Of all the unsung songwriters in Nashville, Dean Dillon has to be near the top of the list.
The man has a resume the length of a CVS receipt, with tons of credits on tons of songs for the likes of Toby Keith, Keith Whitley, Kenny Chesney, David Allan Coe (“Tennessee Whiskey”, if you’ve heard of it…), Brooks & Dunn, Alabama, and others, but is best known for his work with The King, George Strait.
Dean has co-written at least 55 songs for George Strait, most notably “The Chair”, “Marina Del Ray”, and the all-time classic “Ocean Front Property”.
Well, Dean was playing a set and before singing “Ocean Front Property”, let the audience in on the story of how it was written.
He and Hank Cochran, a co-writer on Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces”, were hiding out in the boonies somewhere, trying to escape the hustle and bustle of Nashville life and lay low for awhile.
But one day, George Strait gave Dean a call, and when the King calls, you answer.
“We’ve been gone a long time. He goes “Where are you and when are you coming back?” And I said “I’m not telling you where I am and I may not ever come back.”
While I’m not the most familiar with Dean, it certainly seems like that exchange sums him up pretty solidly from what I’ve been able to read…
The call continued.
“He said “Well, I’m fixing to cut again and need some songs.” So I hung up the phone, I looked at Hank and I said “Hank, that was Strait. He’s needing songs, you want to go back to Nashville? He says “Well, not really, but if we’ve got to we’ve got too.”
So the song writing duo packed up from wherever they were and headed back to Music City, USA.
Immediately upon arrival, they set up a demo session, where they played “Homecoming ’63” and “Miami, My Ay”, both cut by the legendary Keith Whitley, and “The Chair”, which Strait cut.
“I was singing vocals on the chair, I was in the vocal booth, headset on. I looked through the glass and I noticed Hank and Royce (Porter) were gone. I asked the engineer… “Where are they?” He said “Well, they’re over here in this other room writing a song I think.”
“I said well not on my damn session they’re not, not without me.”
So I laid the headphones down and I walk over there and swing that door open, and Hank acts like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. He goes “Dean! Listen to this idea Royce has got.” And they played me a little bit of it and he goes what do you think? I said “Man, that’s terrible.”
And then he goes, “Well, you want in on it or not?” And I knew better… I said “Alright, I’ll help you finish it.”
So we wrote the chorus and the last couple verses and we got done with it and he goes “Now what do you think?” And I said “I hate it still”
And the reason I did, people, is I was a serious songwriter. I did not want to be labeled a funny songwriter. I just did not care for that at all.
So to this day, I still don’t care particularly for this song. But it made a shit pot load of money…”
He then goes on to play an acoustic version of that song he doesn’t care for, “Ocean Front Property”, which George recorded and released as the lead single and title track for his 1986 album. The song went Number 1, the 10th of his career.
Have to imagine the years of collecting royalties have softened the blow of being a “funny” songwriter…
Good on old Dean, Hank, and Royce.
They made a lifetime’s living that day.
Well, whether Dean likes it or not, it’s a certified classic.
“Ocean Front Property”