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Pam Tillis Biography

Last updated: 09/26/2007 12:00:00 PM

When Pam Tillis arrived on stage at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville to accept the Country Music Association's 1994 Female Vocalist of the Year Award, she exclaimed, "I love this town!" The crowd's response confirmed that this was hardly a one-sided love affair. As the audience obviously appreciated, something more than sheer talent had just been rewarded: years of artistic development, self-discovery, and -- in Pam's words -- "dogged determination."

The personable singer-songwriter's triumph was equally gratifying from a broader industry standpoint. Not unjustifiably, critics of contemporary country music complain that too much of it sounds alike and lacks substance. Since the 1991 release of Pam's breakthrough album Put Yourself In My Place on Arista Records, her work has provided a powerful antidote for these maladies. Unlike the many prefabricated purveyors of "new country," she commands a strong following in traditional circles as well. Moreover, Tillis' run of success has reminded the Music City that an artist can de daring without being inaccessible; and dedicated without being humorless.

While modestly assessing the significance of her CMA honor as "just credibility," Pam has been in constant demand of late. In addition to her hectic touring schedule, she has logged appearances on such popular television shows as "The Tonight Show" and "The Late Show with David Letterman." Tillis also demonstrated her affinity for the camera in hosting five episodes of TNN's freewheeling "Live at the Ryman" series and her own "Full Access" special.

The first of country music legend Mel Tillis' five children, Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida in 1957. By the end of that year, the "Stutterin' Boy" had moved the family to Nashville, where Pam was raised. Her rebellious spirit and voracious musical appetite diverted her career to other locations and genres until the mid-Eighties. It was then that she finally reclaimed Tennessee as her home and country music as her destiny.

Although several singles yielded disappointing chart results, Pam firmly established herself as a premier songwriter and session singer during the remainder of the decade. Charmingly injecting her rock and soul influences into unmistakably country songs, Tillis also became one of Nashville's most popular club attractions. She was signed to Arista's Nashville division in 1990.

Sweetheart's Dance (1994), which Tillis co-produced with Steve Fishell, was cited by New Country magazine as "maybe the best country album by a woman in the 90's." Nevertheless, she realizes, "Show business is one business where you have to prove yourself over and over." Characteristically, then, Pam approached the task of selecting songs for her next collection with undiminished intensity. But she knows that preconceptions or quotas are harmful to this process. "It's not calculated at all," Tillis emphasizes. "Things come to you at a certain time, and you take what comes to you with the faith that it's right. You can't always ask why about everything."

Pam's newest album, All Of This Love, marks her debut in a role which has been entrusted to very few women in country music: that of sole producer. She was ready to accept the greater responsibility inherent in this position. As Pam points out, "I've participated heavily in everything I've done."

"Producing is what I needed to do at this time," she explains. "This is the way I felt I could grow the most. I didn't go in to produce thinking that I knew everything there was to know, I was willing to experiment and learn along the way. The reason for producing was just to maintain a stamp of individuality; and to identify, once and for all, where my own strengths and weaknesses in the studio are."

Pam attributes much of her enjoyment of the experience to her comfortable relationship with the studio musicians. "I've worked with many of them since I was a kid," she recalls. "I've never gotten anything but support from the musicians here. So it was really gratifying to be in the studio by myself and feel that coming from those people."

All Of This Love reinforces Tillis' reputation as a consummate interpreter of outside material. Her delicately literal arrangement of Bruce Hornsby's "Mandolin Rain," for example, heightens the impact of the melancholy story line. Likewise, the skillfully metaphoric "The River And The Highway" benefits from Pam's sensitive treatment.

"I've been fortunate to work with good people," Pam Tillis observes in reflecting on her accomplishments. Yet, ever the perfectionist, she adds, "I still have to think in my mind and in my heart that I haven't done all I can do."

Perhaps, as we wonder how this remarkably gifted and driven artist could become even better, we should simply say -- as she does to the heroine of her song "Betty's Got A Bass Boat" -- "Go girl!"