Mel Tillis, country western singer
It’s been many years since we saw Mel Tillis perform on the Western Slope at the Garfield County Fair in Rifle, Colo. Mel has never left the music scene and is one of those old-time, country singers that you remember long after you’ve seen his show.
Lonnie Melvin Tillis was born August 8, 1932, near Tampa, Fla. After high school, he joined the USAF in the early 1950s and after basic training, where he was learned to be a baker, he was sent to Okinawa. He liked it since, as a baker, his schedule was 24 hours on, 48 hours off and he could listen to country music broadcast locally on Armed Forces radio. While listening one night, he heard them say their singer was leaving and they were auditioning for a new singer. Mel grabbed his guitar, stuttered through the interview but when they heard him sing, he got the job. That was the start of his musical career.
After his honorable discharge, he returned home to Florida, taking some college classes and obtaining part-time employment with the railroad. He used his free passes to travel to Nashville to see if his singing, guitar playing and subsequently his talent for songwriting, could be a way to break into the music business. Discouraged, he returned to Florida but as his website says, he “and his pregnant wife went back to Nashville in a ’49 Mercury that had a busted windshield with $29.00 in his pocket,” determined to follow his dream. “If I lost it all tomorrow, I guess I could say it only cost me $29 and it’s been one heck of a ride.”
Mel’s first songwriting hit was “I’m Tired” for Webb Pierce, who took it to the top of the charts. He has written more than 1,000 songs and of those, 600 have become hits. He has acted in Clint Eastwood’s Movie, “Every Which Way But Loose,” singing “Coca Cola Cowboy,” and has acted in “Cannonball I and II.” In June 2006, he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. In October 2007, he was made a member for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He has written many songs. Some favorites are “Detroit City,” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Sorry” and “I Ain’t Never.” He titled his autobiography, “Stutterin’ Boy,” since that is how he was remembered in Nashville in the early days. They couldn’t remember his name so would just say, “Get me that stutterin’ boy.”
Mel Tillis is a private man on the public stage. He has six children, Melvin Tillis Jr., a songwriter, Pam Tillis, country music star, Carrie, April, Connie, Cindy and Hannah. He owned his own theater in Branson from 1994 to 2002, but still performs there annually.
His website is http://www.MelTillis.com which lists more information, including his tour dates. On You Tube, you can watch as he and his daughter Pam performing together on February 5, 2010 in Nashville singing “Waiting on the Wind.” Another You Tube shows him singing, “Bummin’ Around,” with Dean Martin in 1978.
Mel Tillis, like everyone else, has zigzagged his way through life, trying to make the best choices for himself and his family. This year marks his 54th year in show business.
Almost 78 years old, he’s still performing and delighting audiences with his straight-forward lyrics and song delivery, plus his famous stuttering, while joking with his audiences about his speech problem.
When he was a young man interviewing for a job with Miller Candy Company, his potential employer told Mel that he, too, had stuttered at one time. He handed Mel a piece of paper saying that he read this every night and it helped him. Mel took the paper and, although he didn’t get the job, he looked at it one night and recited it himself. It made sense to him. He still stuttered but he accepted it, and didn’t let it define who he was or get in the way of his ambition. The paper contained, “The Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr.
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This fall, when the aspens are turning gold on our Colorado mountains, think of Mel Tillis. He will be performing onstage at the Riverside Resort and Casino in Laughlin, Nev., on the banks of the Colorado River from October 12-17. If you decide to go see his stage show, either this fall in Nevada or elsewhere in the country, call out your favorite song for him to play. Unlike a lot of performers, Mel likes to play whatever songs his audience wants and never tires of listening to the reaction of the crowd.
An avid fisherman, an author, an artist, a singer and songwriter, a fan of the University of Florida football games, his audience knows and feels that this senior citizen is “one of us,” simply getting through life the best way he can, while laughing and enjoying himself along the way.