Dierks Bentley says he owes his career to embracing the past while looking toward the future.
Mr. Bentley, best known for country hits such as Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go) and Settle for a Slowdown , appears Tuesday at the Kicks 99 Guitar Pull at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center.
Raised in Arizona and New Jersey, Mr. Bentley said his style of country music has little to do with the Nashville norm. Instead of Music Row, Mr. Bentley said, his singing, songwriting and playing owe more to the crisp twang of the Bakersfield, Calif., sound.
"Bakersfield is where it all starts for me," he said. "The band we use is modeled after the Buck Owens band. Sure, we make records in Nashville, but I've never used strings or piano or a Hammond B3. It's always been about guitar -- electric and steel."
Mr. Bentley said because his early influences, which include Owens and legendary music outlaw Waylon Jennings, were never strictly Nashville stars, it never bothered him that he was growing up so far outside the Nashville establishment.
"It's funny, because growing up on a farm and being country never seemed to go hand-in-hand until I moved to the South," he said with a laugh. "I mean, Waylon Jennings starting playing country music in Scottsdale, so I actually thought I was growing up at ground zero for country music."
Like the legends he draws from, Mr. Bentley carefully crafts his music, doing much of the writing, producing on top of performing. He said his hands-on approach means he can release a record about once every two years.
"The thing is, the success I want is both commercial and critical," the Grand Ole Opry member said. "I know I'm not choosing the easiest path, but I'm also not willing to just do whatever it takes to be commercially successful."
His strong connections to country music history has made Mr. Bentley a champion for the style's pioneers. He said he sees his job as being about education in addition to entertainment.
"It's part of my passion," he explained. "I believe it's important to maintain those ties to the past. It's something I see as a real responsibility."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: The Wiggles: Racing to the Rainbow Live
WHEN: 3 and 6:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: The University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center, 471 University Parkway, Aiken.
COST: $25-$37, 866-722-8877, www.uscatix.com
Click here to listen to Dierks Bentley singing 'What Was I Thinking?'