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"Tennessee Whiskey: The Dean Dillon Story"

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

This "Tennessee Whiskey" documentary is not about the Tennessee whiskey, but you could say the spirit has lubricated much of the story.

This documentary is about Dean Dillon, the Nashville singer songwriter who wrote the song, "Tennessee Whiskey."

He has written many hits, most notably for George Strait, who likens their relationship in the film to Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Tennessee Whiskey: The Dean Dillion Story

(Dean Dillon, Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Republic Country Club.)

The film begins with Dillon on stage in a packed former motor repair shop turned music venue, called Magnolia in Fort Worth, Texas. He sings "Easy Come, Easy Go," (George Strait's song) which he wrote with Aaron Barker.

"Goodbye, farewell, so long, vaya con dios
Good luck, wish you well, take it slow
Easy come girl, easy go"

Much of Dean Dillon's narration in this documentary comes from him talking to the audience while playing at that venue.

Kenny Chesney says that listening to a Dean Dillon song is like a therapy session, where you relive both the bad and good parts of your life and come out okay.

Born in East Tennessee 

Dean Dillon was born in Lake City, TN (now known as Rocky Top) in 1955. Using our tasty and unofficial bourbon compass, that's about 230 miles from Lincoln County, and the "Lincoln County Process that Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey origins from.

The family was "dirt poor," as Dillon says. His mother was a waitress at a truck stop who met his father when the long-haul trucker stopped there along his way. His father never came back after he was met by Dillon's maternal grandfather with a shotgun, who got off a round that hit the man before he left for good.

Like Dean Dillon was born into a country song.

When Dillon heard the Beatles and saw the reaction to the music, he knew he wanted to do that. His guitar was his best friend. He had the chance to meet Merle Haggard, who told the boy to sit down and play some songs. Dillon says he played "some of the worst crap..." Haggard looked at him and said, you've got about seven years before the songs will be good enough to record.

Dillon says it was in fact "almost seven years to the year."

After graduating high school, he hitchhiked to Nashville, to follow his dreams.

 To Nashville

Dillon walked Music Row, looking for someone to listen to his songs. When no one listened, he ended up at a bar, next to the country singer Faron Young.

Buddy Cannon, songwriter and producer, says Dillon was "whiskey-drinking, hell-raising." That maybe he thought he was Hank Williams. Or wanted to be.  "His talent was so massive, it was part of the package." The outlaw."

"He would come in with a guitar in one hand (not in a case) and a bottle of whiskey in the other."


James Taylor and Carol King were influences. Dillon figures that if you could match those kinds of  melodies to the lyric-driven songs of Haggard -- that would be the "gold mine."

After that, Dillon had his first number one song: 'Nobody in Their Right Mind."

Then, he wrote "Unwound" with Frank Dycus

"Give me a bottle
Of your very best
Cause I've got a problem
I'm gonna drink off my chest
I'm gonna spend the night
Gettin' down
Cause that woman that I had
Wrapped around my finger
Just come unwound"

Just in time when a young George Strait needed some songs 

Then, "The Chair," perfect melody, perfect lyrics as George Strait said, written at four in the morning with Hank Cochran, before (or maybe it was after) they went to the Bahamas to live on  boat for a few years, and as Dillon said,  'Didn't do nothing that was legal."

They wrote the first verse in five minutes and got stuck on the second verse. Hank came up with:

"Well, thank you, could I drink you a buy?
Oh, listen to me, what I mean is, can I buy you a drink?
Anything you please"

"Stick a fork in me, I'm done."

For the longest time Dean Dillon pursued his singing career. He was about to release "Easy Come, Easy Go" as his own record. George Strait wanted the song.

After thinking about it, Dillon gave George Strait the song. Dean's singing days were over.

"I don't want to make records anymore. I just want to write songs from here on out."

The Demons That Chase

With about 30 minutes left in the documentary, there is an "interlude," with a montage of pictures that leads to Dillon facing and overcoming his demons. He says there's a thing with Nashville songwriters that "we always try to get the guy who's going through a divorce because he's got some good stuff to write about."

If you get a chance, watch Dillon sing the "Tin Man" song to his songwriting pal, Kevin Chesney.

Toby Keith, Scott Emerick, and Dillon got together over green-chili enchiladas and wrote about six songs, including "It's a Little Too Late." 

Then there was "A Free More Cowboys," which as Toby Keith says in the film, would undoubtedly have been one of those monster hits when radio was playing their songs 

Dean Dillon film documentary, whiskey drinking

(The documentary "Tennessee Whiskey: the Dean Dillon Story, poster art, fair use.)

"Tennessee Whiskey"

The documentary winds up, as you might have expected, with the performance of Dean Dillon's "Tennessee Whiskey" by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake, the performance that launched Stapleton's career into the stratosphere.

"You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time"

The funny part is that George Strait passed on that song, a mistake he acknowledges. On stage, George and Dean sing "Nobody in Their Right Mind" to close out the film.

In the end, this film is an homage to a genius songwriter, celebrated by his friends and colleagues. But you come away knowing he hasn't fully received the honors due to him.

Here is the documentary trailer,  which as we write this, was part of Amazon Prime

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