Grace & Grit

Pam Tillis keeps busy touring, making appearances and forever moving forward to her next musical project. Just last week she was a presenter for the Country Music Association awards with “Women of Country Music” as the theme.
Country music is lucky to have her in their genre. But it wouldn’t have mattered what Tillis chose to record and perform, she has one of those rare voices that lends itself to anything she wants to sing. She can easily move from classic country, to pop, to a bluesy torch singer — wherever her heart, her soul and the lyrics lead.
She has a lot more than a string of hit songs and the legacy of her famous father, Mel Tillis, to sustain her successful country music career. She has the wherewithal and the talent to pilot herself to the moon and back if that’s what she wanted to do with her life. But she chose the difficult path, following the one first forged by her dad, yet leaving her own high-heeled footprint.
Tillis respected his legacy but wanted to develop her own story as a songwriter in her own right, as a full-speed-ahead creative force to be reckoned with, delivering it all with that versatile voice of hers. It turns out that talent and creativity as a songwriter is in her blood as much as it was in her father’s.
She has faced peaks and valleys in her lengthy journey, including the most difficult tragedy when her father passed away two years ago, yet Tillis always pulls through with her grace, her gratitude and her sense of humor fully in tact. Only a couple of months ago, she lost her mom, too, yet Tillis picks herself up, dusts herself off and keeps moving ahead.
If nothing else, music has been her salvation, her therapy, her rock and her common thread that speak to her long-time fans.
Tillis’ debut album, Put Yourself In My Place, yielded two No. 1 songs, two top five singles and one top 20 hit, and in its first year the album was certified gold. She followed with three platinum albums on the Arista label, Homeward Looking Angel (1992), Sweethearts Dance (1994) and Greatest Hits (1997). She achieved seven No. 1 songs including “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “Mi Vida Loca,” “When You Walk In The Room,” “In Between Dances,” “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” “Maybe It Was Memphis,” and “Band In The Window.”
She’s also had 14 other singles land in the top 10 and top 20, including “Spilled Perfume,” “Let That Pony Run,” “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” and more.
Her songs have been recorded by a variety of artists such as Chaka Khan, Juice Newton, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty and Highway 101.
When she first arrived on the music scene, she sang demos and jingles for national products like Coke, Country Time Lemonade and Coors Silver Bullet with Alan Jackson.
Tillis has performed on the Broadway stage in “Smokey Joe’s Café,” she’s modeled for Glamour Magazine and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She is a two-time Grammy winner and three-time Country Music Association winner. She earned an IBMA award win in 2004 for Recorded Event Of The Year “Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’” and in 2012, she received an IBMA Song Of The Year nomination for co-writing Dale Ann Bradley’s “Somewhere South Of Crazy.”
Despite the changing tides of country music, Tillis has always insisted on writing and recording songs that speak to her soul, that are relatable and mean something to her listeners.
Whether it’s on the elaborate stages of the Grand Ole Opry or in the intimate setting of Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, audiences get to experience that feeling of delight that comes from Tillis singing exactly what she is meant to sing in that moment.
Tillis has been to Laughlin several times over the years, including a couple of times when she shared the stage with her friend and musical partner in crime, Lorrie Morgan for their Grits and Glamour Tour. However, this time, Tillis returns to the Riverside Resort for a series of shows with just her small band of musicians in tow.
Here’s what she had to say when we talked via a phone interview…

The Country Music Association couldn’t have picked a better example to represent “Women of Country Music.”
Well, thank you. It’s been a pretty crazy week. There’s a whole bunch of good representatives and I’m just glad to be in the mix, as I say.

What are you thoughts for the future for women in country music?
I think the pendulum is swinging. It’s going slow, but I think there’ll be another era, that was like the one when I came out and there was a whole crop of women that were at the top of the charts. I think that’s going to happen again. It’s just a matter of time. There’s no shortage of talent, it’s just getting it to the pass line.

Are there some you think shine a little brighter?
I don’t want to play favorites, but there are some I know by name, and I think they’re great. Like I know Lauren Alaina — she’s really great, and I hear a lot of people talk about Cam. I just saw and heard a performance by Caylee Hammack, who did a great job on something this morning for CMT. She sounded terrific and had a strong song. I’ve gotten to know Tenille Townes a little bit and she’s a doll; and singer-songwiter Erin Enderlin — I think she’s amazing. So there’s a lot of good talent out there.

Talk about the show you’re bringing here once the craziness has died out.
Speaking of women in country, let’s just tie that in. For quite a few years, I’ve had a trio of myself and two other women. I always did a lot of my harmony on my records, so in order to kind of get that sound, I needed female musicians, you know, ’cause they could sing the parts and play. I’ve worked with some really fantastic female players. Then recently I just decided I wanted to expand our capabilities in the acoustic show — and it’s not like I didn’t look for a guy to be a utility person, because I did — but I found another woman and so I’m bringing four of us gals. They are all so young and so talented. I feel a little bit like a den mother.
I hope people come out. I’m really proud of my little quartet. They’re wonderful and people seem to love the acoustic thing, it let’s the music come through. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in that room — I think this is my sixth or seventh? It’s great to be asked to come back.

You have to do some of your dad’s music because your fans expect it and so do his, right?
They do and plus, it’s my honor to do it for years and years and years. It’s just wonderful to get to do them.

Any new projects in the works?
I’ve got a record coming out the first quarter of next year. I don’t have the exact release date, but they’re working on the setup now. It’s very left of center. I don’t know — country radio’s play list is really tight and they focus a lot on the newer artists and I get that. It’s not a big deal, so maybe my music is a little more left of center than it used to be because I’m not worried about fitting into a little narrow pocket. It’s eclectic country. It’s got a lot of different flavors, and I wrote over half the songs on there. I’ll be interested to know what people think of this record. I don’t think it’s my most obvious — nothing about it is that obvious, but it’s another record on the journey and I’ve always got the next one in my head. It will be interesting to see what people gravitate to. It’s called Looking For a Feeling.

You’re one who can sing anything because of the versatility of your voice — torch songs, ballads, fun stuff — there’s really nothing you can’t do.
I’ve always had a short attention span, I like to mix my country up a little bit.

That’s a little bit like your dad, don’t you think?
You know, he was a little bit broader stylistically than he realized, I think.

What else is in the near future?
I’m not sure what else is going to pop up. It’s going to be interesting to see how next year shapes up. I know I still tour with my friend Lorrie Morgan some. When I’m not with my quartet now, I’ve been working some on a package called “Chicks With Hits” and working with Terri Clark and Suzy Bogguss and that’s a fun package. They’re great, and then I’m out on the road again next year promoting the new record. Then we’ll see what else happens.
I’d like to do some more writing next year and get back into that a little bit. Also I’m always supportive of new artists and I do some mentoring and that’s always great.


PAM TILLIS

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 21-24 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info