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Ten Questions With Dean Dillon
By Todd Sterling

Liner note junkies will be familiar with the name Dean Dillon. The Tennessee native has penned hits for George Jones, George Strait (who has cut more than fifty of Dillon’s songs), and Kenny Chesney, among many others. Dillon, who has released several albums of his own over the years, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2002.

Dean kindly took time out of his busy schedule recently to answer a few questions for CSO.


TS: How would you describe your writing style?

DD: Growing up I was a huge fan of Merle Haggard and James Taylor – Taylor for his beautiful melodies and (Haggard) for his awesome story songs. So as one might guess, it's a cross between those two.

TS: Where do you draw inspiration from?

DD: Life. A lot of my early songs came from listening to peoples’ stories. The old adage, "people say the darndest things," is very true. I've come across some great "hooks" during conversations.

TS: What is a typical writing session like for Dean Dillon?

DD: I like to write in the mornings, so typically I head to Sony about 10 and from then until 2 in the afternoon it's a brainstorming session with whomever shows up for the day (to co-write).

TS: Do you ever write with a particular artist in mind?

DD: Yes and no. No in the sense that when I'm writing with another writer, we usually just write the song with no one in particular in mind. Yes in the sense that when I'm writing with an artist, I like to pick their brain and find out what they as an artist want to say – it's much more enjoyable for them and me when we know that answer.

TS: What is your take on the art vs. commerce debate; how can a songwriter feed both sides?

DD: This is a very tough question for me. I think you've got to find a happy medium. It is the music BUSINESS, after all. It's not like it's impossible to write a song that takes someone’s breath away and make a living doing it. I'm VERY content trying to do that day in and day out.

TS: Who is your all time favorite songwriter, and how has his or her writing influenced your own writing?

DD: There are so many, it's hard to pick a favorite. Haggard of course, but I would have to say I learned more firsthand about songwriting from HANK COCHRAN; what a truly brilliant mind he possesses. I also love, and I mean absolutely love, the style of TOM T. HALL.

TS: Out of all the songs you've had cut, what is the one song that best sums up who you are as a songwriter?

DD: (That’s a) hard question. I don't think any one defines me, but the sum of the whole is a good description.

TS: What advice would you give someone who wants to make songwriting a career?

DD: Write, write, write – your 500th song will be a heck of a lot better than your first.

TS: What are some of the biggest mistakes new songwriters make?

DD: (Not) staying focused on an idea, weak hooks, and the refusal to rewrite. So often a mediocre song just needs tweaking here and there to make it great – repetition in this area reaps huge rewards.

TS: How would you define success?

DD: Being happy with yourself.


(Todd Sterling is a freelance writer and songwriter from Canada: www.myspace.com/toddsterling / www.toddsterling.com)

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