One of country music’s most prolific and respected singer-songwriter’s, Mil Tillis will be on tour in Saskatchewan and Alberta this winter with a Red Deer stop slated for Dec. 19th.
Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Memorial Centre.
The concert will cover several of Tillis’ hits from over the years, with some Christmas tunes sprinkled in as well. “I’ll also tell a few stories along the way,” he said during a recent interview. “And sometimes I go out in the audience with the people. And there’s request time, too. If I can remember them, I’ll do them,” he says with a chuckle.
Tillis, whose name is synonymous with country music has penned over 1,000 songs in a career that has spanned six decades. With more than 60 albums to his credit, as many as 600 songs covered by other recording artists, and more than 30 Top 10 singles, Tillis can be counted amongst the great country music legends.
Detroit City, Ruby, Coca Cola Cowboy, Southern Rains, I Ain’t Never and I Believe in You are just a very few of the songs that make up Tillis’ immense catalogue of hits. Interspersed with seasonal favourites, Mel Tillis & The Statesider Band have put on one of the most in-demand concerts touring this winter. His latest CD, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This, was released in 2010.
Through it all, he’s had to deal with a stutter since childhood. But he’s never let it get in the way of anything that he’s wanted to do.
His stutter developed during his childhood. A few others in his family struggled with the same problem, so at first, he recalls not thinking too much of it. “I started school and I came home that first day, and asked my mom if I stuttered. She said, ‘Yes you do, son’. I said, ‘Mama, they laughed at me’, and she said, ‘Son, if they are going to laugh at you give them something to laugh about’.
“So I went back to school – and that was my first day in show business,” he said, adding he learned about utilizing humour to engage others.
Meanwhile, music was also a part of the family. “My mother had eight sisters and one brother, and all of them could play some kind of instrument,” he explained. “We’d have family reunions, and I always liked to hear them sing.
“We were Baptists, and there was little Assembly of God Church – they put up a tent not to far from our place. We knew they’d have some good music, so we went up there with those banjos and all those instruments – I thought it was the grandest thing in the world.”
He also noticed at this time that when he sang, he didn’t stutter. “It hasn’t hurt me at all.”
Indeed. Tillis has enjoyed enormous success over the years. He started performing in the early ‘50’s with a group called The Westerners while serving as a baker in the United States Air Force, stationed in Okinawa.
In 1956, Webb Pierce recorded a song written by Tillis entitled I’m Tired and it launched his musical career.
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. He used his railroad pass to visit Nashville and eventually met and auditioned for Wesley Rose of famed Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose Music. “I’d go to Nashville and knock on doors.”
His songwriting ability was noted right away. So Tillis moved to Nashville and began writing songs full-time. He wrote I’m Tired, a number three country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957.
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.
In the mid-1960s, Tillis switched over to Kapp Records, and in 1965, he had his first Top 15 hit with Wine.
“I signed with a publishing company and they got me an audition with the A&R man from Columbia Records. I went up to his suite and auditioned, and there were lots of other acts up there,” he recalled. “I sang and they liked it. Don Long looked up and me and said, ‘Well Melvin – you’ve done good. How would you like to be on Columbia Records?’
“I really began to write songs then. And the next thing I knew I was on the Porter Wagner Show, the Glenn Campbell Good Time Hour – I was a regular.”
Tillis has indeed enjoyed a storied career – he has been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, is a winner of the much-coveted Country Music Award for Entertainer of the Year and in 2012 received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
Tillis has also appeared in numerous feature films including Every Which Way But Loose with Clint Eastwood, W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings, Cannonball Run I and II, Smokey and the Bandit II with Burt Reynolds and the lead role with Roy Clark in Uphill All The Way.
Eastwood called him after a show and told him he had a couple of songs for a movie he was working on called Every Which Way But Loose, and would Tillis consider being a part of the project?
He also starred in several television movies as well including Murder in Music City and A Country Christmas Carol.
For tickets, call the Black Knight Inn Ticket Centre at 403-755-6626 or visit www.bkticketcentre.ca.