When Grammy nominations were revealed a few months ago, Nashville had an impressive showing. In the Songwriter of the Year category, an all-genre award introduced at the 65th Grammy Awards in 2022, Music City was represented by two stellar songwriters: Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon.
Jessie Jo, who had been nominated for the Grammy’s Best Country Song award three times prior, says she was shocked by the nomination—but she shouldn’t be. In 2023 she co-penned Old Dominion’s No. 1 hit “Memory Lane,” Jelly Roll‘s anthem “Halfway To Hell,” Catie Offerman’s debut single “I Just Killed A Man” and Megan Moroney’s critically-acclaimed “Girl in the Mirror,” plus tunes released by Hardy, Brandy Clark, Lori McKenna, Nate Smith, Jake Owen and more. She also celebrated her co-written 2021 smash “10,000 Hours” by Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber crossing the one billion stream mark on Spotify, among other career wins.
Her past year of success is the culmination of many years of hard work. The daughter of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (NaSHOF) and Country Music Hall of Fame member Dean Dillon, Jessie Jo has been toiling away at making her own mark in the genre since 2010. She notched her first No. 1 hit in 2018 with Cole Swindell‘s “Break Up in the End,” which also earned her an ACM Awards Song of the Year nomination and the NSAI Song of the Year award. Thus began a chain reaction of wins for the songwriter, with 2023 being her banner year.
Jessie Jo says that when she was looking forward to 2023, she was ready to put her head down and grind.
“I remember feeling like I was going to work harder than I’ve ever worked. I made a conscious decision to do that—to really throw myself into writing as much as possible with whoever and whenever. I do feel like I did that this year,” she tells MusicRow.
At the beginning of the year, Old Dominion’s “Memory Lane,” which Jessie Jo wrote with the band’s chief songwriters Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi, began its journey.
“I’ve known those guys for so long. I met them through Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark when I was younger. We’ve always written together, but I’m pretty sure it was the first time we had written just the three of them and me.
“They say ‘Memory Lane’ was my title—I don’t remember that, but I guess I’ll take their word for it,” she quips. “At the time, I was going through a breakup and I remember delving into all of that. It’s cool now, the life that it’s had, because it took something sad and made something beautiful. I love seeing all the videos of it live and how much fans seem to love it.”
While the moody, wistful “Memory Lane” climbed the charts, a song Jessie Jo wrote with Jelly Roll, Matt Jenkins and Jesse Frasure, “Halfway To Hell,” began to pick up steam with fans after Jelly’s Whitsitt Chapel album released.
“Man, I love that song. I love Jelly Roll. I feel like I’m his number one fan,” Jessie Jo says. “That song is about owning both the [bad] and good parts of you. It’s a very honest song and he is an honest artist. It was really cool to get to explore all that with him.”
Jelly Roll’s label Stoney Creek Records announced a few days ago that “Halfway To Hell” would be his next single. “I’m just so over the moon for him and look forward to seeing what the song brings for him in the new year,” Jessie Jo shares.
Another track that earned a big reaction last year was Megan Moroney’s “Girl in the Mirror,” a reflective song about losing yourself in a bad relationship. It served as a deeper moment on the artist’s breakout album Lucky, and has become a fan favorite.
“That was the first day Megan and I met. We bonded so much over the subject matter of the song. It was a cool experience—two women meeting for the first time and just being vulnerable,” Jessie Jo says. “I’m such a fan of her and her artistry.”
Other songs that helped Jessie Jo earn her Songwriter of the Year nomination were “Neon Cowgirl” (Dan + Shay), “Screen” (Hardy), “I Just Killed A Man” (Catie Offerman), “The Town In Your Heart” (Lori McKenna) and “Buried” and “Up Above The Clouds” (Brandy Clark).
“I’m proud of all of those songs. It is crazy to hear them all read down because they’re great songs,” Jessie Jo shares. “I feel proud and I feel like I did my job as a songwriter to try to help these artists tell their story.”
On the day the nominations came out, Jessie Jo had a rare day off.
“It was so nuts. A couple people texted me 30 minutes before [so I could watch], and then I couldn’t get my internet to work and I missed the songwriter announcement,” she says with a laugh. “All of a sudden my phone was like ‘ding ding, ding, ding.’ Kelsea Ballerini FaceTimed me and was crying. I was like, ‘Oh my God, did you guys get album?’ She said, ‘You just got songwriter!'”
After hearing the news, Jessie Jo hurried over to Kelsea’s house to celebrate with her friends. By the time she got there, Kelsea and Alysa Vanderheym were celebrating their nod for Best Country Album (Rolling Up the Welcome Mat) and Jessie Jo had received another nomination for Best Country Song (“Buried”).
“We had the best day. We had mimosas and called Lainey [Wilson], FaceTimed Jelly and called Brandy. It was just a cool day for the whole crew,” she says. “[Sharing it with my friends] felt like the best part of it. So many people that I love got nominations I feel like they deserved.”
When asked about being nominated alongside Shane McAnally, Jessie Jo shares that she feels honored to be in a category with someone she admires so much.
“He is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever known. He is so unique and he taught me so much. I met him when I was like 22 or 23. and he was one of the first people to ever really believe in me and bring me into writes,” she says. “He’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day for sure.”
Jessie Jo, Shane and all of the deserving nominees will head to to Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4 for the 66th annual awards. Voting for Grammy winners closes Thursday (Jan. 4).