The underdog status that Dierks Bentley used to wear as his badge of honor in country music is slowly slipping away — and he can only blame himself.
After all, it's Bentley's growing appeal and platinum status that has put the congenial singer-songwriter among country's elite. His latest album, "Long Trip Home," may further erode outsider status; the first single from the album, "Every Mile a Memory," is No. 1 on the Billboard country charts.
Bentley, who spent years performing in Nashville's clubs before making his self-titled CD debut three years ago, had his biggest success last year with the album "Modern Day Drifter." Though Bentley, 30, likes to think of himself as more traditional and not part of mainstream country, he admits he enjoys the acceptance he's received of late from country music's establishment and its fans.
He remembers that the first time he appeared on the CMA Awards the coveted appearance came not so much by special invite but after intense negotiations — and, then, he only merited a spot that lasted less than a minute.
Last year, he won the CMA Horizon award, given to rising stars in the genre, and this year, he's a nominee for male vocalist of the year, alongside superstars like Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.
AP: How has your success changed your outlook?
Bentley: I feel successful when I look at friends of mine who still play down on lower Broadway (in Nashville) and still haven't gotten the shot or the chance. It's like, wow, I have made it ... then I look at the other end of the spectrum, I look at Kenny Chesney. I just did seven dates with him, to me that's successful, when you have a tour that really sustains itself year after year.
AP: Are you a good promoter of yourself?
Bentley: I heard it said somewhere, and I agree, to a degree you are a traveling salesman — you're selling your songs, and you're selling your music, and what you're show's all about. It's not hard to sell something when you really passionately believe in something.
AP: You recently got married. How have you adapted to married life while spending so much time on the road?
Bentley: For me, there's not much of a change. There's a funny song on this record called "That Don't Make It Easy Loving Me," which talks about all the silly, crazy things that happen out there on the road: "She knows that I'd never do anything to make her leave — she knows how much I love her, but that don't make it easy loving me." It's funny, because Cassie is amazing, (but) if somebody had told me in the beginning in 2005 that I was going to be married, I would have said that was absolutely crazy, there's just no way.
AP: It wasn't something you were planning, like, "This is the year?"
Bentley: (laughs) No. I was so happy being single. I was in a relationship and it lasted for about two years, and then it ended. I had a nice little spree there, and then somehow I found myself back dating someone, and that thing ended disastrously as well, and I just kind of enjoyed being single. I was happy being single. And that's of course when things like that happen. Cassie, who I had known for a long time, came out to a show as a friend ... that was February 4, 2005. So, that just kind of changed everything. It's nice to have someone to come home to, and it's tough on her at times but there is a lot of trust there, and there's no jealousy. If there was jealousy, it would be impossible.
AP: You admit to caring about reviews. If you do get a bad review, how do you react to it?
Bentley: It can bum me out. We played a show in Washington about two months ago with Pat Green, and it was a rainy, Sunday afternoon, it was a terrible day for a live show outside. People came out anyway. It was a really great day. I thought it was an amazing show ... and then I get this review — "Dierks, live, not so lively." Man, she just slammed me every which way. ... It was nasty. So in the middle of the night, I had a few drinks and (was) getting ready to send a response to the editor — which I did do once on behalf of Kenny, I got so mad at a review referring to him as Mr. Zellweger — but I ... just let it go.
AP: Have you ever learned from a bad review?
Bentley: Oh yeah. "He's no dancer but he's quite a pacer." (laughs). And I listen to the show every night, and a lot of nights I set up a video camera and watch the show. It's not a mathematical thing, you're just trying to see what works and what doesn't.
AP: Have you always been so involved in the tiny details of your career?
Bentley: Pretty much, just because before there was anyone there was just me and a guitar. I was doing the singer-songwriter nights, and then eventually you put a little band together, and I was putting up the fliers, and was calling all the musicians, and I was making the set list, and I was counting all the money at the end of the night, and eventually I made a CD of my own. It's not so much about being a control freak, it's just about getting it done right. For everyone else, if this gig fails, I feel like they can get another gig ... but if this gig goes away for me, it's done. Because I'm not a very good guitar player, I'm not a good tour manager, and I'm not a good harmony singer (laughs). This is my one shot and I want it to be done right.