After graduating from Oak Ridge High School in 1973, Rocky Top resident Larry Dean Rutherford hitchhiked to Interstate 40 and caught a ride to Nashville.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Rutherford - more familiarly known as Dean Dillon to real fans of country music - has written 26 No. 1 hits and been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His songs have been recorded by Kenny Chesney, Pam Tillis, Vince Gill, George Jones - and more than 70 for George Strait, including "Tennessee Whiskey," which is the name of a documentary on Dillon's life now on YouTube.
And he's from Lake City, now known as Rocky Top.
Locals from his hometown joined officials from state of Tennessee and Anderson County to honor Dillon on Sept. 22 with a ceremony adding a marker with his photo and a synopsis of his life story to Main Street near the Coal Creek Miners Museum and City Hall. This adds Dillon and Rocky Top to the Tennessee Music Pathways trail.
"This little town, there's a lot of good memories," the 68-year-old said, calling Rocky Top a place filled with "honest, God-fearing people who love the Lord like I do."
The slim, tall, country music songwriter and performer said he remembered coming to town with his grandfather, Brassfield McGhee, to the barber shop to get a butch cut. The long-haired Dillon joked that he decided to never get a haircut again.
He lived in Lake City's Cherry Bottom community, which is in Campbell County, and attended Jacksboro High School (some of his classmates were present at the Rocky Top event), where he won the school talent show. His aunt Delaine McGhee, widow of his Uncle Gene, said he wanted more music education so he came to live with them in Oak Ridge. By that time, the teenager had appeared on the "Jim Clayton Startime" show, filmed in Knoxville.
Dillon said he had fond memories of Oak Ridge High and his time in Oak Ridge before he hit the road bound for Nashville, where he'd get a job at Opryland amusement park. He recalled being in class with fellow Oak Ridge students who'd studied piano since they were 3.
His sisters Faith and Hope were present, as were his aunts Delaine and Brenda Hart, and another uncle, Terry McGhee. He said when he was on the road touring over the years it was always great to come home and visit with family.
"Being back home is awesome," he said in reply to a question from an interviewer. He now lives in Gunnison, Colorado, according to his website.
Asked about the biggest life lesson he'd learned over the years, Dillon said "perseverance." Then added, "It's all about being God fearing. ... God's been good to me."
Dillon said never in his "wildest dreams" could he have imagined his life when he headed out for I-40 in 1973 after graduation.
"God gave me the talent to do what I do," he said.
Dillon has now joined the ranks of Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Taylor Swift and many other performers on the Tennessee Music Pathways.
As state Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell said at the event, with the many forms of music calling Tennessee home, "Visitors come to Tennessee because of our music."
The Oak Ridger's News Editor Donna Smith covers Oak Ridge area news. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter@ridgernewsed.
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This article originally appeared on Oakridger: 'Tennessee Whiskey' songwriter joins Tennessee Music Pathways trail