through a Tillis family scrapbook is like flipping through a visual history
of country music. Scattered among pictures of late great solemn faced Tillis
ancestors you will run across a signed picture to the Tillis kids from a
young handsome Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, or Webb Pierce. You would
also see snapshots of Mel hanging out with his mentor Burl Ives in the
Florida Keys, or pictures of the Tillis kids singing with Porter Wagoner,
and Dolly Parton in the 1960s.
any family scrapbook you would also find pictures of work and play. Daddy
Mel strumming a guitar, BMI song writing award ceremony pictures, and of
course, pictures of Mel's eldest child, Pam Tillis doing what came natural
to her…singing …in an environment wrapped in the sweet blanket of music.
years later, Pam's newest project is woven with the same tapestry of her
childhood and the result is a tribute to Mel and his classic songs. It's
something she's wanted to do for years.
collection, titled It's All Relative, Tillis Sings Tillis, says as much
about Pam Tillis' own successes and status in country music as it does about
her famous father. In true Pam fashion, she selected an eclectic range of
talent to complete the tribute including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Marty
Stuart, Rhonda Vincent, Trisha Yearwood, The Jordanaires, Delbert McClinton
and Asleep At The Wheel's Ray Benson (who produced four of the tracks.)
Pam's siblings and a few of Mel's grandchildren also get a chance to pay
honor to Mel by singing on "Come On And Sing". The task of meticulously
sifting through Mel's vast catalogue of songs was enormous. Selecting just
13 songs was next to impossible. Pam finally settled on some of Mel's most
acclaimed hits like "Heart Over Mind," "I Ain't Never" and "Detroit City,"
plus a few that are not as familiar such as "Unmitigated Gall" and "Come On
Some of the
tracks lend a contemporary spin to the standards they have become like the
haunting version of "Heart Over Mind" with Emmylou Harris. Yet others have
the familiar resonance of a cherished time in country music. The chords of
Nashville's past ring loud and clear in this impressive assortment of songs.
Safe to say, the collection is a labor of love to the craft she so dearly
loves and the songs of her father that "rocked her cradle," as she says.
It's also a giant hug to the man who has been the one melodic constant in
her life -- a chord that hasn't always been so easy to hear.
Nashville was home to only a dozen or so songwriters at best. It was the one
place where songwriters could pitch their songs in person to the stars of
the day: Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce and Lefty Frizzell. Such was the
environment where one struggling songwriter from Pahokee, Florida, dug in
and began a career destined for greatness. Mel Tillis became one of
Nashville's most successful songwriters in the late '50s and '60s penning
such hits as "Detroit City", "Heart Over Mind", "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love
to Town", and "Strange." Little did Mel know, daughter Pamela Yvonne Tillis
would one day make her own mark in country music history.
Pam likes to
tell the story of her Mel taking her along on writing sessions, tucking her
away in the first hillbilly crib so to speak -- a "guitar case on the floor"
-- while he perfected his craft. Perhaps through "through osmosis," she
jokingly comments, she inherited the love of music.
case, Pam's musical talent has simply always existed -- like the seeds of
the song ideas that Mel says were just there. Her earliest memories were of
her grandmother's foot tapping the pedals of the family piano while she
pecked out old Baptist standards. She also recalls listening to Mel's latest
songwriting efforts on a shiny reel to reel tape deck late at night, or
performing on stage at the Grand Ole Opry with her famous father. Pam,
however, began her musical career in earnest at the age of eight studying
first classical piano at Nashville's Blair Academy and later teaching
herself a number of instruments. She pursued each instrument with the same
passion as the previous one, though singing came more naturally to her.
around her Yamaha classical guitar was commonplace for Pam. Pam also had a
natural talent for songwriting. Female songwriters were grossly outnumbered
in Nashville during Pam's childhood. In fact, only a few were well known.
Pam seemed undaunted by this fact knowing that writing was an integral part
of her future as an entertainer. Along the way, Pam entertained where she
could from school contests (which she always won), to camp musicals in the
mountains of North Carolina, church choirs and, of course, in the Tillis
family garage productions, where she was always the producer, director…and
By this time,
Mel was playing on the road and was away from his family for days at a time.
He wasn't always convinced that Pam had the tenacity to tough it out in the
competitive environment that Nashville had become, but he always believed in
college, classes took a back seat to Pam's real love -- music -- and she
spent most of her time in Knoxville singing in the nightclubs. Rather than
"waste her parent's money" as she recalls those days, Pam left Knoxville and
moved to California settling for a time in Sausalito where she had her first
real success -- surprisingly as a jazz singer.
As the lead
singer of the band Freelight, Pam learned she could sing virtually anything.
Warner Bros. Records and the infamous Jimmy Bowen concluded that too, and
signed her to her first major label contract. Her first album was actually a
pop album entitled Above and Beyond The Doll Of Cutie. Pam saw little
success from that effort so at the advice of her family, and friends moved
back to Nashville and started anew in 1979.
struggling single parent, Pam began sharpening her skills at songwriting,
session singing, and as a back-up singer on the road for Mel's backup vocal
section, the Stutteretes. She became a fixture on the nightclub scene,
playing clubs like the Exit/In and the legendary Bluebird Caf? As a
songwriter, she began seeing the fruits of her hard work with cuts by Chaka
Khan, Highway 101, Conway Twitty and others. The Nashville community
embraced her and her name was now synonymous with talent instead of "Tillis."
recognized this also and signed her to Arista Records in 1989 for what would
become a long-standing and successful relationship. Her first Arista album
debuted in 1990 entitled Put Yourself In My Place and resulted in her first
#1 hit; "Don't Tell Me What To Do" penned by the late great Harlan Howard.
The song has become an anthem of sorts for Pam, always doggedly charting her
own course. Harlan Howard had also penned several hits for Mel.
In 1994 Pam
was awarded the CMA's prestigious "Female Vocalist of the Year", and CMT's
"Video of The Year", as well as a Grammy Award along the way. Five out of
seven of her albums have certified either gold or platinum, selling an
impressive five million copies including her gold Greatest Hits album.
Suffice to say, the Arista tenure was highly prolific and wildly successful,
producing six #1 hits and 14 Top 5's and numerous Top 20's -- in addition to
two back-to-back platinum albums.
toured with the best in country music including George Strait, Alan Jackson,
Vince Gill, Alabama and Brooks & Dunn. She always found time to write during
these busy years and has written many of her hits including the #1 hit "Mi
Vida Loca", " It's Lonely Out There", "In Between Dances" and "Spilled
marked another first for her class of peers during the '90s, becoming one of
the first female producers during that time producing her gold album All of
this Love. She has since gone on to co-produce with many of Nashville's
finest producers. Pam's also had the opportunity to develop other talents --
acting, writing and photography. No novice to acting, she appeared as Mary
Magdalene in the Tennessee Repertory production of "Jesus Christ Superstar"
in 1989, two years prior to her break on the music charts. Later she would
once again grace the stage, only this time in New York City on Broadway in
the popular "Smokey Joe's Caf?quot;. Other acting credits include "Diagnosis
Murder" with Dick Van Dyke "Touched By An Angel," "Hollywood Squares" and
most recently Showtime's "Chris Isaak Show."
In 2002 she also fulfilled a life-long dream appearing in Vogue, InStyle and
Redbook magazines as part of a national shoe campaign for Easy Spirit shoes.
Safe to say,
Pam has carved a path that is uniquely her own. She is often described as a
"survivor" and a "pioneer" for a new breed of female country stars. With her
latest signing to Epic/Lucky Dog Records in 2002 and imminent release of her
tribute album to Mel, Pam expects to chart a new path in the new millennium.
Along the way it will be scattered with visual images of her own life.
You will most
likely see snapshots of career milestones among family moments: Moments like
winning the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, singing on the Grammys, son Ben
singing as a baby in Vegas with Mel, becoming the latest Grand Ole Opry
member in 2000, appearing on Broadway in 1999 in "Smokey Joe's Caf?quot;,
snapshots of numerous family fishing trips, and, oh yes, there's one more
picture you will see Pam smiling, at home in Nashville, wrapped in her own
blanket of success embracing her past and looking to the future.
Written by Cindy
Tillis Westmoreland , Pam's sister and Mel's daughter, and General Manager
and Marketing Director of Mel Tillis Theater, Inc.
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