Born Pamela Yvonne Tillis, July 24, 1957, in Plant City, FL; daughter of Mel Tillis (country singer-songwriter); married Rick Mason, 1978 (divorced); married Bob DiPiero, 1991 (divorced); Children: (first marriage) Ben. Education: Attended University of Tennessee. Addresses: Record company-Arista/Nashville, 7 Music Circle North, Nashville, TN 37203. Management-Stan Moress, 1209 16th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212.; Fan club-Pam Tillis Fan Network, c/o Johanna Michel, P.O. Box 128575, Nashville, TN 37212.
No female performer of the 1990s did more to revitalize country music than Pam Tillis. She pushed the boundaries of the genre by incorporating the pop, jazz, blues, and folk influences of her early career and adding honky-tonk, comedy, torch and ethnic flavor to the mix. From her 1991 breakthrough Put Yourself in My Place to her 1998 release, Every Time, Tillis has remained one of the most versatile artists on the scene.
"I just get bored easily," Tillis explained to Kimmy Wix of Country.com, "so I like to keep it new. I never like to repeat myself and I always want to be breaking new ground. Yeah, my antennas are always up, and I guess I'm just a musical sponge. I'm just always kinda tuned into the different sounds of life."
The daughter of country legend Mel Tillis, Pam tuned in to those sounds early. As a baby, her father's demo tapes were her lullabies as she napped in a guitar case. She began making up songs to sing for her kindergarten teacher at age four. And she first joined her father on the Grand Ole Opry stage at eight. "Singing and clowning was my way of gaining the acceptance I longed for," Tillis said. "Not much has changed." Tillis began studying classical piano at eight, took up guitar at 11, began writing at 13, and started singing in clubs at 15. "A lot of folks assumed Dad taught me these things, but he was working 300 days of the year," Tillis explained. "I learned from osmosis."
Throughout her education, Tillis said, music was the only thing she took seriously. After two semesters at the University of Tennessee, she recalled, "... instead of continuing to waste my parents' money, I decided to quit and enroll instead in the Music City School of Hard Knocks." She pounded the pavement of Music Row, singing back-up and demos, as well as jingles for Hardee's, Coors, and Country Time Lemonade. She wrote songs for Sawgrass Music, her father's publishing company, before heading to California to "dabble in jazz rock" in 1977.
She focused on songwriting when she returned to Nashville in 1979. Her songs have been recorded by artists as varied as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Juice Newton, and Highway 101. Tillis recorded a pop album, Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutie, in 1983, during a short stay on the Warner Brothers label. She called it "a time of experimenting, writing and trying to find my sound." She was well on her way to finding that sound when she signed with Arista/Nashville in 1989. "It might have been obvious to everyone else, but it took Pam Tillis two decades to realize she really is a country singer," Alanna Nash wrote in Entertainment Weekly. "Pam had twang on her tongue and sawdust in her blood, yet the disco and blues she tried early in her career proved alien to her system."
Success quickly followed Tillis' return to her roots. In 1991, Put Yourself in My Place, her first completely country album, offered timeless hits like "Maybe It Was Memphis" and "Don't Tell Me What to Do." Both eventually went to number one, and the title track made the top five. Tillis told Country.com, "If a song is a hit, if it has any impact at all, it's not just background music. It gets incorporated into the fabric of people's lives. Audiences are an awfully good barometer. They let you know what they like or don't like. It happens every night. When we launch into 'Maybe It Was Memphis,' you can feel the emotion go across the room. That's the power of a great song. 'Don't Tell Me What to Do' means as much to the fans as when I first released it. Attitude never goes out of style."
On 1992's Homeward Looking Angel, Tillis exhibited her playful side in the comedic ditty "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial." The top ten song also won Music Row's Video of the Year. The sassy "Shake the Sugar Tree" went to Number One, while the plaintive "Let That Pony Run" hit the Top Five. "With Sweetheart's Dance, Tillis ... placed herself among country's most accomplished modern women," Nash wrote about Tillis' 1994 album. "That she can strike this kind of synthesis, both musical and personal, suggests that Tillis, like her father, is in it for the long haul."
In 1995, Tillis took on a role few women of Nashville have -sole producer of her own music-and All of This Love was the result. Again, she demonstrated her range with singles such as "The River and the Highway" and "Betty's Got a Bass Boat." Tillis called her Greatest Hits record, released in 1997, a turning point. "With it, I closed the first chapter of my career and began the second," she said. Her career gained momentum when the single "All the Good Ones Are Gone" was nominated for numerous awards, including two Grammys.
The light-hearted "I Said A Prayer," the first single off 1998's Every Time, gained notice as a change of pace for Tillis. "She's been known for the most deeply emotional, heart-wrenching songs around -especially 'All the Good Ones Are Gone,'" Wherehouse Entertainment music buyer Jeff Stoltz told Jim Bessman of Billboard magazine. "'I Said A Prayer' is 'more rocking and a big summer song.'" Tillis told Country America, "It's funny, that little song. My son recently drove across the country, and he said he heard it every time he turned on the radio. I said, 'Well, that's because it applies to you.'" The album was released after a year of what Tillis called "'cataclysmic' personal and professional upheaval," Bessman wrote. It was a year that ended both her marriage and her longtime management situation.
Arista/Nashville senior vice president of marketing Fletcher Foster told Bessman, "This album [Every Time] is very diverse. Pam has obviously ventured out as an artist." Diversity is a trademark of Tillis' concert performances, too. She told Country.com's Wix, " I think you'll walk away and say, 'I didn't know she did all that.' That's really what I'm all about. I like eclectic and like to really mix it up. You can describe a Shania in one word or you might say 'sexy,' or 'Wynnona is soulful.' But when you say 'Pam Tillis,' you think versatile."
She has toured with Alan Jackson, George Strait, Vince Gill, and fellow second-generation stars Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter. In 1998, Tillis fulfilled her lifelong dream of performing with her father, joining him for weekly shows at his Branson, Missouri, theater. "I was adamant about not doing it before I established myself," Tillis told Michael Bane of Country Music. "I never wanted to ride on any coattails. And sometimes I'd get impatient, because that would be a drag. There'd be things that'd come up that I'd want to do with Dad, but I just went, 'no way, they won't get it.' The spin doctors, the critics, I just thought they wouldn't get it yet. So I waited."
She felt 1998 was the right time to expand her acting repertoire. She appeared in back-to-back crossover episodes of Promised Land and Diagnosis Murder on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). "My interest in acting started in 1989 when I starred in Tennessee Repertory's 'Jesus Christ Superstar' as Mary Magdalene," explained Tillis, who has also appeared on L.A. Law and hosted Live at the Ryman.
Tillis has maintained a rare level of creative control over her career, and plans to keep it that way. "There are people who made it faster and hit it bigger," she told Bane, "but I feel I've been blessed with a consistent career. And, I've gotten to do it on my own terms. I've done each album a little different, not wanting to become my own 'cliche.'"
And as she told Wendy Newcomer of Country Weekly, "I love what I'm doing, but I think most artists always feel like they've yet to do their masterpiece. Look at someone like my dad, who's got 50 albums out. I've got a long way to go creatively. My dream is just to keep making music."
by Shari Swearingen Garrett
Pam Tillis's Career
Singer/songwriter, actress; made first stage appearance with father, Mel Tillis, at age eight; staff writer for father's publishing company, Sawgrass Music, 1976-77; member of Freelight jazz band, 1977-78; signed with Warner Brothers, Nashville, 1982; moved to Arista/Nashville, 1989; recorded Put Yourself in My Place, 1991, Homeward Looking Angel, 1992, Sweetheart's Dance, 1994, All of This Love, 1995, Greatest Hits, 1997, Every Time, 1998; only female country artist of 1990s to solo produce her own music, 1995; participated in first all-female country tour with Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter, 1996; hosted "Live at the Ryman" television series, 1995; guest starred in "Diagnosis Murder" and "Promised Land" (CBS), 1998; 18 top ten songs.
Pam Tillis's Awards
Music Row Video of the Year for "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," 1993; Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, 1994; Country Music Television Top Female Video Artist, 1995.
- Selected discography
- Put Yourself in My Place , Arista/Nashville, 1991.
- Homeward Looking Angel , Arista/Nashville, 1992.
- Sweetheart's Dance , Arista/Nashville, 1994.
- All of This Love , Arista/Nashville, 1995.
- Greatest Hits , Arista/Nashville, 1997.
- Every Time , Arista/Nashville, 1998.
- The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, contributor, Nashville/DreamWorks, 1998.
- McCloud, Barry, and contributing writers, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers , Perigee, 1995.
- Billboard , May 23, 1998.
- Country America , January 1999.
- Country Music , January 25, 1999.
- Country Weekly , July 21, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly , May 6, 1994.
- "Some 'New Attitude' from Pam Tillis," Country.com, http://www.country.com (June 1998).
- "Pam Tillis-Showcase Artist," Country.com, http://www.country.com (March 1996).
- Additional information was provided by Arista/Nashville publicity materials, 1998.