Dean Dillon

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November 1, 2008

Although he started his career in front of a microphone, Dean Dillon soon transitioned into one of the finest songwriters in Nashville, notably enhancing the careers of one of its legends and illustrating an uncommon power in melody and verse.

Dean Dillon, born on March 26, 1955, in Lake City, TN, was entranced with country music from an early age. At 15, he appeared in a local Knoxville variety show as a songwriter and performer, and that experience stirred his interest in a career of performing. Soon after arriving in Nashville as a teenager, Dillon accepted a job at the Opryland theme park. In 1976, he landed the role of Hank Williams in the Country Music Show at Opryland. While there, a friend introduced him to songwriter John Schweers, who became Dillon’s mentor. Three weeks later, Barbara Mandrell recorded three of Dillon’s songs. In 1979, Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius had a #1 hit with his “Lying Here in Love with You.”

Between 1979-1983, Dillon charted eight times as a solo artist, and broke the Top 30 with “I’m Into the Bottle (To Get You Out of My Mind).” He also wrote hits for other country stars, like the 1983 George Jones smash “Tennessee Whiskey.” These successes established Dillon as a performer and songwriter, but he continued suffering from an alcohol addiction that threatened to derail his career. Dillon took a five-year hiatus from recording, cleaned up his personal life, and concentrated on songwriting.

He wrote or co-wrote a number of hits during this period, and had considerable success with George Strait, who took five of his songs to the top of the charts between 1985-1988. In fact, his partnership with Strait proved to be one of the most profitable in Nashville history, with inimitable classics such as “The Chair,” “Ocean Front Property” and “Famous Last Words of a Fool” all stemming from the pen of Dillon.

In 2002, Dillon was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Early the following year, Dillon signed a songwriting contract with Sony/ATV Tree, which followed his 15-year relationship with Acuff Rose. He has also notably worked with a younger generation of country stars including Kenny Chesney (“A Lot of Things Different”) and Toby Keith (“A Little Too Late”). These latest achievements demonstrate the unique ability one of the most talented wordsmiths of his time to write timeless songs that span generations and genre boundaries.

Dean Dillon Song Catalog

  • “All The Good Ones Are Gone,” Pam Tillis
  • “Best Day,” George Strait
  • “If I Know Me,” George Strait
  • “I’ve Come To Expect It From You,” George Strait
  • “Is It Raining At Your House,” Vern Gosdin
  • “It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You,” George Strait
  • “Ocean Front Property,” George Strait
  • “Set ‘Em Up Joe,” Vern Gosdin
  • “Spilled Perfume,” Pam Tillis
  • “Tennessee Whiskey,” George Jones
  • “Unwound,” George Strait
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  1. Occasional HopeNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve always thought Dean Dillon had one of the most distinctive authorial voices among country songwriters. A number of times I’ve heard a new song without knowing the details, and just known, from the phrasing, that it was one of his – and it’s almost regardless of the identity of any co-writers.

    A couple of the best of his other songs are Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her and The Chair. And I have to mention one he recorded himself about the art of songwriting – Heart On The Line.

  2. Dillon has written many of my favorite George Strait singles, and I think Vern Gosdin might’ve had a higher profile career if he’d gotten a crack at them before George did.

    I expected to see “All the Good Ones are Gone” here, but actually forgot he co-wrote “Spilled Perfume” with Pam.

    In addition to the songs you listed, my favorites from Dillon’s catalog are:

    “A Little too Late”, Toby Keith
    “Brotherly Love”, Keith Whitley & Earl Thomas Conley
    “Burnin’ Moonlight”, Toby Keith
    “The Chair”, George Strait
    “Don’t Cry Darlin’”, David Allan Coe
    “Easy Come, Easy Go”, George Strait
    “Lead On”, George Strait
    “Thinkin’ With My Heart Again”, Joe Diffie; Lee Ann Womack

  3. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Of course, his most famous work is with Strait, but his talents reach even further across the Nashville community. It would’ve been impossible to list all of the great songs that he’s written or co-written. Hopefully others will seek his work out and find them!

  4. I think you captured all of the essential ones. Too often, his work with Gosdin is overlooked.

  5. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    Dean also recorded at least two albums on his own (I’VE LEARN TO LIVE – Capitol, 1989 and OUT OF YOUR EVER LOVIN’ MIND – Atlantic, 1991) plus a bunch of singles on RCA including two future Strait hits “Nobody In His Right Mind Would Have Left Her” and Famous Last Words of a Fool”. He also recorded a pair of albums with the late, great Gary Stewart.

    While no one would consider Dillon a great vocalist, he is a decent singer , and it is always interesting to hear a songwriter interpret his own work.

    ***

    As much as I love Vern Gosdin (I think he is twice the singer Strait ever dreamed of being,) the fact remains that he is 18 years older than George Strait and country radio has always tended to turn over artists once they get somewhere past 50 years old (Eddy Arnold’s last #1 was in 1968 when he was 50 years old).

    Gosdin got a fairly late start on country radio and turned 50 in 1984 (and looked older) so I doubt there were too many radio hits left to him, whether or not he got first crack at some of George’s hits first. Also George Strait and Vern Gosdin are not interchangeable artists – I simply can’t hear Vern doing some of the Dillon-penned Strait hits.

    I think that Strait was a more natural fit for Dillon’s pen as Dillon’s own recordings tend more toward George Strait than they do Vern Gosdin

  6. Occasional HopeNo Gravatar says:

    Dean Dillon had a couple more albums you’ve missed, Paul – Slick Nickel in 1988, and Hot, Country and Single in 1993, on Capitol and Atlantic respectively. Most of the early solo singles are available on a CD reissue of his work with Gary Stewart.

    I have a feeling most of Vern Gosdin’s Dean Dillon cuts were actually co-written by Vern.

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