Country Music Hall of Fame member Floyd Tillman died Friday (Aug. 22) at his home in the Houston suburb of Bacliff, Texas. He was 88 years old and had been suffering from leukemia. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Tillman recently completed recording his final album, aptly titled The Influence, which featured him in duets with such admirers and disciples as Willie Nelson, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton.
Revered for his songwriting, guitar playing and jazz-inflected vocal stylings, Tillman rose to prominence just before and during World War II. His compositions included “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” “I Gotta Have My Baby Back,” “Slipping Around,” “It Makes No Difference Now” (co-written with Jimmie Davis), “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven,” “G. I. Blues,” “This Cold War With You” and “Each Night at Nine.” His work earned him a niche in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984.
Tillman was born Dec. 8, 1914, in Ryan, Okla. In 1931, he learned to play the guitar — an instrument he would soon excel in — and two years later began writing songs. By 1935, he was performing on radio station KABC in San Antonio. During the mid-1930s, he played with Leon Selph’s Blue Ridge Playboys and recorded with that band on Vocalion Records. During this period, he also worked in Houston with such fellow rising stars as Ted Daffan and Moon Mullican.
Texas fiddler and bandleader Cliff Bruner recorded Tillman’s “It Makes No Difference Now” in 1938, giving the burgeoning young songwriter his first hit. In the years that followed, the song was also cut by such luminaries as Eddy Arnold, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Ray Charles, Nelson and Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Burl Ives and the Supremes. In what must rank as one of the worst deals of all time, Tillman sold his share of this song to co-writer Davis for $300 and did not get his rights back until 28 years later.
Tillman had his first and biggest hit as an artist in 1944 with “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven.” Recorded on Decca Records, it reached the No. 1 spot. Over the next six years, he scored seven more Top 5 singles: “Each Night at Nine,” “G. I. Blues,” “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin,” “I Love You So Much It Hurts, “Slipping Around,” “I’ll Never Slip Around Again” and “I Gotta Have My Baby Back.” The last five of these singles were on Columbia Records.
Soon after Columbia released Tillman’s “Slipping Around” in 1949, Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely covered it for the pop market (as “Slippin’ Around”), where it soared to the No. 2 spot. Although the song’s subject of furtively practiced and relatively guilt-free adultery had long been common in English ballads and folk songs, scholars credit Tillman’s composition with popularizing the “cheating” genre in country music.
Among the many other artists who have recorded Tillman’s songs are Vic Damone, Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Mickey Gilley, Andy Williams, Marie Osmond, Glen Campbell and Ray Anthony.
Speaking about Tillman to the Austin American-Statesma ’s Michael Corcoran, Nelson said, “He was a great, great writer. …You could tell right away that his music wasn’t the typical country music of the time. He had some of those Django [Reinhardt] rhythms in his guitar playing, and he was singing about subjects that just weren’t being sung about at the time.”
Tillman is survived by sons Larry Floyd and Donald Frank. No funeral plans have been announced.