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Dierks Bentley talks fast on the telephone, faster than one might expect from a country musician, but it seems to be representative of his professional life these days. Drop the pen and you might miss what he just said; blink and you might miss him coming through your town.
His mantra for the past four years has been tour and tour some more, regular and often. Dierks Bentley is not going to be the country artist you never heard of, or the one you didn’t have a chance to see. He also doesn’t seem like the kind who’s going to be here one day and then forgotten.
He scored four No. 1 hits off the 2005 album “Modern Day Drifter,” to go with another from his smash debut “Dierks Bentley,” and which still leaves him about 46 No. 1’s behind his idol, George Strait, but ahead of most of the young ’uns trying to make it in Nashville. Now a tour headliner, Bentley’s latest CD is the aptly titled “Long Trip Alone”; he’s joined the Grand Ole Opry; he has a new concert DVD out this month that was filmed in Denver’s Fillmore auditorium, and he’s playing live nearly every night this spring.
That includes Saturday, March 10, at Alltel Arena. The “Live and Loud” Tour also includes the fetching fireball Miranda Lambert in a 7:30 p.m. start. Tickets are $28 and $33 through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com, 975-7575).
Last week, Bentley was busy doing interviews by cell phone while he drove from the dentist after getting a chipped tooth repaired. He was doing a bar gig that night with some Nashville country legends for promotion and radio folk, then getting on his bus one more time.
“We’ve got a great following there,” he says of Little Rock. “It’s a lot like it’s been everywhere else, where we start out playing a tiny little bar. I remember playing the Electric Cowboy there. I came back with George Strait, and like many places you just try to build up the following. You just want to get it where we always wanted to be, which is headlining a tour, and we’re doing that now.
“We’ve been on every rung of the ladder just working our way up.”
Known for his carefree, long curly locks, Bentley had them sheared for a recent video for the album’s title cut, “Long Trip Alone.”
“I was getting ready to cut my hair anyway, so the director said let’s do it,” Bentley said. “It’s a special video and a very special song, it means a lot to me. We put three days of hard work into it. We sacrificed a lot of blood, sweat and hair.”
Yes, the name Dierks has a connection to the Southwest Arkansas lumber town, the singer said, with ancestors on his mom Cathy’s side of the family settling there. His mom grew up in Illinois. Bentley recalls playing a concert in the vicinity of Dierks, at Nashville, Ark.
He grew up in Phoenix, turned on to country music by his dad, Leon, who had two popular country radio stations from which to choose. Dad’s now 83 and mom is 62. Their son is a 31-year-old country singer on the verge of superstardom comparable to Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and even Strait. It almost seems “overnight,” but Bentley’s been working at it in Nashville since he was 19. He believes no one tours more than his band, and he may be as accessible to the media and fans as any big country name in Nashville.
“There may be people that work harder, and a lot that it came easier to, but I know there are no shortcuts,” he said. “I also know it’s all about the music. I held on to my earlier belief that the fans will be there for the music, and that’s what we’ve been doing for four years.”
Doing 25 shows in 25 days, or 41 in 45, isn’t unusual for Bentley. He admits, “It scares me to be off the road.” His bus is “really set up for the long term,” he said, with “lots of ice, lots of beer and lots of peanut butter and jelly. There’s only five of us on our bus, so there’s lots of space. We’ve got two satellite TVs and every bunk has its own flip-down TV. It’s got a big bathroom. It’s nicer than the way Johnny Cash got around back in the day.”
Cash and Waylon Jennings are two influences “that continue to grow with me as I get older,” Bentley said. He said he appreciates the way Cash blended his music with his spiritual side.
Bentley eloped with his high school sweetheart in 2005. She’s apparently happy to stay rooted at home in Nashville while Bentley tours endlessly.
“She loves music and loves what I do. She comes out every now and then, but mainly she stays busy at home. The road is not the most romantic setting.”