Speech Differences And Stutter Series-Disabled Legend Mel Tillis

Mel Tillis was born Lonnie Melvin Tillis, on 8 August, 1932 in Tampa, Florida. Mel Tillis is an American country music singer. Although he had been recording songs since the late 1950s, his biggest success occurred in the ’70s, with a long list of Top 10 hits.

Mel Tillis’ biggest hits include, “I Ain’t Never”, “Good Woman Blues”, and “Coca-Cola Cowboy”. Mel Tillis also has won the CMA Awards most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year. Mel Tillis’ daughter is country music singer, Pam Tillis. Mel Tillis is also well-known for his speech impediment, which does not affect his singing voice.

Mel Tillis’s stutter developed during his childhood, a result of a bout of malaria. As a child, Mel Tillis learned the drums, as well as guitar. At the age of 16, he won a local talent show, and soon joined the United States Air Force, and worked for the railroad. When young Mel Tillis was stationed in Okinawa, he formed a band called The Westerners, which played at local nightclubs. Mel Tillis attended the University of Florida.

After leaving the military in 1955, Mel Tillis worked a number of odd jobs and moved to Nashville, Tennessee the following year. Mel Tillis wrote “I’m Tired”, a #3 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Other Mel Tillis hits include “Honky Tonk Song” and “Tupelo County Jail”. Ray Price and Brenda Lee also charted hits with Mel Tillis’ material around this time. In the late-50s, after becoming a hit-making songwriter, he signed his own contract with Columbia Records in the late-50s. In 1958, he had his 1st Top 40 hit, “The Violet and a Rose”, followed by the Top 25 hit, “Sawmill”.

Although Mel Tillis charted on his own Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list, he had more success as a songwriter. Mel Tillis continued to be Webb Pierce’s songwriter. Mel Tillis wrote the hits, “I Ain’t Never” (Mel Tillis’ own future hit) and “Crazy, Wild Desire”. Bobby Bare, Wanda Jackson, and Stonewall Jackson also covered his songs. Mel Tillis continued to record on his own. Some well-known songs from his Columbia years include “The Brooklyn Bridge”, “Loco Weed”, and “Walk on, Boy”. However, he didn’t achieve major success on the country charts on his own.

In the mid-60s, Mel Tillis switched over to Kapp Records. In 1965, he had his 1st Top 15 hit with “Wine”. Other hits continued to follow, like “Stateside” and “Life Turned Her That Way” (which was later covered by Ricky Van Shelton in 1988, and went to #1). Mel Tillis wrote for Charley Pride (“The Snakes Crawl At Night”) and wrote a big hit for Kenny Rogers & the 1st Edition called “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. Mel Tillis also wrote the hit “Mental Revenge” for Outlaw superstar Waylon Jennings (and it has also been covered by the Hacienda Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, and Barbara Mandrell). In 1968, Mel Tillis achieved his 1st Top 10 hit with “Who’s Julie”. Mel Tillis also was a regular featured singer on The Porter Wagoner Show. Although success didn’t come quickly or easily as a singer in the ’60s, things would turn around for Mel Tillis a great deal in the ’70s.

Mel Tillis finally achieved the success he always wanted with 2 Top 10 country hits, “These Lonely Hands of Mine” and “She’ll Be Hanging Around Somewhere”. In 1970, he reached the Top 5 with “Heart Over Mind”, which peaked at #3 on the Hot Country Songs list. After this, Mel Tillis’ career as a country singer went into full-swing. Hits soon came quite easily, like “Heaven Everyday” (1970), “Commercial Affection” (1970), “Arms of a Fool” (1970), “Take My Hand” (a duet with Sherry Bryce in 1971), and “Brand New Mister Me” (1971). In 1972, Mel Tillis achieved his 1st chart-topper with his version of his song “I Ain’t Never”. Even though the song was previously recorded and made a hit by Webb Pierce, Mel Tillis’ version is the best-known version out of the 2. Most of these songs that were hits above were recorded under MGM Records, Mel Tillis’ record company in the early part of the decade.

After the success of “I Ain’t Never”, Mel Tillis had another hit, which came close to #1 (reached #3) entitled “Neon Rose”, followed by “Sawmill”, which also came close at #2. “Midnight Me and the Blues” was another near-chart topper in 1974. Other hits Mel Tillis had under MGM include “Stomp Them Grapes” (1974), “Memory Maker” (1974), “Woman in the Back of My Mind” (1975), and his version of “Mental Revenge” (1976). In 1976, Mel Tillis signed on with MCA Records. Mel Tillis achieved his biggest success under MCA Records. It started with a pair of 2 #1 hits in 1976, “Good Woman Blues” and “Heart Healer”. Thanks to this success, Mel Tillis won the CMA Awards’s most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year, and was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that year. Mel Tills achieved another #1 in 1978 with “I Believe In You”, and then again in 1979 with “Coca-Cola Cowboy”, which was put in the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose. Also in 1978, Mel Tillis co-hosted a short-lived variety series on ABC television, Mel and Susan Together with model Susan Anton. Other hits around this time included “Send Me Down to Tucson”, “Ain’t No California”, and “I Got the Hoss”. In mid-1979, Mel Tillis switched over to another record company once again, this time with Elektra Records.

After signing under Elektra in mid-1979, he continued to make hit songs, like “Blind In Love” and “Lying Time Again”, both hits for Mel Tillis in 1979. Up until 1981, Mel Tillis remained on top his game as one of country music’s most successful vocalists of the era. “Your Body Is an Outlaw”, went to #3 in 1980, followed by another Top 10 hit, “Steppin’ Out”. “Southern Rains” was his last No. 1 hit, when it became a hit in 1981. That same year, he dueted with Nancy Sinatra on the Top 30 hit “Texas Cowboy Night”. Mel Tillis remained with Elektra until 1982, before switching back over to MCA for a brief period in 1983. That summer, he scored a Top 10 hit with “In The Middle Of The Night” and had his last Top 10 hit with “New Patches” in 1984. By this time however, Mel Tillis built up a financial empire, thanks to investing in music-publishing companies, like Sawgrass and Cedarwood. Mel Tillis also appeared in movies, like The Villain (1979 film), Love Revival, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, The Cannonball Run and Uphill All the Way, a comedy western in which he starred with fellow country singer Roy Clark, among others. In 1979 he acquired radio station KIXZ (AM) in Amarillo, TX from Sammons-Ruff Associates, which converted from Top 40 to country music and became a force in the Panhandle region. A short time later Mel Tillis acquired Rock FM station KYTX, which changed calls to KMML (a play on Mel Tillis’ stutter). Still later he operated WMML in Mobile, Alabama. All stations were sold in the fullness of time for a healthy return. Mel Tillis briefly signed with RCA Records, as well as Mercury Records, and later Curb Records in 1991. By this time, his chart success faded from view.

Since his heyday in the 1970s, Mel Tillis remained a songwriter in the 1980s, writing hits for Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis respectively. Mel Tillis also wrote his autobiography called Stutterin’ Boy, (the title comes from Mel Tillis’ speech impediment). Mel Tillis appeared as the television commercial spokesman for the fast-food restaurant chain Whataburger during the 1980s. Mel Tillis also built a theater in Branson, Missouri, where he performed on a regular basis until 2002. In 1998, he teamed up with Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed to form The Old Dogs. The group recorded a double album of songs penned entirely by Shel Silverstein. In July, 1998 Old Dogs Volumes 1 and 2 were released on the Atlantic Records label. A companion video, as well as a Greatest Hits album (composed of previously released material by each individual artist), were also available. In the 1990s, Mel Tillis’s daughter, Pam Tillis, became a successful country music singer in her own right, having hits like “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree”. In June 1999 ABC news ran a story about Mel Tillis being frustrated by his speech impediment, and stated that he went on to grow in confidence using techniques from stutterfree and, although Mel Tillis has never spoken about this, many did note a small improvement in his problematic articulation about that time. Mel Tillis’s speech problem is not evident in singing, only in talking.

Mel Tillis was inducted into the Opry by his daughter Pam. Along with being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, it was announced on 7 August that year that Mel Tillis along with Ralph Emery and Vince Gill are the newest to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Mel Tillis has 6 children, they are: Mel Tillis Jr. (a songwriter), Pam Tillis, Carrie April Tillis, Connie Tillis, Cindy Tillis, and Hannah Tillis. Mel Tillis has 1brother, Richard, and 2 sisters, Linda and Imogene.

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