Dierks Bentley roamed the Sony/ATV Music parking lot in Nashville Monday (Sept. 29), greeting old friends, accepting congratulations and otherwise basking in the joy of having seen his first single, “What Was I Thinkin’,” scramble to the top of the charts. That’s an achievement even superstars Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw and the Dixie Chicks can’t boast. To celebrate the occasion, Sony/ATV, Bentley’s publisher, transformed its parking lot into a picnic ground and invited Music Row in. The weather was sunny but autumn cool.
Woody Bomar, Sony/ATV’s senior vice president and general manager of creative services, opened the ceremonies by summoning Bentley and his co-writers, Deric Ruttan and Brett Beavers, into the party tent to receive a series of awards. Beavers is also Bentley’s producer. Others getting or conferring trophies — and in some cases both — were Mike Dungan, president of Capitol Nashville, Bentley’s record label; Bill Catino, Capitol’s head of promotion; Pat Rolfe, vice president of ASCAP; David Preston, director of writer-publisher relations for BMI; and Rick Murray, senior director of strategic marketing for the Country Music Association.
Bomar told the crowd that Steve Misamore — who used to play drums for Bentley but still works in Sony’s tape room — brought him a copy of the singer’s self-produced album “a couple of years ago” and asked him to listen to it. Liking what he heard, Bomar signed Bentley to a songwriting contract and turned him over to staff songplugger Arthur Buenahora to develop. Buenahora teamed Bentley with Ruttan and Beavers to create the package that soon got him signed to Capitol.
Catino joked that he first thought that Autumn House, a Capitol talent scout, had signed the handsome, tousled-haired Bentley to a deal “just because of his looks.” Catino related his daughter had recently given birth and that her new baby’s “eyes lit up” in the hospital when Bentley’s video came on CMT. “That’s when I knew he was a star,” Catino observed.
“I thank God for the day Autumn House got into my face about this one,” Dungan said when it came his turn to speak. He pointed out and thanked everyone in the promotion department who had helped Bentley’s single go No. 1. Virtually everyone involved in the celebration praised Buenahora for his foresight and persistence. “There’s no plaque for him,” Bomar cracked, “but he gets to keep his job.”
Rolfe presented Bentley and Ruttan, both of whom are affiliated with ASCAP, monogrammed jackets. She recalled introducing Bentley to Connie Bradley, head of ASCAP’s Nashville operations. “Connie told me,” Rolfe said, “‘I don’t know whether he can write or sing, but he’s a star.’” Preston presented a trophy to Beavers, whose performance rights are administered by BMI. In conferring CMA’s No. 1 artist-member certificate to Bentley, Murray reminded the partygoers that the singer once worked as an intern for the trade association.
Bentley said he was recording his album for Capitol when Ruttan and Beavers brought him a fragment of the song that would eventually become “What Was I Thinkin’.” “When I heard those first two lines — ‘Becky was a beauty from south Alabama/Her daddy had a heart like a ball-peen hammer’ — I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d heard in my life,” he confessed.
Speaking to reporters before the celebration started, Bentley said he was excited to have an opening slot on George Strait’s upcoming tour. He added that Strait had long been one of his father’s favorite singers. He repeatedly spoke of his passion for traditional country music, an affinity he says was sharpened by his work as a researcher for the 13-part TNN series, A Century of Country. Searching through archival films and videotapes, he said, imbued him with a particular fondness for music of the 1960s. He noted that he knew nothing about Faron Young, now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, until he saw how the singer could “entertain a crowd with just his eyes.” Bentley admitted as well to being a big fan of Frank Sinatra: “Man, he’s just like [George] Jones. He sings with a broken heart.”
Bentley said he relishes being a part of the new tribute album, Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers. When its producer, Carl Jackson, offered him a song on the album, Bentley explained, he was already familiar with most of the Louvins’ songs. His contribution to the collection is “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” a duet with Harley Allen. (He and Allen also co-wrote his next single, “My Last Name.”)
When the news came through that “What Was I Thinkin’” had dislodged Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett’s tenacious “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” from the top of the charts, Bentley said he treated himself to a beer, even though it was only 10 in the morning. “I thought, well, it’s five o’clock somewhere.”