Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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TILLIS, Mel

(b 8 Aug. '32, Pahokee FL) Prolific country songwriter, first-class country vocalist, comedy star (based on life-long stammer) and actor. Drummer in high school band, studied violin and was keen on football; served in USAF, worked on railroads, went to Nashville with suitcase full of songs and immediately placed hits with Webb Pierce: 'I'm Tired', 'Tupelo County Jail', 'I Ain't Never' '57--9, other hits recorded by Carl Smith, Brenda Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Ray Price; contract with Columbia saw first own hit 'The Violet And A Rose' '58, two more top 30 hits '59, but songwriting still overshadowed singing. Duet with Bill Phillips 'Georgia Town Blues' was no. 24 '60; with Pierce 'How Come Your Dog Don't Bite Nobody But Me' no. 25 '63; 'Wine' '65 was Tillis's first top 20 entry, on Ric; he moved to Kapp and a consistent run of hits '65--70, only 'Who's Julie' reaching top ten; moved to MGM and had several top ten hits in a row, incl. 'The Arms Of A Fool' in top five, and duets with Sherry Bryce, then no. 1 solo 'I Ain't Never' '72; more hits incl. more duets with Bryce incl. 'Let's Go All The Way Tonight' '73. Meanwhile had band the Statesiders and one of the hottest acts on the country circuit. He switched to MCA, had no. 1 'Good Woman Blues' and was named Entertainer of the Year by CMA, followed by no. ones 'Heart Healer' '77, 'I Believe In You' '78, 'Coca Cola Cowboy' '79 as well as other hits incl. no. 2 'Send Me Down To Tucson'. Moved to Elektra for several hits '79--82 incl. rather twee duets with Nancy Sinatra; back to MCA for more hits for a total of 38 top tens and six no. ones. He switched to RCA, where his first album was California Road '85: title track charted and 'You Done Me Wrong' reached top 40. He had 23 BMI songwriting awards for such songs as 'Detroit City' (hit for Bobby Bare '63), 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town' (Kenny Rogers '69), 'Heart Over Mind' (his own country no. 2 '70). He was a regular on TV's Hee-Haw, made films incl. Cotton Pickin' Chicken Pickers and W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings '75 and Uphill All The Way '85, was frequent guest on chat shows. There were albums on Kapp, MGM, MCA, Elektra; compilation CDs incl. The Memory Maker on Mercury Nashville, American Originals on Columbia.