She’s the daughter of country legend Mel Tillis who became a Nashville star herself.
Sunday, the powerful Pam Tillis brings her “Belles and Bows: Country Hits & Christmas Favorites” tour to the Rams Head in Annapolis, Maryland.
“‘Belles’ is an all-female trio [and] ‘Bows’ is the fiddle and violin that are so prevalent,” Tillis told WTOP. “I’m going to be doing a lot of my country hits and some Christmas songs. … I’ve got a version of ‘Three Ships,’ ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas,’ ‘Christmas Time Is Here.'”
Born in Florida, she mostly grew up in Nashville where her father, Mel Tillis, was a household name. As such, she was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry at 8 years old.
“I grew up in Nashville in this incredible creative community and it just kind of rubbed off me, so I’ve been following in his footsteps for many, many years,” Tillis said.
Ironically, she initially avoided her father’s twangy brand of country music, instead releasing her debut album “Above and Beyond the Doll of Cute” (1983) as a pop record.
“I thought I was gonna be the next Madonna,” Tillis said. “[Country] seemed like my dad’s music, old people music, and it took me a while to appreciate it. Sometimes you overlook what’s in your backyard. It slowly dawned on me how rich my roots were. … I came back to country because it’s just who I am and my songwriting is a lot more in a country vein.”
Soon, her country single “One of Those Things” (1986) earned Top New Female Vocalist at the ACM Awards. This paved the way for her second album “Put Yourself in My Place” (1991), featuring the hit song “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” co-written by Harlan Howard.
“As prolific as my dad was with his songwriting, his very first No. 1 was a Harlan Howard record, so it just worked out, it was fate that it happened that way,” Tillis said. “That was a song about being hardheaded and it seemed to fit. … It fit the attitude, the attitude was right for the times, although it was a very simply-told, straight-up, no-frills country song.”
The album also featured “Maybe It Was Memphis,” which earned Tillis her first Grammy nomination and became an all-time classic in the annals of country music history.
“I had to bring it,” Tillis said. “There was nobody else around, just me and the engineer at the seat. We turned off all the lights in the studio and I just went to some other place. I closed my eyes in the vocal booth and I just let the whole song play out in my mind like a movie. I went there. I was in Nashville when I sang it, but in my mind, I was in Memphis!”
Her third album “Homeward Looking Angel” (1992) had the hit “Shake the Sugar Tree,” her fourth album “Sweetheart’s Dance” featured “When You Walk in the Room,” “Mi Vida Loca” and “In Between Dances” and her fifth album “All of This Love” included “Deep Down.”
In 1998, she received another Grammy nomination for “All the Good Ones Are Gone” before winning the Grammy in 1999 for the collaboration “Same Old Train.” Her most recent album is called “Looking for a Feeling” (2020), featuring a throwback sound.
“My musical coming-of-age was during the late ’70s,” Tillis said. “I want to mention how sad I am about Christie McVie. I was a complete, rabid fanatic. Fleetwood Mac was part of musical DNA. I had ’70s influences on this ‘Looking for a Feeling’ record [with] a lot more original songs. I think I wrote 8 out of 11, so it’s a fun patchwork of styles and stories.”
Most recently, she dropped “Christmas Time is Here” on Spotify on Thanksgiving.
“Put it on, sip some eggnog and look up how far it is from you to the Rams Head,” Tillis said. “Come on down and see us. We’ll have a cup of cheer.”