Bluegrass has been part of Bentley's musical recordings since he went to Nashville after high school. Phoenix did not exactly have a booming bluegrass scene when Bentley grew up there a few decades ago. Instead, he was introduced to the genre when he hung out at the Station Inn in Nashville, one of the premier bluegrass clubs in the country.
Every Tuesday night, a group called The Sidemen played the club. Only they weren't run of the mill players. Among those who shopped up were Ronnie and Rob McCoury, Mike Bub, also a member of the McCoury Band, Terry Eldredge, Jimmy Campbell and Gene Wooten on Dobro. "Those guys really turned me on," he says. "The Sidemen and The Station Inn and Del McCoury. That's how it all came together"
"The only thing I knew about the banjo (growing up) was Roy Clark on Hee Haw," says Bentley. "I had no idea what it was. I thought it was old people's music."
That changed when he saw The Sidemen. "Those guys are younger than me, and they're wearing it out. They're not using amplifiers or anything else to do it."
Bentley grew up listening to music. Bentley started listening to country through his non-musician parents. "Music was always playing in our house. My mom loved Marty Robbins. My dad listened to a lot of country music. They had a role for sure. I listened exclusively to country just because that's what my dad listened to. When I started to 13, I stopped listening to country and started listening to rock and roll."
He picked up an electric guitar, formed a jam band with a couple of friends, playing in a garage.
Bentley wasn't too long for Phoenix at that point though. "I was getting in trouble back at home. A couple of guys I'd ran around with, we were in the back of a couple of police cars." Bentley was not specific about what landed him in a cruiser.
"I was heading down the wrong path," he says. His parents shipped him off to the Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey for four years of high school.
That changed his life. "At 17, I got turned onto Hank Jr. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and lights out."
What did Bentley like about Hank Jr." "Just his attitude and bravado. And singing about cold beer and naked girls. I said, 'man, that's what I need to be listening to right here."
"Being there made me sort of homesick. That's actually how I got into Hank Jr. I had one friend up there that just really loved country music. He played me a Hank Jr. song, 'Man to Man.' Being so far away from home, everything clicked together. Things with my dad...Nothing really clicked until that. Wow, this totally resonates. Something inside said, 'this is it'."
Bentley moved to Nashville, interning in music jobs, including the now defunct Nashville Network where he catalogued footage of old performances. He also played some clubs around Nashville.
In about 2000, Bentley worked as a writer at the same publishing company as Brett Beavers, Sony. "A buddy of mine thought we should write together," says Beavers, who was writing and on the road with Lee Ann Womack. "I knew he'd been around town playing bluegrass gigs and the Lower Broadway thing." Lower Broadway is a section of downtown Nashville where a slew of small clubs are located where performers tend to pay for pocket change and hone their skills.
Music man Arthur Buenahora met Dierks, "got attracted him and thought he had artist potential," Beavers says. As for writing together, Beavers says, "You never know whether it's going to fly or fail...We were trying to do some cool songs together and went in the studio and demoed the songs (recording rough cuts of songs) we'd written, and Arthur was going to take that around to different labels and see if he could generate some interest."
From the get go, Beavers and Bentley clicked. "Right away there was a chemistry," says Beavers. "I don't know (that) you feel it. You kind of look back and know there's obviously something there. Because the first day we get together we wrote a song." ("She Won't Choose Me" ended up as a bonus track along the way).
"I've written with tons of co-writers, and for whatever reason, whether spiritual or a chemistry, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't."
"With Dierks it was always real cool songs (that we wrote). It was a great hang. We had a lot of the similar interests and loved the same music. We loved the Buck Owens and early country and had those influences going together. I think what he brought to me was a really youthful, young energy that I could feel in the room. It kind of just drew me in the process of creating with him. Young, single, good-looking guy. Nothing was impossible to him. He was positive."
Bentley, who released a CD, "Don't Leave Me In Love," independetly in 2001, eventually signed with Capitol Nashville, and Beavers was brought into produce even though he had never done that before. Capitol head Mike Dungan "liked the demoes. He liked the energy. He said, 'you go try it.'"