Why George Strait Passed on Recording ‘Tennessee Whiskey’

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

At this point, “Tennessee Whiskey” is a bona fide country music classic. David Allen Coe originally cut the song in the eighties. A couple of years later, George Jones took the song to number two on the Country Singles chart. More recently, Chris Stapleton revived “Tennessee Whiskey.” His career and the song’s popularity grew in tandem. We almost got a George Strait version of the song, but he passed on it.

Back in 2017, George Strait did a rare interview with Kacey Musgraves. Kacey was asking George questions from fans. One wanted to know if there were any songs that he passed on that became hits for other artists. “There’s a couple,” Strait said, “but the biggest one was probably ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ that Dean Dillon wrote.” Then, he pointed out that the song was up for Song of the Year at the ACMs.

George Strait went on to say that Dean Dillon pitched the song to him in the mid-eighties. He said he passed on it. “Just wasn’t your thing?” asked Musgraves. Strait replied, “I missed it.” Then he talked about other artists who cut the song. “Chris Stapleton just nailed it.”

George Strait and Dean Dillon: The Dream Team

It’s not surprising that George Strait had a chance to cut “Tennessee Whiskey” in the eighties. Dean Dillon co-penned the song with Linda Hargrove. Strait has recorded several Dean Dillon songs. In fact, Dillon wrote or co-wrote some of Strait’s chart-toppers. Songs like “Marina del Rey,” “The Chair,” and “Ocean Front Property” all came from him.

In 2017, George Strait said that he only had one album that didn’t feature a Dean Dillon song. That album is Beyond the Blue Neon.

In the interview with Kacey Musgraves, George explained why the album didn’t feature a song from his frequent collaborator. “The reason he didn’t have a cut on that album was that he brought me a song to the studio that some friends of his had written,” he said. That song was “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” and Strait loved it. When he heard it, he was planning to put one of Dillon’s songs on Beyond the Blue Neon. However, that song “Kind of bumped [Dillon’s cut] off the record.”

“Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” would go on to be one of Strait’s sixty chart-topping hits. It is possible that if Strait would have taken “Tennessee Whiskey” he would have sixty-one number-one singles. Then again, it could have joined songs like “Amarillo by Morning” that are fan-favorites but never made it to the top of the charts.

Well-Aged Tennessee Whiskey

If you’re only familiar with the Chris Stapleton version of “Tennessee Whiskey” you should check out the older cuts. David Allen Coe gives the song a honky tonk feel. Geroge Jones’ version is closer to Stapleton’s in that it, like much of Possum’s catalog, is as smooth as silk.