Hall of Fame Songwriter Dean Dillon Shares the Story Behind “Tennessee Whiskey” and Talks His New Documentary

Hall of Fame Songwriter Dean Dillon Shares the Story Behind “Tennessee Whiskey” and Talks His New Documentary

Hall of Fame songwriter Dean Dillon co-wrote “Tennessee Whiskey” with Linda Hargrove more than 35 years ago, after a night together at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe. Since that time, “Tennessee Whiskey” has been recorded by a who’s who of artists, including David Allan Coe (1981), George Jones (1983) and Brad Paisley. In 2015, Chris Stapleton put his pipes on the song for his debut solo album, Traveller, and it shot to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart after Chris’ back-and-forth duet with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMA Awards.

This year, “Tennessee Whiskey” was nominated for ACM Song of the Year. While it was ultimately bested by Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” on Sunday night (April 2), Dean made the rounds on the red carpet before the ACM Awards to talk about the song and his upcoming documentary, Dean Dillon, Tennessee Whiskey, which will air later this year.

“I wrote the song 35 years,” said Dean to Nash Country Daily. “It was 4 o’clock in the morning and I had been drinking all night and I met a young lady by the name of Linda Hargrove and we decided to go home together—but not for what everybody thought. I had the idea for the song and we sat at her house at 4 o’clock in the morning and wrote that song. And the rest is history.

“I pitched it first to [George] Strait, but he turned it down. I pitched it to [George] Jones and he had a number [two] with it. David Allan Coe cut it, and Brad Paisley cut it, and then a couple years ago Chris Stapleton was messing around with it during rehearsals and started playing it the way he plays it, and it had a whole new life of its own. I was blow away when I heard Stapleton’s version. I had written with Stapleton and I knew what kind of throat he had, and the first time I heard him sing it, I thought, ‘Man, that’s got some big ol’ legs on it.’”

Dean also mentioned that he is the subject of an upcoming documentary, Dean Dillon, Tennessee Whiskey.

“It’s called Dean Dillon, Tennessee Whiskey. We spent the last nine months shooting it. It’s got George Strait in it and Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Robert Earl Keen and a bunch of other people. It documents my life in song, basically from the time I was a little boy to hitchhiking to Nashville and what I went through when I got to town and the inroads I made with some of the great artists I’ve been blessed to work with.”

photo by Jason Simanek

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