It had to be tough for Pam Tillis seeking a career in music as Mel Tillis’ kid. Sure, he could open doors for you, and he had a network of equally famous and influential friends you could call on.
But Mel was no run-of-the-mill entertainer. He was ubiquitous. Besides racking up a ton of radio hits, he was an award-winning songwriter, a movie actor and a comic who traded winks and cracked jokes with the likes of Johnny Carson and David Letterman.
However, Pam — whose face is illuminated today (July 24) by 62 birthday candles — has been relentless in creating a solid stand-alone presence of her own, and to no one’s surprise, as a high-charting singer, songwriter and actor.
Tillis’ first major label deal was with Warner Bros. Records in the early 1980s, but she didn’t flourish until she moved over to the newly founded Arista Nashville label in 1990. Her first single for Arista, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” went to No. 5, and she achieved career songs with “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree” in 1992.
She would follow this success through the ensuing decade for a total of 13 Top 10 singles including the No. 1 “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life).”
Her hits ranged from the comically rueful (“Cleopatra, Queen of Denial”) to the instructive (“Spilled Perfume”) to the wistful (“In Between Dances”) to the resigned (“All the Good Ones Are Gone,” “Let That Pony Run.”)
Tillis co-wrote several of her top singles, among them “Cleopatra,” “Mi Vida Loca,” and “Spilled Perfume.” Apart from the chart triumphs, Tillis sold a lot of records for Arista as well, racking up two gold albums and three platinum.
In 1994, she won the CMA’s female vocalist of the year prize and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2000. In a sweet turnabout of circumstances, she inducted her father into the Opry seven years later.
Tillis has had roles in a number of movies and TV series, including recurring appearances as herself in Nashville. She also acted in the Broadway production of Smokey Joe’s Café.
In more recent years, Tillis and Lorrie Morgan have recorded and toured as Dos Divas and as Grits and Glamour. She is currently touring both as a solo act and with Terri Clark and Suzy Bogguss under the rubric Chicks with Hits.