Jessie Jo Dillon on Sharing Grammy Songwriter of the Year Nom with Shane McAnally: “He Helped Give Me Some of My First Little Wings as a Writer”

Jessie Jo Dillon finds herself among the Songwriter of the Year nominees at the 2024 Grammy Awards. Having penned Old Dominion’s No. 1 hit “Memory Lane,” she was selected alongside Edgar Barrera, Shane McAnally, Theron Thomas, and Justin Tranter.

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The category, now in its second year, “recognizes the written excellence, profession and art of songwriting honoring the most prolific non-performing and non-producing songwriters for their body of new work released during an eligibility year,” according to Grammy.com. Dillon also received a nomination for Best Country Song at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards with Brandy Clark’s “Buried.”

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Dillon penned several country releases this year, including Megan Moroney’s “Girl in the Mirror,” Jelly Roll’s “Halfway to Hell,” HARDY’s “screen,” and Dan + Shay’s “Neon Cowgirl.” A month after the Grammy announcement, she tells American Songwriter the recognition is still “surreal.”

“It always feels so surreal,” says Dillon, who notched her first Grammy nomination in late 2010 with George Strait’s “The Breath You Take,” which she penned with her father, Country Music Hall of Famer Dean Dillon, and Casey Beathard. “It almost feels like you’re talking about someone else.”

Dillon admits she was still in bed the morning of the announcement. She didn’t have to write that day and says she forgot about the Grammy nominations until her phone began to blow up.

“I was thinking, ‘This is so crazy,’” she recalls. “Then Kelsea Ballerini FaceTimed me and she was crying and she was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this.’ I was like, ‘What happened?’ And she was like, ‘You got nominated for Songwriter!’ I really wasn’t expecting that at all. I was hoping for the Best Country Song with Brandy. Then I started bawling. I was bawling on FaceTime.

“I threw on clothes and went over to her house because she and Alysa [Vanderheym] got nominated for Rolling Out the Welcome Mat,” she continues. “We FaceTimed Jelly [Roll] and it was such a cool morning because it was so many friends [nominated] too. I couldn’t have asked for a cooler nomination day. It was awesome.”

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A proud collaborator and friend of Clark’s, Dillon says the singer/songwriter is “one of the most talented people I’ve ever met.” The pair wrote the Grammy-nominated “Buried” together and credit Brandi Carlile for the song’s title. 

“I was with her when she was making the record in Malibu with Brandi Carlile,” Dillon recalls. “Brandi Carlile had said, ‘Why don’t you guys just call this ‘Buried?’ and we were like, ‘Oh, that is such a good idea.’ Now, when I’ve had friends that have listened to it, they’re waiting for the word and then it being the last word [of the song] everybody’s always like, ‘Dude!’ I wish it was my idea, but it’s not.

“We both love that song so much that it felt really good to know that other people recognize this song too and it was a really awesome feeling as a writer,” Dillon says of being nominated in the Best Country Song category for “Buried.”

While Dillon has penned countless songs with Clark over the years, she credits fellow Songwriter of the Year nominee McAnally for introducing the collaborators to each other. 

“Shane McAnally was one of my first writes when I got a publishing deal,” Dillon recalls. “I remember halfway through our day, he looked at me and was like, ‘I like you. I didn’t want to.’ Classic Shane, brutally honest. I was like, ‘Why?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t know if you were just doing this because of your dad, but you’re really good and I am loving the day. Do you want to write with me and this girl Brandy Clark in a couple of days?’”

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Dillon also credits McAnally for vouching for her with other writers in town, like Josh Osborne and Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen. “It’s always a journey, but I’m so grateful for all of my co-writers,” she says.

Dillon adds that it’s even more special to be nominated alongside McAnally, who was one of her earliest champions in Nashville. 

“He was so funny because he called me immediately and he was like, ‘Can you believe this?’” she says of their Songwriter of the Year nominations. “We were freaking out and had this conversation. He was like, ‘OK, I’m done being nice because we’re competing.’ … It’s so cool to be nominated with all of them, especially Shane because I feel like he helped give me some of my first little wings as a writer. I mean, he was always so proud of me and liked what I did and told people that. I think that’s always important for writers to have a champion and he and Brandy have always been champions for me.” 

The final round of voting for the Grammys closes on January 4. The 66th Grammy Awards will air on Sunday, February 4, live on CBS.

Photo by Kate York / Courtesy Big Machine Music

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