Though the tiny hamlet of Holladay, Tennessee might seem a little bit isolated, it’s location in the western portion of the Volunteer State gives it a close proximity to several musical styles. Two hours to the southwest via Interstate 40, you will find the sounds of the blues coming from Memphis, while an hour and a half northeast will bring you straight into Music City. Throw in the fact that Mississippi and Kentucky -- each with their own unique musical heritage -- are just an hour away, and you have the potential for a very diverse musical upbringing.
That’s how Dustin Hensley was raised.
“I grew up with a little bit of everything,” the newcomer tells Billboard. “There was the '90s country boom going on, so I was listening to a lot of Little Texas, Diamond Rio, and those kinds of bands because that was what was going on at the time. I also loved classic rock, which was a lot of bands like 38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd. With my dad being in a band, that was all that I knew. I didn’t know that everyone didn’t spend their entire weekends in the honky-tonks and bars.” A change in musical directions from his father still kept Hensley immersed in music. “Ultimately, he wound up going into preaching, so he got out of those places, but it was kind of the same thing as we sang in Church. I feel it’s the same kind of people that listen to country music and gospel. It’s all about life and the decisions that you make living that life. Music was just a constant.”
Throw in a little George Jones and a little Otis Redding, and you will have the basis for what formed Hensley’s unique musical style. It’s country for sure, but also bears more than a little resemblance to acts such as Tracy Chapman, thanks to his soulful touch.
The singer, who has just released his debut single -- “Don’t Call It A Night,” says that both of those afore-mentioned artists had a huge impact on him. It was because of hearing Jones’ “Bartender’s Blues” at age seven that made him think seriously about becoming an artist for the first time, and the music of Redding also very critical.
“As close to Memphis as I was, a lot of the Blues influence was there,” he related to The 615. “I never felt like I was as old as I was. I always felt like I was born about ten or twenty years before I actually was. I always loved older music, even when I was really young, I was listening to him, and the way that he would pronounce things, or even the chord progressions were so different and intricate from what was going on at the time, which kind of made me an old soul. I feel like you can hear some of that in my music now.”
Leaving West Tennessee immediately after college, Hensley made his move to Nashville in 2010. Armed with talent and a dream, he knew that he needed more -- so he worked hard, learning many different facets of the business while trying to get a foot in the door. “I interned at a couple of different labels, so I would know every aspect of the business. I started trying to learn everything I could -- from songwriting to publishing to booking, and making as many friends as I could.”
Those relationships are beginning to pay some dividends career-wise for the singer. He is currently making the rounds throughout the southeast on his initial radio tour, where his music has garnered the support from one of America’s powerhouse radio stations in the country format, WUSY in Chattanooga, where he stopped last week. The station’s “Mo” from the award-winning Dex and Mo Show said of Hensley, "Dustin is on to something good! He has a good song and good energy, and is definitely heading in the right direction."
In describing the song, which he co-wrote with Scott Stevens, he said “It’s basically the story of someone not wanting the night to end. I feel like with my generation, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to classify a relationship. They just want to date casually, and if it goes somewhere, that’s fine, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. The song says ‘Let’s not call it anything. We don’t have to say you’re my girlfriend or boyfriend, or that we’ll even see each other tomorrow. Let’s just don’t call it a night. Just be here with me.”
Hensley admitted that he is taking the old-school approach -- doing the entire tour on his own, but he’s having the time of his life. “It’s been so fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. From interning in the promotion department, I’ve seen first hand what it takes to get a single to radio, and make a career happen. It’s been so fun to meet so many people. Playing new songs for people and seeing them connect, that’s what it’s all about -- giving them a piece of your life. And, hearing that your lyrics have become a part of someone’s life, there’s no way to describe that.”