Lonnie Melvin "Mel" Tillis (born August 8, 1932) is an American country music singer and songwriter. Although he recorded songs since the late 1950s, his biggest success occurred in the 1970s, with a long list of Top 10 hits.
Tillis's biggest hits include "I Ain't Never", "Good Woman Blues", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy". On February 13, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to country music.
by Jim Casey | @TheJimCasey | November 27, 2017
Funeral & Visitation for Mel Tillis to Take Place Today (Nov. 27)
Funeral arrangements and visitation for Mel Tillis, who passed away on Nov. 19 at the age of 85, have been announced.
Visitation for Mel will be held on Nov. 27 from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sykes Funeral Home (424 Franklin St.) in Clarksville, Tenn. A public funeral service will begin at 3 p.m. at Mount Hermon Baptist Church (2204 Jarrell Ridge Rd.), with a private burial to follow. Out of respect for the family, attendees are asked to refrain from photographing, filming or live streaming the service.
A preceding service took place at the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Fla., on Nov. 25.
Additionally, the Tillis family is planning a January public memorial service that will be open to fans and the music industry.
The event will be held in Nashville with details to be announced in the coming weeks.
Mel, who recorded No. 1 hits “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer” and “Coca Cola Cowboy,” was one of country music’s most versatile artists. He won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1976 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
by Bob Paxman | November 19, 2017
Country Music Legend Mel Tillis Dead at 85
Mel Tillis, one of country music’s most versatile artists, died this morning (Nov. 19) of respiratory failure at age 85. Mel battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered.
Mel won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1976 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Lonnie Melvin “Mel” Tillis was born Aug. 8, 1932, in Plant City, Fla., but raised in the community of Pahokee, Fla. As a youngster, he survived a childhood bout with malaria, which left him with a chronic stutter. Before moving to Nashville in 1957, Mel worked on the railroad and joined the Air Force. During his time in the military, he was assigned as a baker, a trade he learned at a young age. “People asked me if I served my country,” Mel remarked in an interview with Country Weekly. “I always tell them that I sure did. I served cakes, pies and donuts,” he laughed. While stationed in Japan, Mel became the lead singer for a band called The Westerners.
Though blessed with a strong and resonant singing voice, Mel found his first musical success as a songwriter. Webb Pierce recorded a tune that Mel wrote, “I’m Tired,” and took it to the No. 3 spot on the country charts in 1957. “Detroit City,” which Mel co-wrote, became a crossover hit for Bobby Bare in 1963 and remained one of Mel’s most popular compositions.
Mel touched a topical nerve with “Ruby, Don’t Take your Love to Town,” centering on a paralyzed war veteran who lies in bed helplessly as his wife gets ready to hit the town. Mel often noted that he based the song on a reallife couple in Florida. Released during the height of the Vietnam War (though never explicitly referred to), the song addressed the plight of returning veterans, an issue frequently swept under the rug. “Ruby” peaked in the Top 10 on the pop charts for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition in 1969, though barely reached the Top 40 on the country charts.
Mel made early recordings in the 1970’s under Mel Tillis and The Statesiders, finally hitting the top in 1972 with “I Ain’t Never.” His powerful one-two punch of songwriting and vocals propelled him to the CMA award for Entertainer of the Year in 1976. That same year, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
He enjoyed his most consistent chart success after signing with MCA, where he was now billed only under his name. A series of No. 1 hits in the late 1970’s included “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer” and “Coca Cola Cowboy,” the latter from the movie Every Which Way but Loose starring Clint Eastwood.
The film world also helped Mel become one of country’s first multi-media stars. He appeared in such movies as The Cannonball Run, W.W. & the Dixie Dancekings, Smokey & the Bandit II and others.
By the mid-1980s, Mel found only occasional chart success. But he kept active in the business with his music publishing ventures and a theater in Branson, Mo., where he performed until 2002. In 1984, he released the book Stutterin’ Boy: The Autobiography of Mel Tillis. Mel’s daughter Pam became a country star in her own right, scoring several chart hits and winning the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1994.
In 2007, Mel was awarded for his contributions to the genre with his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Country Music Hall of Famer leaves behind six children (Pam Tillis, Connie Tillis, Cindy Shorey, Sonny Tillis, Carrie April Tillis, and Hannah Puryear), six grandchildren, a great grandson, a sister (Linda Crosby) and brother (Richard Tillis), the mother of five of his children (Doris Tillis), his longtime partner (Kathy DeMonaco), and many lifelong friends and fans around the world.
The Tillis family asks for your prayers and will soon release more information regarding funeral services in Florida and Nashville.
Photo Courtesy Mel Tillis Enterprises
Background information From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida but later raised in Pahokee, Florida (near West Palm Beach in 1932. His stutter developed during his childhood, a result of a bout with malaria. As a child, Tillis learned the drums as well as guitar and at age 16, won a local talent show. He attended the University of Florida but dropped out and joined the United States Air Force. While stationed in Okinawa, he formed a band called The Westerners, which played at local nightclubs.
After leaving the Air Force in 1955, Tillis returned to Florida where he worked a number of odd jobs, eventually finding employment with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Tampa, Florida. He used his railroad pass to visit Nashville and eventually met and auditioned for Wesley Rose of famed Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose Music. Rose encouraged Tillis to return to Florida and continue honing his songwriting skills. Tillis eventually moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and began writing songs full-time. Tillis wrote "I'm Tired," a No. 3 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Other Tillis hits include "Honky Tonk Song" and "Tupelo County Jail." Ray Price and Brenda Lee also charted hits with Tillis's material around this time. In the late 1950s, after becoming a hit-making songwriter, he signed his own contract with Columbia Records. In 1958, he had his first Top 40 hit, "The Violet and a Rose," followed by the Top 25 hit "Sawmill."
Rise to fame
Although Tillis charted on his own Billboard's Hot Country Songs list, he had more success as a songwriter. He continued to be Webb Pierce's songwriter. He wrote the hits "I Ain't Never" (Tillis's own future hit) and "Crazy, Wild Desire." Bobby Bare, Tom Jones ("Detroit City"), Wanda Jackson, and Stonewall Jackson also covered his songs. Tillis continued to record on his own. Some wellknown songs from his Columbia years include "The Brooklyn Bridge," "Loco Weed," and "Walk on, Boy." However, he did not achieve major success on the country charts on his own.
In the mid-1960s, Tillis switched over to Kapp Records, and in 1965, he had his first Top 15 hit with "Wine." Other hits continued to follow, such as "Stateside" and "Life Turned Her That Way" (which was later covered by Ricky Van Shelton in 1988, going to No. 1). He wrote for Charley Pride ("The Snakes Crawl At Night") and wrote a big hit for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition called "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." He also wrote the hit "Mental Revenge" for Outlaw superstar Waylon Jennings. (It has also been covered by the Hacienda Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Barbara Mandrell, and Jamey Johnson.) In 1968, Tillis achieved his first Top 10 hit with "Who's Julie." He also was a regular featured singer on The Porter Wagoner Show.
The height of his career
Things turned around in 1969 for Tillis. He finally achieved the success he always wanted with two Top 10 country hits, "These Lonely Hands of Mine" and "She'll Be Hanging Around Somewhere." In 1970, he reached the Top 5 with "Heart Over Mind," which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot Country Songs list. After this, Tillis's career as a country singer went into full swing. Hits soon came quite easily, such as "Heaven Everyday" (1970), "Commercial Affection" (1970), "Arms of a Fool" (1970), "Take My Hand" (a duet with Sherry Bryce in 1971), and "Brand New Mister Me" (1971). In 1972, Tillis achieved his first chart-topper with his version of his song "I Ain't Never." Even though the song was previously a hit by Webb Pierce, Tillis's version is the better-known version of the two. Most of the above-mentioned song hits were recorded on MGM Records, Tillis's record company in the early part of the decade.
After the success of "I Ain't Never," Tillis had another hit, which came close to No. 1 (reaching No. 3), entitled "Neon Rose," followed by "Sawmill," which reached No. 2. "Midnight, Me and the Blues" was another near chart-topper in 1974. Other hits Tillis had on MGM include "Stomp Them Grapes" (1974), "Memory Maker" (1974), "Woman in the Back of My Mind" (1975), and his version of "Mental Revenge" (1976). Tillis achieved his biggest success with MCA Records, with which he signed in 1976. It started with a pair of two No. 1 hits in 1976, "Good Woman Blues" and "Heart Healer". (In an interview, he mentioned having written five hits in one week.) Thanks to this success, in 1976 Tillis won the CMA Awards's most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year, and was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that year. He achieved another No. 1 in 1978 with "I Believe In You" and then again in 1979 with "Coca-Cola Cowboy," which was put in the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way but Loose, in which he also made a cameo appearance. Also in 1978, Mel co-hosted a short-lived variety series on ABC television, Mel and Susan Together with model Susan Anton. Other hits around this time included "Send Me Down to Tucson," "Ain't No California," and "I Got the Hoss." In mid-1979, Tillis switched to another record company, Elektra Records.
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After signing with Elektra, he continued to make hit songs such as "Blind In Love" and "Lying Time Again," both hits in 1979. Until 1981, Tillis remained on top of his game as one of country music's most successful vocalists of the era. "Your Body Is an Outlaw" went to No. 3 in 1980, followed by another Top 10 hit, "Steppin' Out." "Southern Rains" in 1981 was his last No. 1 hit. That same year, he released an album of duets with Nancy Sinatra which spawned two hit singles, the Top 30 hit "Texas Cowboy Night" and the double A-side, "Play Me or Trade Me/Where Would I Be." He remained with Elektra until 1982 before switching back to MCA for a brief period in 1983. That summer, he scored a Top 10 hit with "In The Middle Of The Night" and had his last Top 10 hit with "New Patches" in 1984. By this time, however, Tillis had built up a financial empire thanks to investing in music publishing companies such as Sawgrass and Cedarwood. He also appeared in movies, including Love Revival, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), The Villain (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980),The Cannonball Run (1981), and Uphill All the Way (1986), a comedy western in which he starred with fellow country singer Roy Clark, among others. In 1979, he acquired radio station KIXZ (AM) in Amarillo, Texas, from Sammons-Ruff Associates, which converted from Top 40 to country music and became a force in the Panhandle region. A short time later, Tillis acquired Amarillo, Texas, Rock FM station KYTX, which changed calls to KMML (a play on Tillis's stutter). Still later he operated WMML in Mobile, Alabama. All of his stations were sold after a time for a healthy return. He briefly signed with RCA Records, as well as Mercury Records, and later Curb Records in 1991.
Later career and life
Since his heyday in the 1970s, Tillis remained a songwriter in the 1980s, writing hits for Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis. He also wrote his autobiography called Stutterin' Boy. (The title comes from Tillis's speech impediment.) Tillis appeared as the television commercial spokesman for the fast-food restaurant chain Whataburger during the 1980s. He also built a theater in Branson, Missouri, where he performed on a regular basis until 2002. In 1998, he teamed up with Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Reed to form The Old Dogs. The group recorded a double album of songs penned entirely by Shel Silverstein. In July 1998, Old Dogs Volumes 1 and 2 were released on the Atlantic Records label. A companion video, as well as a Greatest Hits album (composed of previously released material by each individual artist), were also available. In the 1990s, Tillis's daughter, Pam Tillis, became a successful country music singer in her own right, having hits like "Maybe It Was Memphis" and "Shake the Sugar Tree."
The Grand Ole Opry inducted Mel Tillis on June 9, 2007. He was inducted into the Opry by his daughter Pam. Along with being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, it was announced on August 7 that year that Tillis, along with Ralph Emery and Vince Gill, is the latest to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tillis has six children: songwriter Mel "Sonny" Tillis, Jr., singer-songwriter Pam Tillis, Carrie April Tillis, Connie Tillis, Cindy Tillis, and Hannah Tillis. Mel has one brother, Richard, and two sisters, Linda and Imogene.