Tillis, Pam

views updated May 23 2018

Pam Tillis

Singer, songwriter

Joined Rock Band

Signed With Arista Records

Demonstrated Versatility

Selected discography


For Pam Tillis, being the daughter of a famous country star has been a mixed blessing. Tilliss success as a singer-songwriter came after years of avoiding the sort of traditional country music popularized by her father, the stuttering Grand Ole Opry favorite Mel Tillis. The attractive young country star actually cut her teeth on pop, rock and roll, jazz, and even punk rock before settling into more mainstream country fare. As Jack Hurst noted in the Chicago Tribune, however, Pam, a fixture on Nashvilles progressive end for more than a decade, suddenly appears to have found her fathers ladder to stardom.

The breakthrough for Tillis was Put Yourself in My Place, her first release for Arista Records. She wrote or co-wrote seven of ten songs on the album and earned her first Top Ten country hit with the winsome Dont Tell Me What To Do. Both the album and the single reveal a new commitment to country music by an artist who all but shunned the genre in her earlier years. Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer Dan DeLuca lauded Tillis for her move to the country mainstream, concluding: Add Pam Tillis to the growing list of savvy young country-music women who write em and sing em their own way.

Like many children of entertainers, Pam Tillis had an erratic childhood. The oldest of the Tillis children, she was born in Plant City, Florida, shortly before her father began to pursue a singing career. She was very young when the family moved to Nashville with little more than the clothes on their backs, but her father slowly made his way in the country music field and then hit super-stardom in the late 1960s. Pam began studying piano at age eight and received her first guitar at eleven. Though she liked country music, she was also influenced by many other styles. I like it all, she told a Chicago Tribune reporter, rockabilly, honky-tonk, Celtic folkand you cant go any further back than that.

Joined Rock Band

What she did not likeand still remembers painfully were the occasions when her father would drag her onto the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. I hated it, she recalled in People. It was an ego-bruiser. I just couldnt stand getting up there and having all that [creativity] in me and having to go through his material. And I felt I was, like, on display: Here, hes got offspring!

Tillis was 15 when her parents divorced. Her personal rebellion took the form of an interest in hard rock and punk music. A brief stay at the University of Tennessee ended when she joined a rock band and began to perform. The band was not terribly successful, however, and by 1976 she found herself back in Nashville,

For the Record

Born July 24, 1957, in Plant City, FL; daughter of Mel Tillis (a country singer-songwriter); married Rick Mason (a painter), c. 1978 (divorced); married Bob DiPiero (a songwriter), February 14, 1991; children: (first marriage) Ben.

Singer and songwriter, 1975. Made first stage appearance with father, Mel Tillis, at age 8; wrote songs for fathers music publishing company, 197677; member of a jazz band in San Francisco, 197778; signed with Warner Bros., Nashville, c. 1982; moved to Arista Records, Nashville, 1990; had first Number One song, Dont Tell Me What To Do, 1991; staff writer for Tree Publishing.

Awards: Nominated for a Horizon Award, Country Music Association (CMA), 1991.

Addresses: Record company Arista Records, 1 Music Circle, Nashville, TN 37203. Other P.O. Box 25304, Nashville, TN 37202.

writing songs for her fathers music publishing company. The following year she moved to San Francisco, where she worked in a jazz band.

Tillis related in People that throughout her youth her father pressed her to record country music, promising to find her a producer and an agent. She could not accept his help on his terms, though. My daddy doesnt necessarily understand the kind of music I do, she said. He always had me singing little-girl songs, and Id be crushed, and then hed get mad at me. Becoming part of the punk scene of San Francisco, Tillis married a painter and had a son. The marriage soon ended, and she drifted back to Nashville, determined to make music in her own style.

Signed With Arista Records

In 1983 Tillis signed a contract with Warner Bros, and released her first album, Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutie. The work was a departure from standard Nashville fare, to say the least. One critic compared it to the recordings of Pat Benatar and other hard-rocking female vocalists. Tillis noted in People that her career choices were strongly influenced by her fathers fame. I think I subconsciously chose pop and rock and R & B, everything but country, because I didnt like competing on turf, she said. For his part, Mel Tillis reacted to his daughters choice of material with equal parts of indifference and mild criticism.

Warner Bros, released Tillis after her first album sold moderately but did not yield any hits. She continued to write songs, this time for Tree Publishing, and she was pleasantly surprised when the executives from Arista Records offered her another opportunity to record. Her 1990 contract with Arista was tendered after producer Tim Dubois heard her sing at the famed Bluebird Cafe.

Late in 1990 Tillis released Put Yourself in My Place, a more traditional work that features a number of songs she wrote herself; the LPs first Number One hit was Dont Tell Me What to Do, a song Country Musics Rich Kienzle described as having a strong lyric, one that Pam more than does justice. Tillis remarked in the Chicago Tribune that she switched to so-called pure country in reaction to audience demand. Being a musician, my personal taste is to the left, she said. But getting out there and playing for peopleIve been doing shows even without a record, playing all overyou just get a feel for what people want to hear. I dont think its a thing of the album pandering or catering. People are calling it new traditional or solid country, but there are things Im bringing to the table vocally that I picked up from other styles. I just think its an honest arrival at a point.

Demonstrated Versatility

Put Yourself in My Place was well received by critics and country audiences alike. Songs such as the autobiographical Melancholy Child, the hit Dont Tell Me What to Do, and Ive Already Fallena ballad Tillis co-wrote with her husband, Bob DiPierodemonstrate the versatility the singer achieved after years of experimenting with various musical styles. Kienzle called the album a quirky but likable effort with a distinctive edge that tips its hat to contemporary, country-rock and traditional sounds, combining the best of them all. Praising the album in Entertainment Weekly, Alanna Nash found that Tillis shows here how well she can craft smart and sassy country materialeverything from bluegrass to Celtic to country-popand also sell it with a commanding, big-voiced presence.

Needless to say, Tilliss father is happy that she has returned to the country fold. Pam expresses little regret for the route she has taken to stardomshe still maintains that she has learned from all of her experiences, good and bad, and that she is ready to embrace success on her own terms. Hurst contended that the multi-talented Tillis is following in [her fathers] footsteps by becoming one of Nashvilles finer songwriters. [Her work] also makes clear that she is one of the towns more adept singers. The critic concluded: Having grown up in the midst of traditional Nashville, [Pam] now shows not only that she has the talent to perform her fathers style of music but also that she can do it with stunning emotional authenticity.

Selected discography

Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutie, Warner Bros., 1983.

Put Yourself in My Place (includes Dont Tell Me What to Do, Melancholy Child, and Maybe It Was Memphis), Arista, 1991.

Homeward Looking Angel, Arista, 1992.


Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1990; January 24, 1991.

Country America, June 1991; June 1992.

Country Music, May/June 1991; May/June 1992.

Entertainment Weekly, March 15, 1991.

People, November 14, 1983; May 27, 1991.

Pulse!, February 1991.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Arista Records press material, 1991.

Anne Janette Johnson

Tillis, Pam

views updated May 29 2018

Pam Tillis

Singer, songwriter

Produced Own Music

Change of Pace

Acting Repertoire

Selected discography


No female performer of the 1990s did more to revitalize country music than Pam Tillis. She pushed the boundaries of the genre by incorporating the pop, jazz, blues, and folk influences of her early career and adding honky-tonk, comedy, torch and ethnic flavor to the mix. From her 1991 breakthrough Put Yourself in My Place to her 1998 release, Every Time, Tillis has remained one of the most versatile artists on the scene.

I just get bored easily, Tillis explained to Kimmy Wix of Country.com, so I like to keep it new. I never like to repeat myself and I always want to be breaking new ground. Yeah, my antennas are always up, and I guess Im just a musical sponge. Im just always kinda tuned into the different sounds of life.

The daughter of country legend Mel Tillis, Pam tuned in to those sounds early. As a baby, her fathers demo tapes were her lullabies as she napped in a guitar case. She began making up songs to sing for her kindergarten teacher at age four. And she first joined her father on the Grand Ole Opry stage at eight. Singing and clowning was my way of gaining the acceptance I longed for, Tillis said. Not much has changed. Tillis began studying classical piano at eight, took up guitar at 11, began writing at 13, and started singing in clubs at 15. A lot of folks assumed Dad taught me these things, but he was working 300 days of the year, Tillis explained. I learned from osmosis.

Throughout her education, Tillis said, music was the only thing she took seriously. After two semesters at the University of Tennessee, she recalled, ... instead of continuing to waste my parents money, I decided to quit and enroll instead in the Music City School of Hard Knocks. She pounded the pavement of Music Row, singing back-up and demos, as well as jingles for Hardees, Coors, and Country Time Lemonade. She wrote songs for Sawgrass Music, her fathers publishing company, before heading to California to dabble in jazz rock in 1977.

She focused on song writing when she returned to Nashville in 1979. Her songs have been recorded by artists as varied as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Juice Newton, and Highway 101. Tillis recorded a pop album, Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutie, in 1983, during a short stay on the Warner Brothers label. She called it a time of experimenting, writing and trying to find my sound. She was well on her way to finding that sound when she signed with Arista/Nashville in 1989. It might have been obvious to everyone else, but it took Pam Tillis two decades to realize she really is a country singer, Alanna Nash wrote in Entertainment Weekly. Pam had twang on her tongue and sawdust in her blood, yet the disco and blues she tried early in her career proved alien to her system.

Produced Own Music

Success quickly followed Tillis return to her roots. In 1991, Put Yourself in My Place, her first completely country album, offered timeless hits like Maybe It Was Memphis and Dont Tell Me What to Do. Both eventually went to number one, and the title track made the top five. Tillis told Country.com, If a song is a hit, if it has any impact at all, its not just background music. It gets incorporated into the fabric of peoples lives. Audiences are an awfully good barometer. They let youknow what they like or dont like. It happens every night. When we launch into Maybe It Was Memphis, you can feel the emotion go across the room. Thats the power of a great song. Dont Tell Me What to Do means as much to the fans as when I first released it. Attitude never goes out of style.

On 1992s Home ward Looking Angel, Tillis exhibited her playful side in the comedic ditty Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. The top ten song also won Music Rows Video of the Year. The sassy Shake the Sugar Tree went to Number One, while the plaintive Let That Pony Run hit the Top Five. With Sweethearts Dance, Tillis... placed herself among countrys most accomplished modern women, Nash wrote about Tillis 1994 album. That she

For the Record

Born Pamela Yvonne Tillis, July 24, 1957, in Plant City, FL; daughter of Mel Tiliis (country singer-songwriter); married Rick Mason, 1978 (divorced); married Bob DiPiero, 1991 (divorced); Children: (first marriage) Ben. Education Attended University of Tennessee.

Singer/songwriter, actress; made first stage appearance with father, Mel Tiliis, at age eight; staff writer for fathers publishing company, Sawgrass Music, 1976-77; member of Freelight jazz band, 1977-78; signed with Warner Brothers, Nashville, 1982; moved to Arista/Nashville, 1989; recorded Put Yourself in My Place, 1991, Homeward Looking Angel, 1992, Sweethearts Dance, 1994, All of This Love, 1995, Greatest Hits, 1997, Every Time, 1998; only female country artist of 1990s to solo produce her own music, 1995; participated in first all-female country tour with Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter, 1996; hosted Live at the Ryman television series, 1995; guest starred in Diagnosis Murder and Promised Land (CBS), 1998; 18 top ten songs.

Awards: Music Row Video of the Year for Cleopatra, Queen of Denial, 1993; Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, 1994; Country Music Television Top Female Video Artist, 1995.

Addresses: Record company Arista/Nashville, 7 Music Circle North, Nashville, TN 37203. Management Stan Moress, 1209 16th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212. Fan club Pam Tiliis Fan Network, c/o Johanna Michel, P.O. Box 128575, Nashville, TN 37212. Website Official Pam Tiliis World Wide Web Site: www.pamtillis.net. Arista/Nashville site: www.twangthis.com.

can strike this kind of synthesis, both musical and personal, suggests that Tiliis, like her father, is in it for the long haul.

In 1995, Tillis took on a role few women of Nashville havesole producer of her own musicand All of This Love was the result. Again, she demonstrated her range with singles such as The River and the Highway and Bettys Got a Bass Boat. Tillis called her Greatest Hits record, released in 1997, a turning point. With it, I closed the first chapter of my career and began the second, she said. Her career gained momentum when the single All the Good Ones Are Gone was nominated for numerous awards, including two Grammys.

Change of Pace

The light-hearted I Said A Prayer, the first single off 1998s Every Time, gained notice as a change of pace for Tiliis. Shes been known for the most deeply emotional, heart-wrenching songs aroundespecially All the Good Ones Are Gone, Wherehouse Entertainment music buyer Jeff Stoltz told Jim Bessman of Billboard magazine. I Said A Prayer is more rocking and a big summer song. Tillis told Country America, Its funny, that little song. My son recently drove across the country, and he said he heard it every time he turned on the radio. I said, Well, thats because it applies to you. The album was released after a year of what Tillis called cataclysmic personal and professional upheaval, Bessman wrote. It was a year that ended both her marriage and her longtime management situation.

Arista/Nashville senior vice president of marketing Fletcher Foster told Bessman, This album [Every Time] is very diverse. Pam has obviously ventured out as an artist. Diversity is a trademark of Tillis concert performances, too. She told Country.coms Wix, I think youll walk away and say, I didnt know she did all that. Thats really what Im all about. I like eclectic and like to really mix it up. You can describe a Shania in one word or you might say sexy, or Wynnona is soulful. But when you say Pam Tillis, you think versatile.

She has toured with Alan Jackson, George Strait, Vince Gill, and fellow second-generation stars Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter. In 1998, Tillis fulfilled her lifelong dream of performing with her father, joining him for weekly shows at his Branson, Missouri, theater. I was adamant about not doing it before I established myself, Tillis told Michael Bane of Country Music. I never wanted to ride on any coattails. And sometimes Id get impatient, because that would be a drag. Thered be things thatd come up that Id want to do with Dad, but I just went, no way, they wont get it. The spin doctors, the critics, I just thought they wouldnt get it yet. So I waited.

Acting Repertoire

She felt 1998 was the right time to expand her acting repertoire. She appeared in back-to-backcrossover episodes of Promised Land and Diagnosis Murder on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). My interest in acting started in 1989 when I starred in Tennessee Repertorys Jesus Christ Superstar as Mary Magdalene, explained Tillis, who has also appeared on L.A. Lawand hosted Live at the Ryman.

Tillis has maintained a rare level of creative control over her career, and plans to keep it that way. There are people who made it faster and hit it bigger, she told Bane, but I feel Ive been blessed with a consistent career. And, Ive gotten to do it on my own terms. Ive done each album a little different, not wanting to become my own cliche.

And as she told Wendy Newcomer of Country Weekly, I love what Im doing, but I think most artists always feel like theyve yet to do their masterpiece. Look at someone like my dad, whos got 50 albums out. Ive got a long way to go creatively. My dream is just to keep making music.

Selected discography

Put Yourself in My Place, Arista/Nashville, 1991.

Homeward Looking Angel, Arista/Nashville, 1992.

Sweethearts Dance, Arista/Nashville, 1994.

All of This Love, Arista/Nashville, 1995.

Greatest Hits, Arista/Nashville, 1997.

Every Time, Arista/Nashville, 1998.

The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, contributor, Nashville/DreamWorks, 1998.



McCloud, Barry, and contributing writers, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers, Perigee, 1995.


Billboard, May 23, 1998.

Country America, January 1999.

Country Music, January 25, 1999.

Country Weekly, July 21, 1998.

Entertainment Weekly, May 6, 1994.


Some New Attitude from Pam Tillis, Country.com, http://www.country.com (June 1998).

Pam TillisShowcase Artist, Country.com, http://www.country.com (March 1996).

Additional information was provided by Arista/Nashville publicity materials, 1998.

Shari Swearingen Garrett