NASHVILLE — Barry Dean’s second-chance career in songwriting is earning acclaim for the Pittsburg native.

If not for the encouragement of his wife, Jennifer, Dean likely would have played it safe, working and raising his family in Pittsburg.

Instead, after a decade of hard work in Nashville, Dean recently learned he has received his first nomination for a Grammy for the song “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” which he co-wrote with Luke Laird and Jonathan Singleton.

He will find out Monday whether he receives the Grammy, for Best Country Song, during the 58th Grammys which will be broadcast on CBS at 7 p.m. Central. 

Young beginnings

The Pittsburg community nurtured Dean as a young artist and in the early days of his career, beginning with encouragement by former eighth-grade English teacher Cathy AuBuchon.

“We did a writing assignment, and she took me aside after class and said, ‘I want to tell you something. I think you might be a poet,’” Dean said. “I didn’t even know what that meant at the time.”

But Dean said this became more meaningful throughout the years.

“Every writer I’ve met can trace a line back to who told them they could write,” Dean said. “She was the permission card.”

Dean said he always loved music and had interest in the industry when he was young, even to the point of hearing his work on the radio at the age of 18 or 19.

“They played a couple pop songs of mine, and that was amazing,” Dean said. “It was just a rush.”

He would have pursued the passion further, but said the path wasn’t clear at the time.

“I wanted to do it, but there wasn’t really an easy or clear path,” Dean said. “You have to want this most of all.”

Chasing the dream

Dean instead gave up songwriting, met his wife, Jennifer, and began considering other career paths while working at Pitsco.

A conversation one day unearthed Dean’s long-buried dream.

“She made a statement about, ‘If this is your passion, we should do this or that,’ and I laughed,” Dean said. “Finally I said, ‘As a kid I wanted to go to Nashville. I wanted to be a songwriter.’”

Rather than expressing concern or nervousness, Jennifer encouraged Dean to pursue his dream.

“She found a cruise where a bunch of Nashville songwriters would teach about songwriting in the mornings, so we did it,” Dean said. “For her to see that and then to risk the consistency, security and stability, which most people are driven toward, and instead go, ‘No, you’ve got to try,’ she saw through it all and saw what I was meant to do.”

Dean’s first single, “God’s Will” was written about his daughter, Katherine, and he said it was incredible to hear Martina McBride singing his words on the radio after its release in 2003.

“That one was just so surreal, it was so amazing,” Dean said.

A leap of faith

At that time Dean was still living in Pittsburg and commuted to Nashville on occasion, but in the years which followed he realized professional songwriting needed to be an all-the-time job.

“There was a sudden realization that this is not something that can be done part time,” he said.

Once again, his family supported his dream, and together packed up and moved to Nashville where he could work with other songwriters and artists.

“It was really hard,” Dean said. “To move here was really difficult. I don’t know if we would have done it had it been up to me.”

But he said the leap of faith has resulted in blessings.

“I’ve been really blessed to get to write with some of the greats,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about being here as a writer. There’s such a wonderful community of writers in Nashville.”

In fact, he said many of the other nominees are his close friends, and he first was notified about his nomination by Lori McKenna, who wrote “Girl Crush.”

“She was nominated for two Grammys for 'Girl Crush' and called to tell me about my nomination for Diamond Rings,” Dean said. “I’m friends with all the other nominees, and in some cases really close friends with them.”

Through his time in Nashville and the friendships he has made, Dean said he has learned how to pursue the magic that makes a song great.

“What I’m looking for are moments of magic, moments that are different, and when I find those I will follow them even if it means breaking the formula,” Dean said.

Some of Dean’s other top songs include “Pontoon” (Little Big Town), “Day Drinkin’” (Little Big Town), “Girls Chase Boys” (Ingrid Michaelson), “Drinks after Work” (Toby Keith), “1994” (Jason Aldean), “Tattoo” (Hunter Hayes), “Rum” (Brothers Osborne), “On To Something Good” (Ashley Monroe) and “By The Way” (Lindsay Ell).

— Sarah Gooding is a staff writer for The Morning Sun. She may be reached by e-mail at sgooding@morningsun.net.