Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart and Hank Williams Jr are 2020 class additions
The Country Music Association is honored to announce the 2020 inductees for the Country Music Hall of Fame – Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart and Hank Williams Jr. Dillon will be inducted in the “Songwriter” category, which is awarded every third year in rotation with the “Recording and/or Touring Musician” and “Non-Performer” categories. Stuart will be inducted in the “Modern Era Artist” category and Williams will be inducted in the “Veterans Era Artist” category.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Dean, Marty and Hank Jr. into the unbroken circle and honor this revered milestone,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “I’m sad we can’t toast this year’s class in person at the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I hope this news can bring some joy and cause for celebration during this time that our world has turned upside down. In particular, our hearts are with Hank and his family following the recent loss of his daughter, Katherine.”
“I was just speechless,” says Dillon. “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.”
“It is the ultimate honor in Country Music,” says Stuart. “I’m so honored to be included in this class and I’m honored to be included alongside Hank Jr. and Dean Dillon. I love those people. To be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is beyond words. I’m usually not at a loss for words.”
“Bocephus has been eyeing this one for awhile. It’s a bright spot during a difficult year,” says Williams. “I have been making Top 10 records for 56 years. I fell off a mountain and tried to reinvent myself as a truly individual artist and one who stepped out of the shadows of a very famous man…one of the greatest. I’ve got to thank all those rowdy friends who, year after year, still show up for me. It’s an honor to carry on this family tradition. It is much appreciated.”
“In this, the most exclusive of music halls of fame, we now have three new deserving members,” says Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum Chief Executive Officer. “One is the son of one of American music’s greatest masters who became a self-made master of his own. One is a child of tough-town Mississippi who became a force for togetherness, inclusion and righteous musicality. And the third is an East Tennessee kid who triumphed over a hard youth to write words and melodies that have enriched us all. In a year of turmoil, strife and dissent, this announcement is something all of us can cheer.”
Historically, CMA hosts a press conference in the famed rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville to reveal the new class of inductees. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMA traveled to Dillon and Stuart to capture their reaction.
Details regarding a formal induction ceremony for Dillon, Stuart and Williams will be released as information is available. Since 2007, the Museum’s Medallion Ceremony, an annual reunion of the Hall of Fame membership, has served as the official rite of induction for new members.
For more than 40 years, Dillon has used distinctive melodies to enhance the emotional effect of his exquisitely crafted wordplay. Sometimes referred to as “the last of the troubadours,” he has written a long string of hits for country acts ranging from Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius to Kenny Chesney, Vern Gosdin, Toby Keith, Keith Whitley and others.
His association with George Strait dates to Strait’s first charting single, “Unwound.” That alliance between songwriter and artist is unparalleled in Country Music and encompasses many of his signature songs, among them “The Chair,” “Marina Del Rey” and “Ocean Front Property.” His “Tennessee Whiskey,” written with Linda Hargrove, has been a charting single for David Allan Coe, George Jones and Chris Stapleton. Dillon has written with and for masters until he became a master himself — all while sporting one of the most distinctive mustaches in country music.
He was born on March 26, 1955 in Lake City, TN — a town renamed Rocky Top in 2014 after the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song. The son of a teenaged waitress and a truck driver who disappeared about the time he was born, he grew up in East Tennessee, Michigan and Virginia. He received his first guitar, a $20 tiger-stripe Stella, from his stepfather at age 7. The boy practically slept with the instrument, his love of music intensifying after he watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He began performing by age 9 and wrote his first song at 11. Soon he was pitching songs by mail to his Country Music idols, a practice that earned him a rejection letter from Johnny Cash at age 14.
As a teen, Dillon won a talent show that led to appearances on local Knoxville television. He hitchhiked to Nashville in 1973 as an 18-year-old, following his graduation from Oak Ridge High School, and settled in the town in 1976 when he landed a role singing Hank Williams songs for Opryland’s “Country Music U.S.A.” stage production.
At Opryland, he met songwriter John Schweers, who introduced him to Tom Collins, who signed him to Pi-Gem/Chess Music. Three weeks later, Dillon had three Barbara Mandrell cuts that appeared on her 1977 Lovers, Friends and Strangers album. Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius took “Lying in Love With You,” which he had written with fellow Opryland alum Gary Harrison, to No. 2 on the Billboard Country charts in 1979. Those early cuts paved the path for a recording contract with RCA Nashville.
Dillon had made an independent album on Plantation Records when he was a teen. Country Music Hall of Famer Jerry Bradley, who signed him to RCA Nashville, came up with Dillon’s pen name as he looked through a phone book for inspiration.
He charted 11 singles with RCA, including two duets with Gary Stewart. His biggest hit as a recording act came with 1980’s “Nobody In His Right Mind (Would’ve Left Her),” which peaked at No. 25. Strait covered the song and took it to No. 1 in 1986. Dillon placed a total 20 songs on the Billboard Country charts between 1979 and 1993, also recording for Capitol and Atlantic. He has since released three albums on independent labels.
Initially, he was drawn to pairing with older songwriters, such as Hank Cochran, Frank Dycus and Royce Porter. Each of those writing partnerships yielded multiple hits.
His contributions to Strait’s body of work helped define both men’s careers. Strait has recorded more than 76 of Dillon’s songs over 40 years, including 19 Top 40 singles, 10 of which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country singles chart. He continues to be a source of songs for Strait, with six songs on the singer’s most recent album, 2019’s Honky Tonk Time Machine.
Dillon’s key hits for other artists include Kenny Chesney’s “A Lot of Things Different,” “I’m Alive,” and “A Chance”; Vern Gosdin’s “Is It Raining at Your House?” and “Set ‘Em Up Joe”; and Toby Keith’s “A Little Too Late” and “Get My Drink On.” Brooks & Dunn, Con Hunley, Shenandoah, Steve Wariner, Lee Ann Womack and others have taken his songs onto the charts. More recently, Vince Gill, Jon Pardi and Blake Shelton have included this writer’s songs on their albums.
In 1997 he was nominated for CMA Song of the Year and a Best Country Song Grammy with “All the Good Ones Are Gone,” recorded by Pam Tillis. He earned an additional Grammy nod in 2010 with “The Breath You Take.”
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, and he received the BMI Icon Award in 2013. He is the subject of a 2017 documentary, “Tennessee Whiskey: The Dean Dillon Story.” This inductee and his wife Susie now live in Gunnison, CO when not in Nashville. He is the father of Jessie Jo Dillon, who co-wrote “The Breath You Take” and has built an impressive catalog of her own, penning hits for the likes of Dan + Shay, Maren Morris and Cole Swindell.
It’s not just the hits that make a Hall of Famer, though Stuart has had his share — four gold albums and six Top 10 singles during the 1990s, his commercial peak as a recording artist. By the time the first of those came his way, though, he was already nearly 20 years into “the life.”
On the day he was born — Sept. 30, 1958 — his mother gave him a middle name, the one by which he’d become known to Country Music fans far and wide, that came from one of her favorite Grand Ole Opry stars. She gave him his first guitar when he was three-years-old, setting him on a path to become not only a musician and a singer but also a songwriter, a producer, an archivist, a photographer, a television host and a spokesman for the history and traditions of this music that he holds so dear.
Stuart began his professional career as a pre-teen, playing mandolin at revivals, festivals and campaign rallies with the Sullivan Family Gospel Singers. He took a Greyhound bus to Nashville on Labor Day weekend in 1972, stepping out just around the corner from the Ryman Auditorium. He came at the invitation of Roland White, the mandolinist for Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass. Within a week, Stuart, too, had joined Flatt’s band, playing guitar. He was 13-years-old.
He spent his teens with the Nashville Grass, until Flatt disbanded the group in 1978. He worked briefly with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson before landing a spot in Johnny Cash’s band. During his tenure with Cash, he toured and appeared on several of Cash’s albums. He brought Jimmy Webb’s song “Highwayman” to Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.
Stuart left Cash in 1985 to focus on his solo career, though their friendship would continue for the rest of Cash’s life. Columbia Records released a self-titled album in 1986. The hits began when he switched to MCA Records in the late 1980s, as he perfected a style based on the visual and musical appeal of syndicated television shows like The Porter Wagoner Show and The Wilburn Brothers Show that he had watched as a child. He released seven MCA albums before returning to Columbia for one more in 2003, then forming his own Superlatone Records label.
He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1992. There, he reconnected with his childhood celebrity crush, fellow Opry member Connie Smith, whom he had met when she played Mississippi’s Choctaw Indian Fair in July 1970. The 11-year-old future Hall of Famer took her picture that night and told his momma he was going to marry that girl. Twenty-seven years later to the month, he did. His wife preceded him into the Country Music Hall of Fame by eight years.
As a producer, Stuart has worked with several of his friends, mentors and heroes, in addition to Cash. He co-produced his wife’s 1998 comeback album and produced another for her in 2011. He also produced Porter Wagoner’s final album, Wagonmaster.
Fittingly, many of his awards have come for his collaborative efforts with other musicians. Stuart has five Grammys, some of which he shares with Asleep at the Wheel, Earl Scruggs and Travis Tritt. He and Tritt also won the CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year in 1992 for “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time).” He received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance at 2005’s Americana Music Honors and Awards.
He earned a Golden Globe nomination for the score he wrote for the 2000 feature film All the Pretty Horses. The Late Night Jam Stuart hosts at the Ryman Auditorium each June has become a highlight of CMA Fest. In 2002, the same year he started the Late Night Jam, he formed the Fabulous Superlatives, recognized as one of the tightest, most exciting — and best dressed — bands in the land. From 2008 to 2014, he hosted a show for RFD-TV in the vein of the old syndicated shows he used to watch with his father.
Since his childhood days, when he would ask visiting musicians for autographs and guitar picks, Stuart has amassed an astounding collection of country music memorabilia. In 2016, the Library of Congress announced a collection in his name consisting of hundreds of hours of audio-visual material from his collection. In his hometown of Philadelphia, MS, he is currently developing a Congress of Country Music that bills itself as “home to the largest private collection of country music artifacts in the world.”
In 2019, when he was the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s artist-in-residence, he said, “The ultimate destination in the world of Country Music is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The Hall of Fame is our greatest treasure chest and a place that represents the heart and soul of our culture.”
Stuart exemplifies the heart and soul of this culture and that ultimate destination is now within his reach.
If any country music performer has honored the traditions of the genre while also forging a distinctive creative path forward, it’s Hank Williams Jr. An artist who began his professional career at age eight and had his first hit at 14, he has bridged generations by mastering time-honored styles like honky-tonk as well as embracing rock and blues. In a career that has spanned more than 60 years, he has weathered changing tastes and personal tragedy to become a country music icon. He is instantly recognizable by his face, by his name, even by his nickname.
Born May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, LA, he lost his father, also a singer, at age three. By that time, he was living in Nashville, and his mother, who had a gift for promotion, saw an opportunity in a young boy whose voice sometimes bore an uncanny resemblance to his father’s. She put him onstage in Swainsboro, GA, to make his public debut. There he sang Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.” Soon, the youngster was playing venues all over the country and signed a deal with MGM, the label that had released his father’s records. He had his first charting single, a cover of Hank Sr.’s “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” that would reach the Top 5 in 1964. Over the next 50-something years, he would chart more than 100 additional times, with 10 of those records going to No. 1 on the Billboard Country singles chart. Only Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Ray Price and George Strait — all Country Music Hall of Famers — have had more charting hits. He has also released more than 50 albums and multiple compilations.
He appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at age 11 and made his national television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show within weeks of his first recording sessions in 1963. On January 1, 1964, he began a promotional tour in Canton, OH, the same city his father was set to have played 11 years before. His relationship with the legacy of his father has been a recurring theme throughout his career: His early releases included albums titled Father and Son and Songs My Father Left Me. The first single he wrote included the lyrics, “While I’m out there taking my bows, I look up toward the ceiling and I say to myself, ‘Listen, dad, just listen to that crowd.’”
He may have begun his career by mimicking his father’s style, but he soon grew into a voice of his own. His first No. 1 hit came in 1970 at age 21 with “All for the Love of Sunshine.” He followed that a year later with “Eleven Roses.” At the same time, he drew on his love of rhythm and blues to turn songs by Fats Domino, Slim Harpo and Tony Joe White into country hits.
Then in 1975 — shortly after completing an album that would be heralded as a creative breakthrough and would mark the dividing point between the first and second acts of his career — another event would make that line of demarcation even more pronounced. In his autobiography, which would be turned into a made-for-TV movie, he wrote, “My life divides neatly into two parts, with a line right down the middle from a mountaintop stretching out toward infinity.” While hiking in Montana that August, he fell 482 feet down Ajax Mountain, a near-fatal accident that would require multiple surgeries and keep him from performing for nearly a year.
The previously completed album came out while he was recuperating. It showed him embracing the new sounds of southern rock and found him working with musicians including Charlie Daniels and members of The Marshall Tucker Band and The Allman Brothers Band. It also contained a pair of singles that would become staples of his live shows: “Stoned at the Jukebox” and “Living Proof,” which provided the title for his autobiography.
The hits kept coming into the 1980s, and they got bigger, too. “Family Tradition” gave him a new lens through which to view his relationship with his father’s reputation, and it became a rallying cry for his audience. “A Country Boy Can Survive” wasn’t so much a hit single as a cultural manifesto. “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” became the theme for the NFL’s Monday Night Football games starting in 1989.
He was a pioneering force in the early days of country music videos, winning CMA’s first award for Music Video of the Year and taking home trophies three of the first five years it was awarded. He was CMA Entertainer of the Year twice, in 1987 and 1988. In 1989, he won CMA Vocal Event of the Year for “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” a virtual duet with his late father, which also secured a Best Country Collaboration Grammy the same year. The Recording Industry Association of America has awarded him 23 gold and platinum albums. He has claimed four Emmy Awards.
Four of his children have followed him into music, each honoring the family tradition in his or her way while also developing their own styles. His father was one of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s original trio of inductees, making Hank Jr. just the third second-generation Hall of Famer.