100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A comedic flair, a speech impediment, and a famous daughter have often overshadowed the fact that Mel Tillis is one of the finest songwriters and performers in the history of country music.

Tillis hailed from Tampa, Florida, and he discovered music at a young age, playing guitar and singing songs at local talent shows.  Though he had a severe stutter from age three, the impediment disappeared when he sang.  Tillis entered the military, and while stationed in Japan, formed a band called the Westerners.  Once back stateside, he moved to Nashville to jump-start his songwriting career, alternating between Tennessee and Florida until the hits started coming in.

From 1957 to the end of the sixties, Tillis would record for major labels and score a handful of hits, but he had a far bigger impact as a songwriter.  He wrote hits that are now standards, recorded by legends like Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never, “No Love Have I”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Ray Price (“Heart Over Mind”, “Burning Memories”) and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”)

However, once the seventies arrived, Tillis became a major presence on country radio, scoring dozens of hits, many of which were his own recordings of his compositions that had been hits for other artists in the sixties.   In 1976, he was named CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Tillis’ comedic talents made him an in-demand performer, and he was a fixture on both network and syndicated television shows during the peak years of his career.   He also appeared in several movies, with Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run being the most successful.

As with many of his contemporaries, the hits slowed down

in the eighties, even though other artists continued to score hits with his material, most notably Ricky Skaggs’ chart-topping  recording of “Honey (Open That Door)” in 1984.   He purchased radio stations that he later sold for a big profit, and he became one of the most popular draws in Branson, Missouri, where his theater was a cornerstone for tourist entertainment.

In recent years, Tillis has frequently collaborated with his daughter Pam Tillis, making appearances on her albums and co-headlining a popular Christmas show at Opryland.   Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2010, he released his first comedy album, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This…, on Show Dog Records.

Essential Singles:

  • Heart Over Mind, 1970
  • I Ain’t Never, 1972
  • Good Woman Blues, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • I Believe in You, 1978
  • Send Me Down to Tuscon, 1979
  • Coca Cola Cowboy, 1979
  • Southern Rains, 1980

Essential Albums:

  • Life’s That Way, 1967
  • Sawmill, 1973
  • M-M-Mel, 1975
  • Love Revival, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • Mr. Entertainer, 1979
  • Your Body is an Outlaw, 1980

Next: #32. ?

Previous: #34. Charlie Rich

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Comments

Filed under 100 Greatest Men

2 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

  1. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    I certainly can’t argue with Mel’s place in the country music pantheon by any stretch of the imagination, especially not with him being in the upper one-third on the list. This, and the fact that his impact as a songwriter extends beyond Nashville.

    The irony about “Ruby” is that the “crazy Asian war” that Mel wrote about was Korea; but in the context of Kenny Rogers’ 1969 recording of it (which only hit #39 C&W, but #6 on the Hot 100), people saw it as the war in Vietnam.

    Another song of Mel’s that I think should be mentioned is “Sweet Mental Revenge”, which has been covered by, to name just three acts, Waylon Jennings (in 1967), Linda Ronstadt (in 1970), and the Flying Burrito Brothers (also in 1970).

  2. bobNo Gravatar

    Interesting article. I never knew that Tillis was such a good songwriter. Since he had an album released with the title M-M-Mel, I guess it’s safe to say he had the ability to laugh at himself. Love that.

    @Erik – didn’t know the story about “Ruby”. I just read about it on songfacts.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This site is using OpenAvatar based on