With his genuine warmth, down-home humor, and incredible talent, Mel Tillis drew countless fans within his six-decade career.
Today, he not only ranks in the top echelon of country music singers and songwriters – penning some of the most compelling and significant tracks in the genre – but he shines as an inspiration to many artists.
Let’s celebrate Mel Tillis‘ life and career with some important and fascinating facts about him.
1. He’s a native of Tampa, Florida.
Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis on August 8, 1932, the country singer had a bout of malaria when he was a child. This left him with a speech impediment, which people used to mock him growing up. Tillis admits he had “more hurting than I like to remember” because of it; little did he know it would become one of his assets. Tillis’ stutter was such a hit whenever he used it to comedic effect on stage and screen.
2. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
He was stationed at Okinawa as a baker. There, he formed a band called The Westerners and played at local nightclubs. He left the military in 1955 and went back to Florida, where he worked several odd jobs. This includes being a truck driver, strawberry picker, milkman, and firefighter, among others.
3. He wrote hits that were recorded by various country music stars.
Tillis first made a name for himself as a superb songwriter before he signed his own record contract. Mel Tillis songs were recorded by country greats such as Ray Price, Brenda Lee, and Webb Pierce, among others.
4. He also appeared regularly on television shows.
In addition to Tillis’ music career, he was also a regular on the television variety show Hee Haw. Tillis also appeared in multiple commercials and films such as Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run.
5. He formed a supergroup with other country music legends.
In 1998, Tillis joined Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, and Jerry Reed to create the country group Old Dogs and recorded a self-titled studio album.
6. He’s also a businessman.
When his chart success started to wane, Tillis focused more on his business ventures. He formed a movie production company, owned country radio stations, and acquired a number of publishing companies. In 1992, he built a 2,100- seat theater, and two years later, he built the Mel Tillis Theater.
7. He has plenty of hobbies.
Whenever Tillis wasn’t onstage – which rarely happens during his career’s peak, playing up to 300 dates a year – he could be found fishing, gardening, or painting. He began painting in 1998, and a number of his artworks were sold with all profits going to a foundation that benefited speech and hearing clinics.
8. He’s a father of six.
Tillis had six children, including country singer-songwriter Pam Tillis, who enjoyed multiple country hit singles. In 2007, Pam inducted her father into the Grand Ole Opry – the same year he became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Mel Tillis has truly lived a fruitful life and enjoyed an illustrious career.