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AMERICAN TROUBADOUR: Dean adds screenwriting to impressive musical resume
Billy Dean Opry 1
Billy Dean, who won Best Male Vocalist on Ed McMahons Star Search in 1988, has multiple gold records. His Somewhere in My Broken Heart was named the Academy of Country Musics 1992 Song of the Year. - photo by File photo

SPRINGFIELD — Billy Dean’s songwriting pen has gushed with thoughtful words for nearly three decades. He has quite a knack for telling stories.

Dean will share some of his musical tales during “Heart Behind the Music: Songwriter Showcase” at the Mars Theatre on Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. He will share the stage with fellow country music stars Linda Davis and Mo Pitney.

“There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles,” Dean said. “It’s just raw emotion — stories behind some of the songs and kind of how our real life has imitated art or art has imitated real life. I guess that is what we try to portray in some of these shows.”

Dean, 56, has branched into other areas since the first of his 11 albums (“Young Man”) debuted in 1990. He occasionally delves into acting and is currently writing a screenplay.

Still, he devotes plenty of time to penning music.

“I’m actually more excited about writing than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I probably prefer it over everything else in the business. I like to perform — I’ve been doing that most of my life — but the place where I feel like I still have growth and can still get better is in writing.”

Dean is extremely excited about his initial screenplay attempt. It was precipitated by the uncovering of some old letters and newspaper clippings that belonged to his father and multiple uncles.

“... It’s just a pretty remarkable story about these brothers who served in World War II,” Dean said. “Somebody told me I needed to sit down and start writing their story, so I did. I found myself, like three days later, with this stuff just flowing out — trying to put pictures and scenes together that you see in your head.

“Trying to put it on paper is the challenge. Can I make someone see what I see by reading what I write?”

Following the pattern of his songs, the message of Dean’s screenplay will be a wholesome one. The script is called “When We Were Kings.”

“It’s about a certain breed of men, a breed of men that is under the gun by today’s standards. They are almost extinct and irrelevant,” Dean explained. “It’s almost like this breed of men has no place in society by today’s standards. This kind of guy, this kind of man, was very necessary when it came to fighting a war and standing up for principles they believed in.”

Dean reveals each family member’s positive attributes and his flaws.

“Each one had his own definition of manhood,” he said.

Dean was stunned to learn three months ago that his father, also named Billy Dean, fought in an elite Army unit — the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

“He was part of a group of 25 men who were the most elite trained soldiers in the world,” Dean said.

Dean discovered his father’s war exploits in a book entitled, “Battling Buzzards: The Odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regiment.” It traces the regiment’s combat experiences in Italy, southern France and the Battle of the Bulge.

“This book let me know about how my dad went through all the things described in that book to become a husband and a father,” Dean said. “After all the times that I tested my dad, I’m surprised I’m still alive! He could have taken me out of this world a long time ago and I didn’t know any of this stuff!”

The screenplay doesn’t focus exclusively on the war.

“It’s just a treasure trove of storylines,” Dean said. “There are love affairs, friendships and brotherhood. There is just a lot there and I am loving writing about this group of men.

“I just hope people will see that this type of a man is still necessary today.”

Dean said his mother didn’t even know the extent of his father’s military career.

“It absolutely took me by storm,” Dean said. “I’ve been doing nothing but reading, consuming and writing everything I can think and feel about all of this because, yeah, he absolutely was a hero.”

Dean joked that there has been another unexpectedly pleasant aspect of penning a screenplay.

“It’s actually refreshing because nothing has to rhyme,” he said.

Dean said music is likely to emerge from his family research.

“Ideas are starting to creep up,” he said. “It’ll probably take three or four years to get it all down and recorded but, at my age — instead of doing several small projects — I’d rather do one big project that I’m passionate about that will have plenty of music and plenty of story.

“And it may get made one day by Netflix or someone else — who knows? It may not but, if nothing else, my nephews, great nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins will know about it from this project.”

Despite his devotion to the screenplay, Dean still has plenty of time, energy and ink for country songs.

“I’ve been working on a new album that will be coming out this fall,” he said. “It will be all-new original music. I’m pretty much recording it solo acoustic. I’m really looking forward to that because it is my favorite way of performing.”

Dubbed “The American Troubadour because he spends so much time on the road and writing, Dean said it is not unusual for him to be working on multiple songs simultaneously.

“Songs are like crossword puzzles for me,” he said. “I’ll have three or four going at one time on my phone. Then, as I’m driving down the road, I’ll start filling in the blanks.”

Dean writes songs about his observations of everyday life.

“If there is anything today that is missing in country music, I’d say I could use a lot more stories and a lot more melodies,” he said. “We were taught to say as much as we could say in a song by using as few words as possible. I still live by that.

“... I just love great melodies and great stories — stories that I don’t see the endings coming. I see little twists, and those are harder to write.”

Dean is enthusiastic about working with Davis, his longtime friend and a Grammy Award winner, and Pitney. He believes Pitney, just 25, is a pivotal figure in country music.

““I’m a fan, man,” Dean said. “This guy is one of the most amazing traditional country singers and songwriters. He’s well beyond his years as an artist.”

In a June interview with the Effingham Herald, Davis dubbed Pitney, “the current Alan Jackson, the current George Strait.”

“If I can be so bold, I’d say Mo Pitney can sing circles around both of them,” Dean said.

Dean has performed with Pitney several times during the past five years.

“If people think that (traditional) style of country music has gone by the wayside, it will be people like Mo Pitney who bring it back,” Dean said.

Tickets for “Heart Behind the Music: Songwriter Showcase,” an acoustic performance, are close to selling out. Only balcony tickets remain.

Dean said he is eager to perform in the Mars Theatre, a very intimate venue.

“You can pull people in a small room right into your world because they can see everything that is going on with your hands, your face and your emotion,” he said. “The fans immediately give you that feedback that reminds you of why you got into the business to start with.”