1932 - 2017
Inducted in 2009
Mel Tillis ranked in the top echelon of country music singers and songwriters for nearly 40 years. Best known for his performing, Tillis also was a force in songwriting, having penned hit songs that made profound impacts on other performers' careers.
Since his recording career began in 1958, Tillis recorded more than 70 albums, many of which reached platinum level in sales. His reputation as a philanthropist for various good causes around Florida, with an emphasis on supporting disadvantaged youth programs, made him a much-appreciated household name in the Sunshine State.
Tillis (born as Lonnie Melvin Tillis) hailed from the small community of Dover, Florida, in the suburbs of Tampa. As a child, he suffered from a bout of malaria, which left him with a stutter, an affliction that would eventually become a popular trademark. He learned to play guitar and drums, and during a stint in the U.S. Air Force formed a country western-style band while stationed in Okinawa.
In 1953, he left the military for Nashville, where he soon made a name for himself as a superb songwriter. Such country music superstars as Webb Pierce, Brenda Lee and Ray Price made hit records out of Tillis' tunes before he signed his own record contract with Columbia Records.
Tillis' first taste of success as a performer came in 1958 when two of his songs, "The Violet and a Rose," and "Sawmill" hit the Top 40 on the country music chart. All the while, his name as a writer of hit songs grew, and soon got the attention of Bobby Bare, Stonewall Jackson and others who cashed in on several Tillis-written hits.
In 1969, the popular country music/rock group, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, released Tillis' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." The song pegged at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 100, was a smash around the globe and galvanized the band's fame. The enormously popular tune went on to be covered numerous artists including Bobby Bare and Carl Perkins.
The 1970s proved to be Tillis' heyday. Singing his own songs, his recording career soared. Beginning in 1969, at least one Tillis song–and often two or three of them–made country's Top 40 list every year of the decade. Five of the songs topped the chart, beginning with "I Ain't Never" (1972); "Good Woman Blues" (1976); "Heart Healer" (1976); "Coca Cola Cowboy" (1978) and "Southern Rains" (1980). Three of his other tunes reached the No. 2 spot.
The string of annual hits continued unbroken into the ‘80s, although none reached No. 1. By 1990, Tillis was one of the most lauded country music entertainers in history. He had won the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year award, its most coveted award, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His face became familiar to millions through his frequent appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show, along with guest appearances on shows produced by Mike Douglas, Dean Martin, Glen Campbell and Merv Griffin.
In 2007, Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by his daughter Pam (a country music star in her own right) and later that year was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Vince Gill and Ralph Emery.
Tillis made his home in Silver Springs, and in 2010 released a comedy album, "You Ain't Gonna Believe This," indulging one of his lifelong interests.