When recording artist Matt Stillwell lost his father, George, in December 2014, he poured his memories and his grief into song. The result is his newest single, “Hey Dad,” which was released on Father’s Day and has already touched millions with its story of love and loss. We talked to the native of Silva, North Carolina, about the inspiration for the song and video—in which a 1953 Cat® D6 Dozer plays a key role.
Caterpillar: Tell us about your dad. What was his background? What did he do for a living?
Matt: He grew up one of eight full brothers and sisters and five more half brothers and sisters in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He and his brothers took over Stillwell Enterprises, a general contracting company, from my grandfather Earl Stillwell. Our family has been involved in the construction business for a long, long time.
My twin brothers, Jeff and Luke, branched off from my dad and his brothers to form Stillwell Brothers, which is essentially a third-generation company. Just like my dad, they are very hard workers and very good at what they do.
Caterpillar: What was your dad's experience with Caterpillar? What made him a fan?
Matt: I believe I knew the difference between a D6 and a D9 by the time I was old enough to walk, if that gives you any idea how much my dad talked about Caterpillar and equipment in general. I think for my dad and for many contractors, Caterpillar is the standard everyone compares everything to.
Caterpillar: Tell us about the Cat D6 that’s featured in the video.
Matt: My brothers found the D6 at an auction and gave it to dad for Father’s Day eight years ago. It was his baby. He restored it, ran it as often as possible and loved it. When I would talk to my mom and brothers over the last decade, a lot of the conversation around my dad dealt with the D6:
“What’s dad doing?”
“He's working on the dozer down at the barn.”
Literally, every conversation. I believe that dozer became him and he became that dozer in a way.
Caterpillar: What inspired you to write this song to honor your dad?
Matt: I wrote the song with a good friend of mine, Lynn Hutton, who was really close to my dad. We wanted to describe what he meant to me and my brothers and what we are going through as we deal with his passing. My brothers and I had a great relationship with dad. We know what he would say to us and what we would say to him. That’s really what the chorus of the song is—that potential conversation.
We were very simple and honest with the song, and I think that’s why so many people are relating to it. It reminds them of their dads, too. That’s a powerful thing for me. It’s also a wonderful testament to my dad. He had that kind of impact on me and my brothers, and that will last forever.
Caterpillar: How has your family reacted to the song? What reactions have you heard from others?
Matt: My girls know every word and dance to the song daily. So does my nephew Branson. As for my mom and brothers, we’re all finding our own ways of dealing with the loss while being there for each other. We are all close, and we were all really close with dad, so to have this song to hang onto is a good thing.
The reaction from others has been staggering. The video as of today is approaching six million views, 150,000 shares and 5,000 comments on Facebook. People are sending it to others they want to see it; they’re telling me the stories of their dads, and they’re thanking me for the song. I’m realizing the power of music in a big, big way. It’s amazing and humbling to be a part of it.
Caterpillar: What do you think your dad’s reaction would be?
Matt: I think he’d be proud. He was proud of my brothers and me in everything we did. We knew that because he told us a lot. That’s a huge part of the relationship we had with him, a huge part of how I was able to write the song and a huge part of how my brothers and I probably work harder now to achieve the dreams we have been chasing our whole lives. He made it all possible. He lived for us.
Caterpillar: The video ends with some still photography of your dad’s funeral procession, which featured the Cat D6. How did that idea come about?
Matt: It was just what he deserved. We all wanted something special for dad, and we couldn’t think of a better way to send him off. I wanted to tell that story in the video because I felt like what we did with the funeral would resonate with a lot of people. I had a gut feeling when we wrote the song that it was going to help people deal with loss in their own lives.
I’ve also always wanted to put heavy equipment in a video. My best memories involve bulldozers, big trucks and diesel fuel. I knew it had to be that way for other people, especially people who grew up in the country. When I’d go to work with my dad, the guys on site would always be listening to music. I soaked all that in, and it shaped what I listened to and now what I write and sing as well.
Caterpillar: What’s your personal experience with Cat products—and your overall impression of Caterpillar?
Matt: I went to work with my dad and helped him run Cat equipment. I also played in the yard with model Cat dozers and backhoes. In fact, I got in trouble with our neighbor for digging under the driveway with a model Cat backhoe when I was really young.
For me, the Cat brand is powerful. It’s lasting. It’s quality. It gets the job done. That’s what’s needed in every industry. Caterpillar represents that in the construction industry. I’m not sure there is anything higher than that.