Dean Dillon, the man behind the lyrics of some of country music’s most memorable songs, will join the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 alongside legends Hank Williams Jr. and Marty Stuart. Before his words touched country music fans everywhere, Dillon lived in Rocky Top, then called Lake City, and attended Oak Ridge High School.
Dillon is known as “the last of the troubadours” because he wrote songs for other hall-of-famers including George Strait, George Jones and Hank Williams Jr.
“Tennessee Whiskey,” arguably one of the most-loved country songs, was one of Dillon’s first successes. Dillon went on to write and co-write nearly 100 other songs for popular artists, record six studio albums on various labels and chart several singles on the Billboard country charts.
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Dillon founded WildCatter Records, his own label, in 2018. He now works with his daughter, songwriter Jessie Jo Dillon, who co-wrote Dan + Shay’s hit “10,000 Hours.”
Locally, Dillon is better remembered as “Dean Rutherford.” He picked guitar from the age of 7 and debuted as a singer on the Knoxville variety show “Jim Clayton Star Time” when he was 15.
The show was hosted by Knoxville businessman and philanthropist Jim Clayton, who survived a helicopter crash earlier this month.
Dillon hitchhiked to Nashville a month after graduating from Oak Ridge High School in 1973. He changed his name multiple times until an RCA Records executive randomly picked “Dillon” from a telephone book and it stuck.
In a new city with a new name, Dillon started his nearly four-decade music career. Although he was a stranger when he arrived on Music Row, he has finally found a place for his legacy among the country greats.
Joining the Hall of Fame
Dillon will be added to the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Songwriter category, which rotates annually with the Non-Performer and Recording/Touring musician categories.
The three new member-elects will bring the total Hall of Fame inductees to 142. The Country Music Association unveiled this year’s class virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. A date to induct the honorees at a Medallion Ceremony is to be determined.
The CMA chooses an anonymous panel of music industry leaders to elect the Hall of Fame members each year.
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