A career that has spawned over a dozen Top 5 hit singles including six number ones and two Grammy Awards had to start somewhere. For Pam Tillis it was on stage at the Grand Ole Opry at age 8, standing next to her famous father Mel, an icon in country music.
“I knew I was on stage and in the spotlight and that it had to do with singing,” the country superstar recalled in a phone interview as she waited to catch a plane. “I was very nervous. My whole memory is of dad passing the microphone down to me because I was short. It came to me in slow motion, like the passing of a torch.”
An apt way to put it. Some six million records sold and three prestigious Country Music Association awards later—including Vocalist of the Year—Pam has carried the baton from her father nicely, becoming a superstar in her own right. It’s a career that’s been accented but not defined by her father’s legacy, as audiences will hear when she takes the stage at The Cave Big Bear Friday, February 17.
The Pam Tillis Trio takes nuggets from her over three -decade career and presents them in an intimate fashion that will be perfect at such a cozy venue. Deciding what to play is the hard part; she’s had over 30 singles reach the Billboard charts, like megahits “Maybe it was Memphis,” “Spilled Perfume,” “Mi Vida Loca,” “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “In Between Dances” and many others. All are now considered classics, something that catches the pretty entertainer from Nashville by surprise.
“When I think of the classics I think of my dad’s generation, artists like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris,” Tillis said. “Classic country is so relative, it really is in the ear of the beholder. We’ll do all my hits from that golden era of the 90’s plus sneak peaks from the new album.”
Indeed the 1990’s were golden for her as she was writing hit tunes as fast as she could record them, songs marked by emotion and feeling. There were two number one songs, two top 5, and a top 20…from one album alone! “Put Yourself in My Place” was certified gold in its first year and three platinum albums followed.
As beautiful as Pam’s voice is, it might be dwarfed by her writing ability. Her songs have been recorded by artists in all genres: Chaka Khan, Juice Newton, Dan Seals, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty and many others, including the Top 10 “Someone Else’s Trouble Now” for Highway 101.
One of her earliest efforts, “The Other Side of the Morning,” was a hit for Barbara Fairchild, hitting #72 in the charts. And Parton, Harris and Linda Ronstadt, all of whom Pam cites as influences on her career, teamed together on a #5 hit with her song “Those Memories of You.” Pam didn’t do so bad with it either, reaching #55 with her 1986 version.
“I would make up songs as a kid and started writing at 15,” Pam said. “I’ve written hundreds of songs. It’s so competitive if you get even one recorded you’re blessed. It’s like a language that I absorbed, growing up in a creative atmosphere of songwriters.”
Yet the tune that speaks most to her, “Melancholy Child,” wasn’t even a single; in fact it was just an album cut from her debut release. “It’s really autobiographical and also my son’s (Ben) favorite. Fans still request it 26 years later.”
Her favorite album is 2002’s “It’s All Relative” in which ‘Tillis Sings Tillis” as Pam performed several of her father’s top songs. Half-a-dozen times she’s appeared on stage with Mel at the Grand Ole Opry since her childhood debut, sometimes by mere coincidence. “We would be booked separately and not even know the other would be there,” Tillis said.
One time the pair teamed to sing “Waiting on the Wind,” a heartfelt song perfect for a father-daughter collaboration made famous on You Tube. “I’ve always loved singing that song with him,” the nine-time Country Music Award nominee said.
Tillis started singing early, in band, chorus, talent shows and church. “Dad said I could sing in the crib,” she said. “I had a peculiar cry that sounded like singing. I’d sing in the living room, using a hairbrush for a microphone.” Her voice has been heard on many national jingles including Coke, Country Time lemonade and Coors Silver Bullet with country superstar Alan Jackson. She’s also modeled for Glamour Magazine, appeared on Broadway stages, even had a few television roles.
Performing with the Trio allows her a unique opportunity to connect with the audience. “It’s totally different and fun for the fans to see a different type of show,” Tillis said. “I don’t want to say it’s folksy but it is very personal. We dig deeper into the catalog.” Plenty to work with, for sure!
Pam Tillis Trio at The Cave; tickets start at $33. 40789 Village Dr. (909) 878-0204 or thecavebigbear.com.