Billy Dean may locate out of Music City, aka Nashville. But he has also left part of his heart in Utah.
He is coming to play a show on Wednesday, July 18, at the Ogden Amphitheater to launch the city's Pioneer Days celebrations. Dean is performing with his own band, as well as Monty Powell, a hit songwriter who lives in Huntsville.
The Florida-born Dean has been playing the Beehive State for many years. It all started almost two decades ago, when he came to scout the Sundance Resort as a guest, thinking he might like to play there.
"I met a kid there who took my luggage up to my room," said Dean, calling from his farm outside Nashville. "He was a sweet kid. He sang, and I thought he was pretty good. I invited him out to Nashville, to stay on the farm and check it out."
Dean's young friend died a few years later in a Utah snowmobile accident. Dean attended the funeral.
"He was a member of the Mormon Church. I was very touched by them, kind of fell in love with his family and friends. So then I started working out there more often. I'm glad I did, because my music seems to really work out there."
In Nashville, Dean became friends with singer Anna Wilson and her songwriter husband, Monty Powell, who now base out of the Ogden Valley.
"They've moved out there (to Utah) more or less permanently," he said. "So we made a vow we would try and get together out there and play more."
Wilson had a scheduling conflict that week, but Powell is onboard for the show.
"He is amazing," Dean said, who admits to enjoying his own songwriting craft, but struggling at times. "Monty is the real thing -- wrote 'Days Go By' and 'Sweet Thing' for Keith Urban, and 'One of These Days You're Gonna Love Me' for Tim McGraw and a bunch of other stuff.
"And he is a good musician, too. We're going to have a fun band and a big jam session out there at the amphitheater."
Dean hopes to see one or two other musical friends with Utah roots while in town. He mentioned his admiration for the music of Thurl Bailey, whom he met at a Jazz game, and whose work Dean admires.
"And then one of my buddies --we actually met years ago in Atlanta -- Marvin Goldstein? We ran into each other at an airport a few years ago. And he said, 'I got to talk to you. You know, I am LDS now.' "
Dean, unfamiliar with that nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he responded with, " 'Hey, don't you worry about it, I am ADD.' " He laughed. "Well, then he explained it to me, and I was real happy for him. And it was great, because we got together and did some religious songs."
The resulting album was "Christ (A Song for Joseph)," released in 2005. It was well-received by the LDS community, so much so that Dean was invited to play with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir last New Year's Eve.
"I really do love it out there -- a lot of fun and a lot of good people. They appreciate good music, purpose-driven but not preachy. Fun, positive, cool and clever songs -- they get it. In Nashville, it is almost like you have to have a little whiskey in your music -- and that is fine, too, but out in Utah, I get inspired to write about things like going though life as a dad, a husband, a family guy, as well as a musician."
Dean has had a successful music career; his single "Somewhere in My Broken Heart" was the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year in 1991, and he also was recognized then as New Male Vocalist of the Year. He also won the Country Music Television Rising Star Award, Nashville Songwriter Association International's Song of the Year, and a Grammy for his work on a country gospel album, "Amazing Grace."
He has made 12 albums and has his own music publishing company, Billy Dean Music Group. He's been honored by the Tennessee House of Representatives with a day in his name.
After that run, Dean stepped back a bit, taking eight years to be with his young family by mostly leaving the road until returning to touring in 2009.
"Now my kids are grown, I am ready to have some fun, lighten up and play music," he said.
The music world has changed since Dean was first signed by a major label -- back when the company's staff would take an artist under its wings and handle the fine print.
But the DIY nature of today's music business suits Dean. He is now working to get his previous albums more readily available again.
"In our world, you better own everything you can of your work," he said. "And really, this is the busiest I've been in a long time, getting it all done. We are manufacturing all my old catalog, the original CDs. They've been on iTunes and all, but physical copies have been out of circulation for a while."
The CDs will also include bonus tracks never released before. And Dean will release a new record with 10 new songs.
"It is a huge project -- 17 new songs I have to get together. But it is fun. I have a home studio to rough things out. And then, for the live recording, I like to get a bunch of musicians in a studio, on the edge of their seat, playing live together. Something fresh and new -- it starts there.
"These days, the more authentic and raw it sounds, the better. You can still make it that way, even if overuse of technology in recent years may make you think different. What I tell my engineers is, 'When the hair stands up on your arms, quit turning the knobs.' The job is to connect -- and that's when you can tell you've done the job right."