Singer and songwriter
Born Dierks Bentley, November 20, 1975, in Phoenix, AZ; son of Leon (a stockbroker) and Cathy (a homemaker) Bentley; married Cassidy Black, December 14, 2005. Education: Attended the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt University.
Addresses: Contact—Capitol Records, 3322 West End Ave., 11th Flr., Nashville, TN 37203. Management—Rogue Music Group, 346 21st Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37203. Website—http://www.dierks.com.
Moved to Nashville and began playing in local clubs, 1994; worked as researcher for The Nashville Network, c. 1990s; recorded first album, 2000; landed recording contract with Capitol Records, 2002; toured excessively, giving more than 300 performances in one year, 2005.
Member: Grand Ole Opry, 2005–.
Awards: Breakout artist of the year, Music Row magazine, 2003; top new artist, Academy of Country Music, 2004; flameworthy award for breakout video, Country Music Television, for "What Was I Thinkin'," 2004; Horizon award for best newcomer, Country Music Association, 2005; granted membership in the Grand Ole Opry, 2005.
Dierks Bentley's rock-flavored country music has been a staple on the airwaves since the release of his 2003 self-titled album, which spawned the No. 1 hit "What Was I Thinkin'." Since then, Bentley has also been a staple on the road, opening for both George Strait and Kenny Chesney before embarking on his own tour. In 2005, Bentley played 318 dates, sometimes performing at two venues the same day. Bentley's focus has been on putting face time in front of audiences, earning fans the old-fashioned way. He aspires to become a legendary performer, not simply a musician. Speaking to the Tennessean's Peter Cooper, Bentley put it this way: "I write these songs, and I spend all day preparing for the show that night. I change the set list every night. When I'm on the road, all I think about is the show. I'm honest about my goal: I want to be one of the best live acts in any genre of music. I'm not embarrassed about that goal."
Bentley was born into a nonmusical family on November 20, 1975, in Phoenix, Arizona, and spent most of his childhood there. His father, Leon, worked as a stockbroker and banker and his mother, Cathy, stayed home to care for Bentley and his siblings. His first name, Dierks, is a family surname—his mother's grandmother's name. Dierks Bentley grew up having his name misspelled or mispronounced and even today, when he shows up at a venue, he checks the marquee to make sure it is spelled correctly.
When Bentley was 13, a friend introduced him to the electric guitar and he was hooked. Like other guitar-crazed teens of the 1980s, Bentley spent his free time messing around on the instrument trying to emulate Van Halen and Billy Idol. During one jam session, he and his friends were visited by the police because of a noise complaint. As a teen, Bentley was hooked on guitar but not necessarily a genre. "Rock music just didn't really resonate," Bentley noted in his website biography. "It was almost there, but it wasn't there. I just couldn't sing like David Lee Roth. And I wasted three years listening to a lot of bad '80s hair bands."
When Bentley was 17, a friend turned him on to Hank Williams Jr. by insisting he listen to Williams' song "Man to Man," which details a conversation between a son and his dead father. "That moment really changed my whole perspective," Bentley said on his website. "Everything just clicked. I just knew I loved country music." Bentley immediately switched allegiances, from rock to country. Instead of focusing on lead guitar and its cutting melodies, he began studying rhythm guitar, which provides the pulse—or rhythm—of the song. Bentley also practiced the mechanics of lyric writing by taking other people's hits and adding his own words to the music.
Bentley's father took a job on the East Coast during Bentley's teen years and he finished up high school in New Jersey in 1993, then enrolled at the University of Vermont. But music and Nashville tugged at him and one day Bentley called his mother to tell her he was heading South. Bentley moved to Nashville in 1994 and enrolled at Vanderbilt University, where he studied English because it was the closest thing to songwriting he could find.
Bentley spent the next few years immersing himself in the country music capital's music scene. Bentley worked hard to learn the ropes, but his ride to the top was not very swift. He obtained a fake ID and began hanging out at Nashville's famed Station Inn bluegrass bar. Bentley sat there, night after night, absorbing the music and the musicians who filtered through the doors. When Bentley was not watching, he was playing. He performed at open mic nights and showcases—often for free, sometimes playing for beer or tips. After a while, Bentley moved on to dive bars and pubs, working his way up to the local honky tonks. With plenty of competition from other aspiring country musicians, Bentley had to know his stuff. He often played at Music Row's famed Bluebird Café. "I'd go down and play a four-hour shift with the tip jar in front and play whatever you had to play to make money," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Mike Kalil. "Four hours straight. You've got to know a lot of songs. That's the good thing about starting off down there, you have to study country music because you have to be able to do requests."
Bentley's other country music training came in the form of a job he landed at the now-defunct Nashville Network. Working as a researcher for the cable TV channel, Bentley's job was to screen classic country footage. The job afforded Bentley the opportunity to watch historic performances from the 1940s to the 1980s. "I got a chance to watch a lot of great footage," he told the Commercial Appeal's Mark Jordan. "A lot of guys I never would have gotten to see live…. Just to get a chance to see them perform on tape is really helpful when you're just trying to absorb as much information as possible and get it into your bloodstream."
By 2000, Bentley felt ready to cut his own album and cobbled together a studio group that included performers from the Jamie Hartford Band and the Del McCoury Band. The album was funded by a loan taken out against his producer's car. The album grabbed the attention of several major labels and by 2002, Bentley had a recording deal with Capitol Records.
For Bentley, 2003 was a breakout year. He released his first major-label album, simple titled Dierks Bentley, which went platinum, selling one million copies. The straight-up country album contained three high-charting country singles and the chart-topping single "What Was I Thinkin,'" which tells the story of a guy who cannot stay away from a trouble-making girl who has a shotgun-loving father. Bentley wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs. The album's heartbreak songs are hauntingly poignant, likely because they were written on the heels of an agonizing breakup Bentley went through in 2000 after he proposed to a girlfriend and she turned him down. In "Wish It Would Break," the song's narrator yearns for his heart to break so he can get over a relationship. The song "Forget About You" describes a period of weight loss and hair loss following a breakup. The album garnered Bentley the Academy of Country Music's Top New Artist Award in 2004. His parents, excited about the nomination, attended the awards show and were there to take part in his success. Speaking to the Arizona Republic, Cathy Bentley recalled her feelings, "Looking around the whole audience, I thought, well, he's really our baby, but he now belongs to all these other people, too."
Bentley co-wrote eight of the eleven numbers on his second album, Modern Day Drifter, released in 2005. The album, another million-seller, was aptly titled, considering Bentley was living on a tour bus. This album, like his first, shuns gimmicky pop tracks and stays true to his country roots. It features traditional honky tonk instruments and topics, beefed up by Bentley's young attitude. Songs include "Cab of My Truck," "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do" and the drinking tune "Domestic, Light and Cold." The album secured Bentley's status as a rising star in the music industry. In 2005, he won the Country Music Association's Horizon Award, which is given to the best newcomer, and was also invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. Membership in the organization is reserved for country music elite. Just 29, Bentley became the youngest musician ever invited to become a regular on the Opry's hallowed stage. Amidst all his success, Bentley snuck off to Mexico in December of 2005 to marry his high school sweetheart Cassidy Black.
Bentley attributes his success to his songwriting. He draws on his honky tonk roots with songs that cover forbidden love, drinking, and cheating and are backed up by the fiddle, steel guitar, and velvety blues. During an appearance on The Tavis Smiley Show on PBS, Bentley described his philosophy by saying, "country music to me is just about great song-writing—you know, songs that tell stories, songs that you listen to when you're down and you wanna find something to pick you back up, or stuff you listen to when you're having a good time and wanna drink some beers and keep havin' a good time." As such, Bentley's work appeals to a larger audience than typical country—he counts college students, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and guys who drink cheap beer among his fan base.
Besides the songwriting, Bentley's success can be attributed to his tireless touring. During one stretch in 2005, he played 41 shows in 45 nights. Bentley even sold his Nashville home because he spends so much time on the road. Bentley prides himself on gaining fans one show at a time. He is a meet-and-greet kind of singer, who shakes hands and signs autographs after his performances. One radio programmer told the Star Tribune's Jon Bream that Bentley is generating his own buzz in an old-school manner. "He's doing it the old-fashioned way: Play a lot of shows and build up your fan base. And he's really good about taking care of the fans—he gives a nice, long show."
Bentley prefers down-home self-promotion to glitzy commercial promotion. The hunky cowboy with the tousled blond curls and scruffy beard turns down promo opportunities other celebrities would jump at. In 2006, Bentley said no to a People spread because he knew the magazine was more interested in his personal life than his music. He also nixed an opportunity to appear in Vanity Fair. Bentley wants to be known for his music, not his looks.
Though he gave more than 300 performances in 2005, Bentley found time to cut another lively, yet neo-traditional flavored album and released Long Trip Alone in 2006. He had writing credit on all eleven tunes. The album, with the No. 1 single "Every Mile a Memory," also topped the Billboard album chart. It included the lyrically witty song "The Heaven I'm Headed To," as well as "Long Trip Alone" and "Soon As You Can," which reflect on how important relationships are in a person's life.
Bentley is driven; though he is already a celebrity act, he dreams of more success. "I want it all," Bentley told the San Diego Union-Tribune's Mikel Toombs. "I've been on the road with Strait and I've been on the road with Chesney, and I've seen how big it can get. Selling 50,000 albums a year sounds like racing in NASCAR and just driving around at the back of the pack. I want to be in contention to win, and winning is getting your music out to as many people as possible."
Don't Leave Me in Love, Dangling Rope Records, 2001.
Dierks Bentley, Capitol Records, 2003.
Modern Day Drifter, Capitol Records, 2005.
Long Trip Alone, Capitol Records, 2006.
Arizona Republic, May 28, 2004, p. 1; November 13, 2005, p. A24; December 22, 2005, p. B8.
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), September 8, 2006, p. G16-17.
People, May 23, 2005, p. 88.
San Diego Union-Tribune, May 19, 2005, sec. Entertainment, p. 9.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), November 24, 2006, p. F1.
Tennessean (Nashville, TN), November 5, 2006.
"Dierks Bentley: Biography," Official Dierks Bentley Site, http://www.dierks.com/site.php?content=bio (January 20, 2007).
"Hunky Tonk," Review-Journal, http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2005//Dec-09-Fri-2005/weekly/4638010.html (January 25, 2007).
"Suzan-Lori Parks, Dierks Bentley," Tavis Smiley Show, http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/archive/200405/20040519.tif_transcript.html (January 25, 2007).