Dierks Bentley Remembers 10 Grammy-Winning Country Classics

His Latest Album, Up on the Ridge, Garners Three Nominations

Dierks Bentley is up for three Grammy Awards in recognition of Up on the Ridge, the bluegrass-influenced project he released last year. Along with a nod for best country album, Bentley is rooted in two slots in the category of best country collaboration with vocals: one for “Bad Angel,” featuring Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson, and the other for “Pride (In the Name of Love),” featuring Del McCoury and the Punch Brothers.

“With this record in particular, it seems fitting to be a part of the Grammys because it’s an album that encapsulates a lot of different types of music under the country music umbrella,” Bentley tells CMT.com. “For me, personally, it’s really exciting. It’s exciting for my producer, the musicians and all the writers and collaborators on this album. I think it’s a fitting way to end this album, just being nominated. It’s nice to come back and have one last chance to visit Up on the Ridge and do it in the setting of the Grammys.”

With the Grammy Awards scheduled to air Sunday night (Feb. 13) on CBS, Bentley shares his personal thoughts about 10 Grammy-winning country classics.

“El Paso,” Marty Robbins
1960, Best Country & Western Performance
A great storytelling song by one of the greatest voices of all time in country music. It’s a lost art, to have a song that really pulls you in like that.

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Flatt & Scruggs
1968, Best Country Performance, Duo or Group — Vocal or Instrumental
Earl Scruggs invented the three-finger style of banjo picking that was never better played than on a song like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” That three-finger roll is on great display there. It probably blew people’s minds when they first heard that. It’s not every day that somebody invents a style of playing like Earl did. It’s a very deserving song.

“Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash
1968, Best Country Vocal Performance, Male
That’s one of the most-played songs of any bar or state fair in America. (laughs) It took me a long time to get that one out of my set list. We played it so many times. It’s probably the most recognizable Johnny Cash song there is out there. It encapsulates what is so great about country songs, which is storytelling. It has that dark element to it, which draws people in.

“Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis
1987, Best Country Song (Songwriters: Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet)
What a great country voice singing a great country song. In the love song category, that’s a song about never-ending devotion. You hear that pure country sound coming out at a time when country had been popped up a little bit. Here comes a guy that’s a real traditional country singer with a great country love song. It was a turning point in country music.

“From the Bottle to the Bottom,” Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge
1973, Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
A total innovator — Kris Kristofferson and his writing. To think about the kind of country songs that were out in the 1970s, no one was writing the way Kristofferson was writing. The alliteration and the poetic style of writing … but also the realness of it. It’s about a real down-and-outer. It’s a style of writing that he unleashed upon Nashville that nobody else had done before.

“Gentle on My Mind,” Glen Campbell
1967, Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance, Male
1967, Best Country & Western Recording
1967, Best Country & Western Song (Songwriter: John Hartford)
1967, Best Folk Performance (for Hartford’s version)

It’s a great John Hartford song. I love that song so much because it allowed Hartford the financial freedom to be [himself] the rest of his life. How do you write something like that? It’s so out there as a writing style. He definitely wasn’t trying to write a hit. He was just writing a great song. You can tell when you listen to it, it’s a song that came from his heart. It has a little bit of that left-fieldness that makes it one-of-a-kind.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones
1980, Best Country Vocal Performance, Male
It’s a song that a lot of people consider to be one of the greatest songs of all time. When it comes to great country songwriting, the best songs always leave a little twist in there for you, that you don’t expect to see coming. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the example of the best twist, the best turn, that you can do. He did that punch you’re not expecting, and he does it better than anybody. You take a great song and mix the greatest voice with it, you’re going to get a Grammy.

“High Lonesome Sound,” Vince Gill and Alison Krauss & Union Station
1996, Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
What a great collaboration. The harmony in that song touches anybody in any genre of music. Whether they’re a country or bluegrass fan, or a rock and pop fan, you hear that and you can’t help but be moved by the hauntingness of the vocals and the content of the song.

“O Death,” Ralph Stanley
2001, Best Male Country Vocal Performance
Dr. Ralph represents that mountain music, that unpolished version of bluegrass. To hear someone sing so starkly like that, it’s a really cool thing. And it talks about a subject matter that we all try to avoid. And he takes it straight on and talks about it! (laughs) It’s a one-of-a-kind song.

“On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson
1980, Best Country Song (Songwriter: Willie Nelson)
Willie Nelson at his best. It’s very personal. It’s about Willie and it’s about his lifestyle. You wonder if other people would be able to connect with it, but people really do. They get to wear Willie’s shoes a little bit and feel the vibe of the road through that song. I see myself in that song a lot. Even before I was traveling around, I just loved that song.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.