George Strait Sang It. Dean Dillon Wrote It. Now He’s HOF Bound

Country music is unique in how it holds the songwriters behind the iconic hits and the critical ballads in such high regard, even going as far as ensconcing the legacies of these behind-the-scenes scribes in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and not in a separate wing, but right beside the performers who made them famous. This is the reverence the song holds in country history.

There are many worthy songwriters whose legacies should be preserved in such fashion, from names also known for performance such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, to other more pure songwriters like Paul Overstreet and Kostas. But in 2020, that distinction goes to Dean Dillon, who was announced as the latest inductee in the Songwriter category, which comes up every three years. Hank Williams Jr. was announced as the 2020 Veterans Era nominee (read more), and Marty Stuart was announced as the Modern Era nominee (read more).

“I was just speechless,” says Dillon about the honor. “Trying to soak in the words that I had just heard. My life flashed before my eyes. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”

Though Dean Dillon has written songs for scores of artists, including Gary Stewart, Vince Gill, Vern Gosdin, Lee Ann Womack, and so many others, it’s his partnership with George Strait that has gone on to become legendary, and is the undeniable impetus for putting him in the Hall of Fame.

Dean Dillon has written more than 50 songs for George Strait, and every George Strait album except for one includes a Dean Dillon song. And we’re not talking about the obscure album cuts, but the songs that went on to define George Strait’s career, and the 80’s and 90’s era in country music. “The Chair,” “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” “It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Famous Last Words of a Fool,” and so many more sprang from the pen of Dean Dillon, and ended up on the country charts.

But even though Dean Dillon songwriting and George Strait’s success are now synonymous, arguably Dillon’s greatest single contribution to country music, and the one that has enjoyed the most lasting success is his co-write with Linda Hargrove on “Tennessee Whiskey.”

First recorded by David Allan Coe in 1981 to moderate success, and then picked up by George Jones in 1983 to become a #2 hit, it was ultimately Chris Stapleton’s rendition of the song recorded for his award-winning and record-smashing album Traveller that launched both the song and Chris Stapleton into the stratosphere where they still reside to this very day. Looking at sales and streaming numbers, “Tennessee Whiskey” is the reason Traveller still remains a regular Top 10 album in country music, and the song is one of the most successful in country in a decade, still enjoying great traction five years after its release, even though it never was officially a single.

It’s these kinds of lasting contributions that make Dean Dillon Hall of Fame worthy as a songwriter. Born on March 26, 1955 in Lake City, Tennessee, Dillon started playing guitar when he was seven. After finishing high school in 1973, he hitchhiked to Nashville where he would first become a recording artist to some moderate success. Dillon has continued to perform throughout his career. It just happens to be that his songs are bigger stars than him.

But now with an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the legacy of this man behind-the-music will be placed out front, and forever be preserved right beside the performers his songs helped make famous. A worthy distinction for a remarkable wordsmith.

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