country music institutions as Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and other clubs featuring live music on Lower Broadway in Nashville, and set a goal that he'd perform at the legendary Bluebird Café before he turned 23 years old. His first major step toward that goal began at the Station Inn, a Nashville club that focused on bluegrass music. "Thank God I walked in there," he was quoted as saying on his website. "Bluegrass gave me my whole foundation. I thought: these people and this music and this building; this is where I'm going to build from." Every Tuesday evening he observed the Sidemen, the house band that featured singer Terry Eldredge. "I absorbed everything he was doing," Dierks said. According to Dierks, Eldredge told him: "Hear it in your head, process it through your heart, and then let it come out of your mouth." Other frequent performers at the Station Inn were famed bluegrass collective the Del McCoury Band and the more rock-oriented Jamie Hartford Band. Bentley used musicians from both of these bands for a self-recorded demo album of songs that combined bluegrass with traditional and modern country music. The recording brought him to the attention of Capitol Records, and helped him attain his goal of performing a set at the Bluebird two weeks prior to his 23rd birthday.
Bentley's apprenticeship paid off. His debut album, Dierks Bentley, was released in 2003, and resulted in a Country Music Television Flameworthy Award for breakout video, a Country Music Academy nomination, and the Academy of Country Music's top new artist honor. Most of the album featured songs written by Bentley and songwriting partner and producer Brett Beavers. The album was propelled to national prominence on the strength of the dobro-driven and humorous song "What Was I Thinking?," about a wild night of young, illicit love with an overly protective father's seductive and scantily clad daughter. His rising star helped him land a spot on the "High Times and Hangovers Tour," a 35-city tour with the Oklahoma band Ragweed. Bentley also assembled a capable road band comprised of Gary Morse on steel guitar, Steve Misamore on drums, Robbie Harrington on bass guitar, and Rod Janzen on lead guitar. The group toured incessantly, playing at small county fairs and as an opening act for George Strait and Kenny Chesney.
For his follow-up to Dierks Bentley, Bentley recorded Modern Day Drifter. He once again recruited the Del McCoury Band for studio support, enlisting their assistance on "Good Man Like Me." He had also earned enough Nashville equity to bring in bluegrass and country fiddle player and singer Alison Krauss for harmony vocals on "Good Things Happen," which was written by Jamie Hartford. Despite featuring such heavy hitters, the songs were passed over as single releases in favor of "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do," which drew comparisons to the Bakersfield, California, sound pioneered by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens in the 1960s. Although Bentley and Beavers wrote most of the album's material, John Scott Sherrill and Wyatt Easterling earned writing credits for the album's title song, and McCoury wrote "Good Man Like Me." Bentley's intense touring schedule made it impossible for him to schedule more than ten days to record the album, requiring him to sleep in the studio where he recorded it. The short time spent recording on the album, however, did not dull Calgary Sun critic Rob Honzell's appreciation. Honzell wrote: "If you were to take Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams and Garth Brooks, sit them in a recording studio and say, 'don't come out until you've made a record you're happy with,' the result would most likely be something that sounds like Dierks Bentley's latest album, Modern Day Drifter."
by Bruce Walker
Dierks Bentley's Career
Moved to Nashville from Phoenix, 1990s; released self-titled debut album, 2003; released second album, Modern Day Drifter, 2005.
Dierks Bentley's Awards
Country Music Television, Flameworthy Prize for Best Breakout Video, 2003; American Country Music, Top New Artist, 2003.
- Calgary Sun, June 12, 2005.
- Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2005.
- People, September 15, 2003; June 6, 2005. B4.
- "Dierks Bentley Bio," About.com, http://countrymusic.about.com/od/dierksbentley/a/bldbentley_bio_p.htm (June 22, 2005).
- Dierks Bentley Official Website, http://www.dierks.com (June 22, 2005).