November Featured Artist | Dean Dillon

Dean talks to Bedell about his songwriting, giving back and the inspiration behind his custom Bedell guitar.

If you are a country music fan, more specifically the greats such as George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith or Vince Gill, chances are one of your favorite songs was written, or co-written, by a man named Dean Dillon. Unless you’re a serious music buff – this may be an unfamiliar name – until now. Dillon is a tried and true Nashville veteran, and he’s been writing and composing with the legends of Music City for almost 45 years. After a songwriting career that would inspire any aspiring songwriter, Dillon is not gathering dust; he’s making a name for himself as a talented and skillful solo artist. We recently had an opportunity to visit with Dillon for a quick Q &A

Bedell Guitars: So many people have heard your songs on the charts – what’s it like to be the man behind so many of country music’s biggest hits?

Dean Dillon: I’ve been very blessed to have written with so many other great songwriters; Frank Dycus, Scotty Emerick, Hank Cochran, just to name a few. It’s not just my name on a lot of those songs it’s theirs too. In the beginning I wrote a lot by myself but when I started co-writing it just seemed to me to be a lot more fun. The camaraderie is a must have for me. I guess the one person who taught me more about writing a great song was Hank Cochran. We were inseparable for years. He taught me so much. Not only would he help me with the lines, but would tell me why we wrote the line the way we did. So when I look back on my career I always see their faces too. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without those compadres.

BG: You’ve been a songwriter in Nashville since the 70s – how have you seen the industry change?

DD: I’ve been in Nashville since 1973. I think a better word for what it has done is evolved. When you go back and listen to an old Jimmy Rogers song and listen to what Florida Georgia line is doing today it’s pretty obvious it’s a whole new ballgame now. I think the country music listener is a lot younger for one, yet we’ve still retained the purists as well. I understand why you hear what you do on the radio today. It’s a new generation of listener and these artists are playing to their generation. I do however think that in the coming months you’re gonna see songs getting back to their roots a little more. Better melodies with greater lyrics. It ALWAYS goes back to its roots. I’m not saying it’s gonna be straight traditional country music but I will say the day is coming when the listener is going to want a more story laden lyric.

BG: Country music has changed a lot too – how has it changed your approach to songwriting?

DD: It hasn’t really. But in the same breath I will certainly tell you that I work just as hard if not harder than I ever have in my life. To stay in the game you have to adapt and keep abreast of your musical surroundings. I really don’t listen to radio. I don’t want to be writing a song and then realize that the melody I’m writing is something I heard a week or a month ago but, I hear enough out of my fellow songwriters when we do live shows to get a pretty good taste of the current market. Look, I’m about great songs. By no means do I mean to say that everything I write is great. It isn’t. I’ve heard writers say that their songs are like children to them. Well, I’ve got some ugly children. But then there are those days when it just seems to pour out of me. There are certain ingredients in any song that are constants – great melody, a great hook and a great story. That’s always what I’m looking for. So no, my approach really hasn’t changed. But you definitely have to evolve..

BG: Tom Bedell invited you up to Bend and helped you design a custom guitar. It has beautiful turquoise inlayed in the top. How did you come up with that idea?

DD: While perusing through a jewelry store one day I noticed a table candle set I think. It was wood with these gold veins running through it. It caught my eye so when I designed my guitar I wanted to implement that feel. Like melodies are to lyrics, the turquoise is to the wood.

BG: You chose all walnut for your guitar. What is it about that wood that spoke to you?

DD: Walnut is a pretty common wood throughout East Tennessee where I’m from and I’ve seen the patterns in its grain and think they are just knocked out. When I saw the pieces that Bedell pulled off the shelf for me to take a look at it was well, love at first sight really – 150 yr. old western walnut. It was then that I told Tom that what he was showing me would be the front and back of my guitar. Tom had mentioned I could pick any wood I wanted to build it and walnut it would be.

What I didn’t know was that walnut is a very dense wood and does not vibrate well so getting any kind of sound out of it was gonna be a challenge unless run through an amplifier. But then came one of Bedell’s great luthiers to the rescue. He came up with the idea of laminating a piece of cedar to the top face of the guitar. Problem solved. What I wound up with is a guitar that is perfectly matched for my voice. I’m not a loud singer and other guitars I’ve used would often force me to sing harder which is not my game. But this guitar again, has a quieter sound, which affords me the ability to present my songs the way they were intended. And by the way, it is probably the most beautiful thing I have other than my beautiful Susie. Different guitars have different songs in them and this one pours them out like water. I feel like I’m writing some of the best songs I’ve written and this guitar is definitely the reason.

BG: Any new hits that guitar has inspired?

DD: I’ve written a lot of new songs on my Bedell. She has a sound unto herself. We intentionally built her as a “quiet” guitar as I don’t sing loud. But when she’s plugged in that’s another story. I can’t tell you the number of players and artists who’ve said it’s the best classical guitar they’ve ever heard. So next time I’m playin’ in your neck of the woods come see for yourself.

BG: 2015 will start with the Mountain High Music Fest in Crested Butte – why is that event so important to you?

DD: BMI called me about 5 years ago and wanted to revive a festival we used to have in Crested Butte, Colorado. I was in all the way. After 3 years it became obvious to me that we could do something on a bigger level. This year’s event has Lee Brice, Robert Earl Keen, Thompson Square, Rodney Clawson, Nicole Galyon, Brooke Eden, Sonjia Leigh, Due West and The Crowlin Ferlies out of Aspen. I am very involved in my community and wanted to do three things really. Have a great festival at one of the worst economic times of the year; January is usually a slow month on the mountain. Give some of the proceeds to my favorite non profit charities which are TOUGH ENOUGH TO WEAR PINK, a breast cancer supporter, and ADAPTIVE SPORTS which is a huge support entity for the physically challenged. And last but definitely not least, is to bring a great array of artists to an intimate setting so that you create a one of a kind listening event. Up close and personal I like to say. It’s gonna be a blast.

BG: What’s the plan for the rest of 2015?

DD: I will start my year with the “Mountain High Music Fest” January 14 through 18. Really looking forward to that. I’m also looking at producing an album on a group of guys I just think are phenomenal, Due West. We’ve written a bunch of songs and they’ve written a bunch and we’re gonna go through them and pick out what we think works for them. It is an exciting prospect. And there’s always my beloved “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” fundraiser in July. We’ve raised over $1.4 million dollars for our community, which I just think, is awesome. All the money has stayed in our community and we’ve worked with our hometown hospital to have one of the better small town breast cancer facilities in the country. And last but not least I’m looking a doing a new album. I haven’t done one in a while and my hearts burning to be heard.

To stay up to date with Dean visit his website.

View Dean’s Full Artist Profile

Photo credit: Shelley Patterson