Nashville is in mourning today over the passing of a very different music icon: Mel Tillis died Sunday at 85, after a long illness. Mel was a great American example of overcoming adversity to achieve tremendous success. A childhood battle with malaria left him with a stutter that other kids mocked. He turned it into a trademark and used it to become as great a comedian and comic actor as he was a singer/songwriter.
The stutter went away when he sang, and he was truly a great singer/songwriter. He once wrote that after leaving the Air Force, “I left Florida head’n for Nashville in my '49 Mercury with a busted windshield, a pregnant wife and $29 in my pocket.” From that humble start, he went on to record over 60 albums, racking up three dozen top 10 country hits, and wrote over 1,000 songs. You might not realize how many classics he wrote for other artists, including Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” Charley Pride’s “The Snakes Crawl At Night,” Ray Price’s “Burning Memories,” and Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.” All that, and he also gave us his daughter, Pam Tillis.
The CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame remembered Mel Tillis as someone whose warmth, humor, genuineness and joy would have been inspiring even he’d never written or sung a note. But thank God, he did write and sing so many, many notes that will live on for decades to come.