Tag Archives: Dean Dillon

Retro Single Review: George Strait, “Unwound”

George Strait has had access to top drawer material for almost three decades now.  But like any new artist, he needed a dose of luck to get a great song right off the bat.

“Unwound” was originally written with Johnny Paycheck in mind, but since he was in jail, Strait got the chance to record it instead.  Thus began a long and fruitful partnership with songwriter Dean Dillon, who has a knack for writing slightly offbeat songs that Strait brings into the mainstream.

This would be a great record just for the fiddle alone, but a very youthful Strait is still able to deliver the goods, and the band is so country that you can almost smell the sawdust when they let loose.   A remarkable start to a legendary career.

Written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus

Grade: A

Listen: Unwound

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Single Review: George Strait, “Here For a Good Time”

The title screams country party anthem. Thank heavens for Dale Evans, it isn’t one.

But it is a laid-back, pseudo-philosophical number that has Strait vowing to live for the moment, to enjoy some moonshine, and to not worry about the troubles that weigh other people down.

If Kenny Chesney ever trades in the islands for the honky-tonks, he’ll sound exactly like this.

Written by Dean Dillon, Bubba Strait and George Strait

Grade: B

Listen: Here For a Good Time

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Searching for Gary Harrison

Written by Bob Losche (Music & More)

Google “Gary Harrison songwriter” and you won’t find a website or MySpace. There’s not even a Wikipedia article. Don’t know where he’s from, how he got into songwriting or what he likes to eat for dinner.

As far as I know, he has never made an album. When he co-writes a song, does he write the music or the lyrics or a little of both? Don’t know. He’s a Grammy nominated songwriter as co-writer of “Strawberry Wine”, the 1997 CMA Song of the Year, and has penned many BMI Award-Winning Songs. It appears that his first big hit was “Lying in Love with You”, written with Dean Dillon for Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius. The duet went to #2 in 1979.

Since there is so little data to draw from, a chronological treatment of his illustrious career would be difficult. I’ve decided instead to begin with the collaboration Gary is best known for, his work with Matraca Berg, and then continue with his other significant songwriting collaborations.

In his excellent Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters article on Matraca Berg, Kevin gave us his favorite 25 songs written by Berg. Gary Harrison has frequently collaborated with Matraca. On Kevin’s list the following 9 songs are written by Berg/Harrison:

  • #25 Wild Angels – Martina McBride
  • #22 Give Me Some Wheels – Suzy Bogguss
  • #20 Demolition Angel – Pam Tillis
  • #19 Everybody Knows – Trisha Yearwood
  • #10 Strawberry Wine – Deana Carter
  • #7 Wrong Side of Memphis – Trisha Yearwood
  • #5 Diamonds and Tears – Suzy Bogguss
  • #4 Dreaming Fields – Trisha Yearwood
  • #3 My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again – Patty Loveless

Give a read to Kevin’s write-up for all 25. Kevin asked for comments from his readers on their favorite Matraca Berg songs. In the 29 comments received, three more collaborations with Gary were mentioned that didn’t make Kevin’s cut, including “Hey Cinderella” and “Eat at Joe’s” by Suzy Bogguss and Pinmonkey’s “That Train Don’t Run”.

“Hey Cinderella” is from Suzy’s 1993 CD, Something Up My Sleeve. Fantasy turns into “dreams that lost their way” by the end of the first long verse. In the second verse, reality sets in. In “Eat at Joe’s”, from her 1992 CD, Voices in the Wind, Suzy’s sounds like a sultry waitress in an all night diner – “here’s a hot top on your coffee, honey you’re a mess, I ain’t your wife I ain’t your momma, but I’ll do I guess”. The bridge is a wistful but not really hopeful call out to prince charming.

My favorite Pinmonkey song is still “Barbed Wire and Roses”, but “That Train Don’t Run”, from their 2006 Big Shiny Cars CD, isn’t far behind. It’s up-tempo like Barbed Wire. It was also a single for Matraca Berg from her 1997 “Sunday Morning to Saturday Night” cd. The singer recalls a former lover who may have been a bit on the wild side. It must be “your memory rattlin’ the shutters, that train don’t run by here no more”. The next line is “I lie and listen to the last boxcar, sweet dreams baby wherever you are”. Love that last phrase. Sounds like something Bogie might have said.

A bit of trivia: I wonder how many times that last phrase, “sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”, has been used in a song. In addition to the Pinmonkey song, I found it in “Goodnight”, written by Charlie Black and Dana Hunt, from Suzy Bogguss’ self-titled 1999 CD. The last line of the chorus is “I’m signing off, sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”. A song by Jedd Hughes, “Time to Say Goodnight” has “sweet dreams baby, sweet dreams baby wherever you are tonight”. It was written by Hughes, Tommy Lee James and Terry McBride and can be found on Hughes’ 2004 CD, Transcontinental. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else finds another instance.

I found another Berg/Harrison collaboration but this time with Jeff Hanna on a Chely Wright song, “Emma Jean’s Guitar”. It’s an album track from Chely’s 1997 Let Me In CD, which featured “Shut Up and Drive”. The story tells of a guitar with Emma Jean’s name etched in the finish found in a pawnshop. The singer wonders about Emma Jean’s hopes and dreams and feels that she’s the guardian of her guitar.

Gary has written quite a few great songs without Matraca. Another frequent co-writer for Gary has been Tim Mensy. My favorite Mensy-Harrison collaboration is Trisha Yearwood’s “Nearest Distant Shore”, an album track from her 1992 Hearts in Armor CD. It’s a song about getting out of a bad relationship: “You did your best but “the one you swore to love is pulling you down, you’re in over your head, chilled to the bone by the waters you’ve tread, chart a course to land before you drown”.

“That Wasn’t Me” was an excellent album track for Martina McBride on her 1993 CD, The Way That I Am. She knows that the guy is still hurting from the memory of an old girlfriend. She tells him “that wasn’t me”. It’s time to move on because she “can no longer pay the price” of his not letting go.

For fans of Mark Chesnutt, there’s “I Just Wanted You to Know”, a #1 song in ’94 from the CD Almost Goodbye and a #6 the same year, “She Dreams”, from What a Way to Live. Other Mensy Harrison collaborations include Doug Stone’s “I Thought It Was You”, a #4 in 1991, “A Singer in the Band”, an album track on Joe Nichol’s Revelation CD in 2004, and a Mark Wills song “Any Fool Can say Goodbye”.

With J.D. Martin, Gary Harrison wrote “Rollin’ Lonely”, a Johnny Lee song from his “Workin’ for a Livin’ ” album, which reached #9 on the charts in 1985, “Domestic Life”, a John Conlee #4 hit from his “American Faces” album in 1987, “Two Car Garage”, a #3 hit in 1983 from the B.J. Thomas album “The Great American Dream” and “Broken Toys”, a song about child abuse from BJ’s 1985 album “Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon”. The last song was written with Gloria Thomas as well as J.D.

Gary co-wrote 3 songs with Tammy Cochran from her “Thirty Something and Single” album released in June of 2009, the title track, “It’s All Over But the Leaving” and “He Really Thinks He’s Got It”.

With Karen Staley, he wrote “Face in the Crowd” which peaked at #4, a duet with Michael Martin Murphey and Holly Dunn from the former’s 1987 “Americana” album and “Now and Then” which Michelle Wright took to #9 in Canada.

Some other Gary Harrison songs are:

– “I Hate Everything” written with Keith Stegall, a #1 for George Strait in 2005. Check out the wake-up call at the end.

– “Alone Some” with Billy Yates, an album track for Billy from his 2005 album “Harmony Man”.

– “Crazy Me” and “I Do It for Your Love” with Richard Marx, from the Kenny Rogers 2000 CD There You Go Again.

Impressive list and I’ve probably missed some songs. If you search BMI.com, you’ll find 918 work titles for Gary Harrison. He’s been so busy, he probably hasn’t had time to set up a website or MySpace.

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Single Review: George Strait, “The Breath You Take”

Sometimes a song has such a big impact that it becomes one of those inspirational signs that people hang in their homes:

Sometimes uninspired country songwriters see an inspirational sign and awkwardly craft a song around it:

“The Breath You Take” doesn’t survive the transition from country home decor kitsch to inspirational song.  Where it falls apart is insisting that this mouthful of words be spoken in casual conversation by the protagonist, rather than a narrator. Instead of speaking from the heart, he sounds like he’s quoting an inspirational sign.

I could write an entire Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters piece on Dean Dillon, and most of the entries would be sung by George Strait.  But this is one of their weakest collaborations ever.

Written by Casey Beathard, Dean Dillon, and Jessie Jo Dillon

Grade: C

Listen: The Breath You Take

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George Strait, “Living for The Night”

george_straitIt is already well documented that George Strait co-wrote “Living for the Night” with his son along with Dean Dillon, one of Strait’s most relied upon songwriters. With this knowledge, it is nearly impossible not to be curious as to how this song, one of Strait’s very few compositions, compares to the others in his strong singles catalog. Unfortunately, it is a cut below most of his biggest hits, but it’s not a complete throw away.

Strait sings “Every Day is a lifetime without you/Hard to get through/Since you’ve gone.” The days are a painful reminder of his loss. So, he drinks as he lives for the night because it’s the only way he knows how to escape the pain. In fact, he even creates his own night by drawing the curtains to keep the daylight out and waits for the night so that he can “venture out into those neon arms that hold {him} tight.”

Essentially, it’s another “getting over you isn’t easy” song that country music rightfully welcomes with open arms, but nothing that is especially memorable, either lyrically or sonically. As usual, his emotive vocal performance is heartfelt. However, the melody is not particularly engaging and the production is relatively generic.

Written by Dean Dillon, George Strait & George “Bubba” Strait Jr.

 Grade:  B -

Listen: “Living for the Night”

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: George Strait

george-straitWrite this down: George Strait will be recorded in the annals of country music history as the greatest singles artist of all-time. He already ranks third among all artists in terms of chart success, trailing only Eddy Arnold and George Jones. By the dawn of the next decade, he’ll be on top.

Now, I don’t place inordinate value on what radio decides worthy of massive spins, but I do think that Strait’s hit singles are usually much better than the album cuts that aren’t sent to radio. Even though I have all of his albums, only two of the tracks on this list weren’t released as singles.

With more than thirty albums to his credit, I’m sure that there are many songs that readers love which I haven’t included here. Here are my favorite songs by George Strait.

#25
“Blue Clear Sky”
Blue Clear Sky, 1996

This is the type of song that Strait is perfect for. He can elevate a standard uptempo country love song into something special. When he wraps his voice around the hook – “Surprise! Your new love has arrived!” – it’s the sound of weathered experience with a shot of unrestrained joy.

#24
“It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You”
#7, 1986

You can’t be smooth and sophisticated when you’re dealing with a heartbreak. “It ain’t suave or debonair to let you know I care.” In lesser hands, this would be delivered in a straightforward way. But Strait adopts the smooth styling of a pop balladeer throughout this record. If Frank Sinatra had ever made a country record, it would’ve sounded just like this.

#23
“Troubadour”
Troubadour, 2008

Perhaps the secret to Strait’s longevity is that his image of himself hasn’t changed, despite his legendary success. He still sees himself as just getting started. “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.”

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George Strait, Troubadour

George Strait
Troubadour

A paragon of consistency, George Strait debuted in 1981, just as the Urban Cowboy fad was fading. But Strait, a true-to-life Texas buckaroo, is no fad, and judging by his newest album, Troubadour, he’s surely not fading. Strait has rarely left the comforts of traditional stylings, and his blend of honky-tonk uptempos and lovestruck lullabies has become a time-honored tradition that continues to thrive despite mainstream trends. As Strait eases through his 50s, he’s found new creases in his voice and gleans new meaning within each lyric. Troubadour manages to balance self-reflection with a sense of humor to form a worthy addition to his estimable catalog.

Now more than ever, Strait wrestles with the idea of mortality, both his own and the future prospects of the traditional music in which he trades. He duets with traditionalist Patty Loveless on “House of Cash,” a moving ode that, in vivid detail, describes the blaze that leveled the Cash home just last year. It’s a loving memoir to the famous estate, but also acknowledges the end of a brilliant chapter in country history. Vince Gill provides harmony vocal on the title track, as Strait sings about his youth with nostalgia, while recognizing that his stubborn nature will remain until his dying day. And “Give Me More Time” describes the demise of a farmer’s fortunes, a romantic relationship and a young man’s health in three minutes of hillbilly misery.

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Dean Dillon

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.”

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