Dierks Bentley's dirt road path to country prestige

Dierks Bentley performs on stage at the CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Wade Payne/Invision/AP)
Wade Payne/Invision/AP

Dierks Bentley appeals to country music fans both modern and traditional. He is one of the most genuine and well-liked artists in the industry and heads into Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards with more nominations than any other male artist.

Bentley may be at the top now, but he took an unconventional road to stardom, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

"My story is not typical and it's not easy to sum up in, like, a two- or three-word byline which is -- which I really love. Please don't like, you know, box me in," Bentley said.

His concerts sell out arenas -- rowdy celebrations led by a guy who loves a good time and a cold beer.

The 39-year-old may well be country music's most complicated, simple man. He's a regular guy from Arizona who wants his fans to have fun and isn't afraid to join in. He's also a Vanderbilt University graduate who married a woman he's known since 8th grade.

Bentley bridges a lot of worlds. For proof, look no further than his latest album, a deeply personal collection he wrote in the year after his father's death. It's nominated for album of the year with two very different number-one hits.

One is about a jilted fiancé who can't cancel his honeymoon and goes on the trip alone.

"It is actually such a big part of who I am, when the grief has past and these bigger life moments kind of flatten back out. I am a very, upbeat, positive, fun person," Bentley said.

But the grief was there. Bentley was with his father in the hospital when he died.

"It's one of those moments in life you never really can imagine being there or imagine happening, it's still weird to look back on it now, and think that, to be there when someone actually leaves the room," Bentley said.

Particularly if that person's your father.

"And my son was born not long after. So it's just hard to talk about," Bentley said.

He worked through the emotions in the music. "I Hold On" hit number one and is nominated for song of the year.

Bentley still has the truck mentioned in the song that he and his dad drove from Arizona to Nashville in 1994.

"I started thinking about this truck and why do I still have this same truck? After all of these years why am I holding on to that? I just starting thinking about other things: guitars, boots and jeans. I just had a tendency to hold on to the things that have meaning to me. So the song started from that.

It's a different sounding song on a different kind of album; a sound Bentley said is a direct result of following his own path.

After a string of number one hits, he walked away in 2009 from what he said was Nashville's "game."

"I think I was trying to make records that supported touring more than just making records for the sake of making records and I just felt like I needed to get off the country music treadmill and just get off the grid and get away from all the rules and expectations and award shows and just kind, just do my own thing and have fun," Bentley said.

He went back to his roots, played smaller venues and cut a bluegrass album. That experience, he said, has shaped everything since.

It reminded Bentley of what kept him in Nashville in the first place, back when he started out at small bars with big dreams of playing at the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music.

"Like at 2 a.m. I'd walk down this little alleyway here and just rub my hands along these stone bricks of the Ryman," Bentley said. "At 2 a.m. touching this building and thinking one day maybe I'll actually get a chance to play inside there."

It was a good feeling for a singer and songwriter who said he's landed in a great place.

"I still feel like that 17-year-old-kid that fell in love with country music, but I also am allowed to write songs about being a man too, which I think is the coolest place I've ever been in my life," Bentley said.