Dennis McEntire was born and raised in Rutherford County where he was surrounded by traditional music in his family and community. His mother played piano in church, and an older brother played in a “hillbilly band.” A small country store, which his father ran, served as a community gathering place where stories and music were shared. “I got exposed to music at that time from the old timers,” says Dennis.
He began learning to play various string band instruments at age eight as an apprentice with E.O. Rednair, who played with Fisher Henley. Henley was a recording artist in the 1930s and had a band in Columbia, South Carolina, with Little Boy Blue and Hamp Bradley. Dennis’s grandfather was a musician, and Henley’s band often stayed with the family when they traveled to western North Carolina for performances. From Henley, Dennis learned many of the songs and playing styles associated with early country music of the 1920s and 1930s. “As a result of this exposure, I learned some guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass,” says Dennis.
He continued playing music through grammar and high school and during his military service in the Vietnam War. When he returned from the army, Dennis attended Appalachian State University where he met others interested in traditional mountain music. Through music jams at a local senior center he learned an oldtime two-finger banjo picking style. “Those were the most fruitful times in my learning experience of the music,” he says.
After college, Dennis returned to Rutherford County and began teaching music focusing on passing the tradition on to young people. “I started teaching banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, and fiddle the way I had learned in my early life and added everything I picked up during my college studies,” he says. Dennis taught his sons to play and created a family band, Hickory Flat. The group finished fourth in a bluegrass band competition in Nashville that included eighty-two groups. Dennis, along with his sons and nephews, teaches twenty-five to thirty students most of whom are fifteen years old or younger. “My focus has been on the younger generations,” he says. “They like it and I think I have something to offer.”
Dennis continues to teach music and perform with his family bands. He has developed his interest in song writing and has set up a home studio and publishing company, PKB Records, where he and other family members produce recording projects with technical engineer, Robbie McDaniel. One of his songs was recorded on Rebel Records, and Ronnie Bowman and Jim VanCleve recorded one of his songs on the Rural Rhythm label.
Dennis McEntire is available for lessons on guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, and mandolin. His family bands are available for performances. Members of his family, Mack and David McEntire, make “McEntire” bluegrass instruments and also do repair work. Their instruments are available for sale or for exhibition at shows and festivals.