A new musical is being developed about Country Music Hall of Famer Dean Dillon’s life
“If you don’t know who Dean Dillon is, you don’t know country music,” said Dewey Moss from the stage at Opry City Stage Saturday night, May 12th. Moss is a theatre producer, an unlikely sight to see at a country music concert. Except for one thing: This was not just any country music concert. This was the launch event for Tennessee Whiskey: The Musical, a so-called “jukebox” musical that will feature the music and tell the story of iconic songwriter Dean Dillon.
After Moss wrapped his thank you’s, he introduced the Country Muisc Hall of Famer and BMI Icon to the stage. Sauntering out with a camera behind him (the event was filmed to document the musical’s creation) Dillon sat down and picked up a brown guitar off the stand. There he sat, a man placid and at piece with his career. Wearing a wide-brim hat, shiny brown neckerchief tucked into his cowboy shirt, Dillon could not look more Tennessee if he tried. After all, he was born and raised in the state.
Wearing sunglasses and sporting a Yosemite Sam beard and mustache, Dillon seemed to personify all of his hits through his aesthetic. Opening his mouth and strumming the first few notes to “The Umbrella Song,” a sorrowful, yet thoughtfully pensive voice immediately evoked the era of country in which Dillon had his biggest successes as a songwriter.
But on this night, the stories of how Dillon found that success are infinitely more fascinating than the music itself. Whether it’s the story of how Dillon hitchhiked to Nashville, or how the manager to a then-unknown George Strait pulled up to co-writer Frank Dycus’ house the exact moment Dillon and Dycus finished writing “Unwound” on Dycus’ porch. Or, the years Dillon spent living in a houseboat with Hank Cochran off the coast of Florida, writing hits for the superstar Strait. The stories came as easily as the songs. It is not hard to see how these stories-filled with tales of music, drugs, and lost loves-lay the foundation for a country music musical.
Spinning his tales with the drawl of a life-long, unashamed southerner, Dillon kept the audience wondering what was coming next. His long pauses to gather thoughts, or light-hearted honest commentary on monstrously successful hits, (“It sold one million records in its first week, and I still hate it!” he said of Strait’s No. 1 “Ocean Front Property”) Dillon held court as a man with no regrets. His life is his life, lived the way he wanted to do it. And the music is simply and end result of that free spirit.
One of the most fascinating things about Dillon’s career is how, for want of a better term, analogue it has been. Long before computers and the age of “send the song over email and hope you hear back,” Dillon was knocking on doors when he first arrived to Music City. It took two years before a publisher noticed Dillon at a songwriter’s night at the former Opryland theme park. From there, one opportunity bled into the next.
After a respectable but less-than-stellar career as a recording artist, Dillon realized he could earn buckets of money by writing hits and staying off the road. “Songwriting became the reason I drew breath in the morning, my reason for getting out of bed,” he stated calmly.
It’s hard to say what’s next for Tennessee Whiskey: The Musical, but this reporter hopes that one of the greatest story-telling genres can finally meet one of the greatest storytelling outlets anywhere in the world: Broadway. The musical, which has not even finished casting, must go through many workshops, tryouts, and previews to reach the Great White Way. But maybe, just as Dean Dillon did when he came to Nashville — if the team welcomes each opportunity with open arms and rides it to the next — the show will get right where it deserves to be.
Author: Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.