Otis Lynn Dillon passes

Otis Lynn DillonOtis Lynn Dillon, owner and operator of the River Track Studio in Fort Gay, West Virginia, passed away on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. He was only 57 years old.

He was born in Louisa, Kentucky, on November 29, 1957.

Dillon owned and ran the River Track Studio, originally located in Louisa, since 1984, where he recorded some classic bluegrass and Gospel records.

Dillon worked on several Rebel Records’ recording sessions, with bands and artists such Lost and Found, Lonesome River Band, Dave Evans and Don Rigsby, among those who have benefitted from Dillon’s in-studio expertise.

Other albums recorded in whole or in part at the River Track Studio include Ralph Stanley’s 16 Years (River Tracks Records), Bluegrass Brothers’ Memories of the Blue Ridge (Hay Holler Records) and Scott Napier’s All Out Front.

Otis Lynn DillonA talented steel guitar player, Dillon played and sang with different Southern Gospel groups.

He was an Elder of the Saltpetre Community Church, Fort Gay, West Virginia, where he served as Chairman of the Media Ministries and formerly the Assistant Pastor of Silver Creek United Baptist Church, Crum, West Virginia.

Dave Carroll remembers his song-writing breakthrough facilitated by Dillon ……………..

“I first met Otis Lynn in 1989. That’s when I undertook my very first recording project. At that time, his recording studio (River Track Studio) was located in Louisa, KY. He later relocated it across the Big Sandy River to just outside of Fort Gay, West Virginia. That move would have been in the late 1990s, maybe close to 2000.

I knew zero about recording, had never even been in a studio. But from the minute I walked in the door, Otis made me feel as if I’d done it forever. He simply had that way about him. Talk about making a positive first impression on someone. He did that from the first hello.

I had the pleasure of recording many times after that first session, but even in that session, Otis IMMEDIATELY impacted my musical future in a huge way, and here’s how. The second evening that we went in to finish up our high dollar, two day project, lol, Otis had a visitor. It was a young man who had just started up his own recording studio up in Ferrum, Virginia. He had brought down some DAT recordings of a session he was working on, and he sought Otis’ expertise. He also headed up a band called Lonesome River Band, his name, Tim Austin.

While they we’re talking, Otis popped our tracks in, purposefully no doubt, straight to an original tune of mine. Tim’s ears went up, and I overheard him asking Otis about the tune. Long story short, that song was later on the 1992 IBMA Album of The Year, Carrying The Tradition. Otis Lynn was solely responsible for that happening. My very first authored song recorded by ANYONE, much less the Lonesome River Band. That opened so many doors for me immediately as a writer, and I’ve heard similar testimonies by many others.

The man touched more people in a positive way by accident, than most do on purpose. I also had a session that I had booked at Otis Lynn’s studio, when in the middle of our session, a ‘Big Time’ band showed up a half a day early for their session, just to come in and hang around. Otis pulled me to the side and said, ‘Now listen, if they are distracting you guys, they can find another place to go this afternoon. Their meter don’t start until tomorrow!’ And I’m talking about some of the most respected musicians in the business, me a nobody, but he made no bones about it nevertheless.  It certainly wasn’t a problem, and I was honored to just be in their presence. They were great guys to boot, and now some of them are my friends.

Just another example of Otis Lynn’s character. He was just that kind of human being. He would literally drop anything he was doing to help anyone. He did it for me more times than I can count. Just to take a few minutes to explain some technical aspect of something that I wasn’t smart enough to grasp. He made it all make sense.

He recorded some fabulous records, for some of the best artists in the business: Lost & Found, Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks, Lonesome River Band, Longview, Dave Evans, David Davis and The Warrior River Boys, and I could go on and on. And not only did he help create great records, he created many, many friendships. He was a fantastic musician and singer as well, his heart in Southern Gospel Music. A great bassist, as well as a masterful player of the steel guitar. A former member of the Kingsman Quartet, he had the credentials to back his words. But more so than even that, he was a kind, wonderful, and giving character. His void will be a large one for so many people. He was the finest of men.”

Originally posted on his Facebook page, Don Rigsby shared these thoughts, starting with a note about Dillon’s funeral that took place on June 29th    ……

“Today, I bid farewell to one of the best friends I ever had. But he was not only my friend, he was a friend to many. Otis Lynn Dillon passed away last Wednesday. I have thought about him and his family often for the past few years, but even more as of late. I have tried to decide what memories I should share about him in this forum. I have so many. We did so much together. So here are some big ones.

Otis was a great recording engineer. He was kind to all musicians whether they were skilled or novice. He always tried to help the novice get better and the skilled be their best. I was 19 years old when we first met. I had my first band along with some friends. He was so good to us as he engineered and mixed our first project. He was quick to offer helpful advice and even though he was not credited, he produced that project for the Truegrass Band. I still listen to it from time to time. He made us better.

As time passed, we crossed paths again often. Our friendship grew and grew. I became a session musician for him at River Track Studio and played on many sessions there. While doing so, he taught me how to play back up and fills on country music and Gospel music too. Less is more. Taste not waste. I carry that with me to this day.

I recorded my first solo recording with him at the console. I did several that way. My Sugar Hill Records debut A Vision was recorded by him. It morphed from a little project to sell at shows to a bona fide, serious recording. We recorded Dr. Ralph Stanley on this project along with. J.D. Crowe, John Hartford, Rickie Simpkins, Jason Carter, David Parmley, Sammy Shelor, Ronnie Bowman, Dan Tyminski, Randy Howard, Roy Huskey Junior, Bryan Sutton, Ricky Skaggs, Ben Isaacs, Sonya Melissa, Becky Bowman, John Bowman and many more. It was nominated for Gospel Recording of the Year. His fingerprints were and are all over it.

Here is the most important part of it all. During the recording of the project, God convicted me and I became stirred in my soul that it was time for me to be about the Father’s business. He was my guide and counsellor through it all when I came to know the Lord. He baptized me in Yatesville Lake in 1997. His guidance and godly nature and spiritual council was something I would seek out countless times in the ensuing years. That is what I will miss most about this extraordinary man.

We made television shows together along with an incredible cast for over eight years in the Tri-State. He was ever quick to fill any spot that was empty and needing filled. I remember one night specifically at the close of a taping after I had sung Beulah Land. He preached! It was not long, but it was very powerful! He said, ‘I have to say something here. My wife and daughter are here tonight. I want them to know if I leave this world tonight that Beulah Land was worth it all!!!’ Not my singing of the song, mind you, but the land across the river that Squire Parsons wrote about. Powerful indeed.

He was so kind to my father. My dear Dad, whom I loved so much, came across reel to reel recordings of some beloved preachers from our past. Otis and Robert Maynard transferred them to digital CDs for my Dad. It was such a blessing. Dad paid a meager pittance for the labor, but Otis was rewarded by the simple act of kindness. I never forgot that.

I made what is my favorite record with a few friends. Doctor’s Orders is my personal tribute to Ralph Stanley and it was a journey down memory lane for me. I tasked Otis and Robert to help me as it became time to do the overdubs, assist with guests appearing on the project, edit and mix. Per usual, he was an absolute professional and again, I was thrilled with his work.

I was troubled once about an elder from a sister church who in my opinion had highly insulted me and my profession. It had reached the point that if I went to church and saw this preacher in the building, I left. I was very upset and saddened by it. I went seeking guidance. After I told my story, Otis calmly and gently said, ‘Seven times seventy.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said it was commanded of God that I forgive that often every day. Ouch. But with his help and scriptural knowledge, I came to understand and I let it go. I can never thank him enough for that time and attention and lesson. I’ve used it countless times since.

My stories are not unique in any way with him. He was this way with scores of other people too. And I promise these are not all. Just the tip of the iceberg. To say he was influential on me is a huge understatement. To say I will miss him here is too.

Otis, say hello to my Dad. Tell him I miss him too. I will see you both soon, along with my other loved ones gone on. Fire up the coffee pot. We will have some serious catching up to do.”

Sadly, Otis Lynn Dillon’s wife Sonya passed away on June 29, less than a week after him. She had been battling cancer for some time.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.