Mel Tillis sings – “Ain’t No California”
Lonnie Melvin Tillis (Mel Tillis) was born on August 8, 1932 in Tampa, Florida. His family moved to Pahokee, FL, a small town outside of West Palm Beach, when he was young. As he was growing up, Tillis developed a stutter that was a result of a strand of malaria. Music was a prominent part of Mel’s life as a child leading him to learn how to play drums and the guitar at a young age and by the age of 16, he had won a local talent show.
After dropping out of the University of Florida to join the U.S. Air Force, Tillis started a band known as “The Westerners” who performed at local night clubs in Okinawa, where he was stationed. After leaving the military, he found work with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and used his railroad pass to venture to Nashville, TN. During his visit, Tillis met and auditioned for Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose Music, a publishing house. Rose encouraged Tillis to return to Florida and continue to work on his songwriting skills. After taking this advice, he eventually made his way back to Music City and began writing songs full-time.
His first cut, “I’m Tired,” reacher number three on the charts and was recorded by Webb Pierce in 1957. Tillis was also known for the hits “Tupelo County Jail” and “Honky Tonk Song,” along with cuts by Brenda Lee and Ray Price. Tillis was able to chart his own music, however, he found more success as a songwriter. From the mid-1960s through the late-80s, Tillis had cuts by Ricky Van Shelton, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, and was also a featured performer on The Porter Wagoner Show.
The height of his career came along with his decision to sign a record deal with MCA Records in 1976, the same year that he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and was awarded CMA’s “Entertainer of the Year.” These achievements had followed a pair of number one hits (“Good Woman Blues” and “Heart Healer”) and paved the way for another number one, “I Believe In You.” In the latter part of his career, Tillis appeared in a number of films including the 1979 movie, “The Villain,” where he starred alongside Roy Clark. He also continued to write hits for artists such as Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis.
Tillis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry in 2007. He passed away from respiratory failure in Ocala, FL, on November 19, 2017 at the age of 85. If you’d like to learn more about Mel Tillis, visit https://www.meltillis.com.