BOOT BEATIN' BOOGIE

Hard work and heartbreak brought Dierks Bentley to stardom - and he's jumping in with both feet!

Dierks Bentley is showing off the heels of his boots, pointing out how the right one is much more worn than the left.

Why? It's because Dierks gets so excited onstage that he stomps his right foot violently, in time with his guitar strumming. Clearly, this is a man who's happy to be performing!

"I love it!" he declares. "I feel like I was made to be out here playing music on the road."

That's why, with the No. 1 hit "What Was I Thinkin' " under his belt, Dierks has purposely packed his schedule with shows. "Someone asked me how many days we had off, and I said, 'We don't need days off,' " he explains. "When you play music for a living, every day's a day off."

Dierks travels so much that, at times, he forgets which state he's in. He's lost weight on the road, because he doesn't carry food on the bus. And sometimes he just plain forgets to eat, and sings through the hunger pangs.

Not that Dierks is complaining - after all, he spent eight years working his tail off in Nashville to get here. But his change of lifestyle does require some adjustments.

"You're gone every day, and life as you knew it ceases to exist," he reports. "A whole new life begins - life on the road, which is really hard to imagine until you've done it. It takes a little getting used to - being gone all the time, learning how to sleep on the bus."

For the first part of his life, Dierks slept in Phoenix. His father introduced him to country music there as a child, exposing him to records by Hank Williams and George Strait. By the mid-'90s, Dierks was ready to follow those hallowed footsteps to Nashville.

Upon his arrival in Music City, he took a job in the royalty department at TNN - the same place where Alan Jackson had worked in the mailroom a decade earlier. Several years later, he scored a record deal, and his self-titled debut album jumped into the Top 5 upon its release in August.

Many of the album's songs are about picking up the pieces after a broken romance - and as it turns out, that's exactly what inspired them. A girlfriend split with him in late 2001, just as Dierks was writing the songs.

"I dated this girl for about two years, asked her to marry me, and it never worked out," he recalls. "It messed me up pretty good. I lost a bunch of weight and a bunch of hair. That's what 'Forget About You' is about." In the song, Dierks sings, I lost weight, I lost hair/And I don't intend to ever go back there.

"My mom would send me herbal horse pills to grow your hair back," he remembers. "It was heartbreak-related stress. But I've been over that ever since we were done recording."

With his album in stores, his heart repaired, and his curly locks once again in full force, Dierks is right where he belongs. And life is even better since he learned that this spring he'll be opening shows for George Strait - the guy his father taught him to enjoy as a child. "It's the coolest thing that could possibly happen!" he beams.

You can bet that Dierks will be wearing down even more of that heel on his boot.

-- Tom Roland

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