From the KY Downs Media Team / Jennie Rees:

See Pam on May 18 at 8 pm CT at The Mint Event Center

Saddle up! Q&A with singer-songwriter Pam Tillis

Buy tickets to see Pam Tillis here

FRANKLIN, KY. — Pam Tillis — the award-winning country-music singer, songwriter and entertainer in her own right as well as the daughter of the legendary Mel Tillis — comes to the Mint Event Center at Kentucky Downs this Saturday. Kentucky Downs publicist Jennie Rees recently spoke with Pam Tillis for the following Q&A.

You came by your talent obviously naturally, your dad being who he was. But did you ever think you’d do anything other than write songs, sing and perform?

“As an adult, sometimes I look back and go, ‘What if it had turned out another way?’ But as a kid, I just never pursued anything else. I really didn’t.”

You taught yourself to play the guitar at age 12. Your dad didn’t teach you?

“He didn’t teach me; I was sort of self-taught. There was a teacher on public television, and I’d watch the shows. Daddy was on the road so much, that I just figured it out.”

What were the influences both your father and your mother, Doris, provided that made you the professional artist you are?

“My mother was very, very artistic. With Daddy, a lot of it was trying to be excellent: the best band, the best records, the best show. Just a high level. Keep your boots polished. He wanted everything to be the best. And of course he was an amazing writer. Mom, her approach to art was looser. She was a visual artist. She painted and she sculpted, made furniture, you name it, weaving. She was pretty fearless. She’d throw herself into something and would not be afraid to experiment. Sort of a yin and yang with them.”

Do you make furniture?

“She gave me a big love of decorating. You know, I’ve done some pieces during the years, but I just stay so busy all my life with the music part of it. I keep saying when I’m old, I’m going to throw paint on canvas and I don’t care if it’s good or bad. I just want to do it. So I do have that side of me.”

Did your dad encourage you to follow his path? Or were you motivated to chart your own course and not just be Mel Tillis’ daughter?

“He did believe in my talent. He did start to help me. A couple of things that happened. No. 1, when I was a teenager, I started helping out at his publishing company. I was answering the phone, and back then we typed on typewriters, filing, office-type things. But he had this staff of songwriters there. Daddy had lived that life already as a young songwriter, but that was the first time I’d been around professional songwriters. The whole office was a group of people who were creative. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what they’re doing.’ I’d already started making up little songs myself. Everybody wants to collaborate in Nashville. They were like, ‘I’ll get together and write a song with you.’ I started writing with a couple of the writers and also singing their demos. They thought I was a good enough singer that I started doing that.

“Jimmy Bowen was a big producer then, and Daddy talked to him about developing me. As teenagers are prone to do, I got a wild hair in the middle of him trying to help me out — and I moved to California with a jazz band. That was just me going, ‘I don’t want anybody to tell me what to do,’ which was so perfect then. Then later I cut a song called ‘Don’t Tell Me What To Do,’ which was ironic. I just wanted to find myself on my own time, on my own clock, and not be rushed into any one thing at that time.”

So you did some soul-searching and then it sounds like you made a conscious decision to go into country. How did that process work?

“I did a pop album out there (in California). A couple of things happened. I got married and had a kid, the marriage didn’t last long. Just some weird things happened in L.A. I didn’t really feel secure taking my young son out there by myself. I thought whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to do it where I have my family. And I was singing all kind of demos for other people, pop and country demos. I got hired because I was versatile enough to do all the different styles that somebody might throw at me.

“I just wasn’t getting anywhere as an artist. My pop stuff wasn’t working. But I had people in the creative community, and I would play for them what I working on. There was a musician here (in Nashville) that I thought was a super-star musician. His name was Anthony Crawford. He probably doesn’t even know how he figures into the story, as we lost touch. But one time we were sitting in my living room and I was playing him different things, and he said, ‘Can I say something honestly?’ I said, ‘sure.’ He goes, ‘You can sing all this stuff, but when you sing country, it just lights me up.

“‘There’s that old saying, if one person calls you a horse, you have the right to go tell them to jump off a bridge. If two people call you a horse, you have the right to start to get aggravated.’ He says, ‘If three people call you a horse, buy a saddle.’”

So you bought a saddle!

“He just figured I was a horse and it was time to saddle up. At the same time, country music was changing. There was this new crop of artists. I’d always been into pop and rock and the freedom of that and the edginess of that. Country seemed overly safe to me in a lot of ways… (But) there were these young artists combining traditional country with a rock and roll edge… Country music in the early ’90s was really open and creative. I felt I could stay true to myself and really get back in touch with my roots at the same time. I got really excited about that. So coming back to country never felt like a compromise.”

What did your dad think when you recorded “It’s All Relative,” an album of his songs in 2002?

“He was really flattered. Of course, I did what I do, and I changed several of them up, a lot. He was delighted. He said, ‘You know I’ve got more, if you want to do a second album.’”

What can fans at The Mint Event Center expect to see and hear Saturday from your performance?

“It’s an acoustic trio, but I say we make a lot of noise for three gals. I’m just bringing two young ladies (Ivy Phillips and Haley Sullivan). I’m very proud of our harmony. The show is pretty down-home. I like to talk a lot, to tell stories. I tell the stories behind the songs and memories of my life in music, talk about my dad. We always want to make sure we do the hits that people know and want to sing along with. I do some things from my new album, some fun covers, just mix it up.”

What do you like about touring? I’d think that could be exhausting.

“The travel is. But the immediacy of seeing people smiling or crying, just the feeling that the music brings out in people. And seeing people sing along with your songs, it’s just great. I mean, can you imagine walking into wherever you work and people applaud? It’s nice. One time Daddy went on a cruise and he was so disappointed, because when he walked out on the deck nobody applauded.”

About Pam Tillis:

First performed at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry at age 8, performing “Tom Dooley” with her dad, the great Mel Tillis. She was invited to become an Opry member in 2000.

Her 1991 debut country album, “Put Yourself In My Place,’ went gold and yielded two No. 1 and two Top 5 singles. She has sold more than 7 million albums, with six No. 1 hits: “Maybe It Was Memphis,” “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “Mi Vida Loca,” “When You Walk In The Room” and “In Between Dances.”

Her compositions have been recorded by artists as varied as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Highway 101, Juice Newton and Conway Twitty.


Won two Grammy Awards, crowned the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1994 and Country Music Television’s Top Female Video Artist in 1995.

Recorded the critically acclaimed 2002 album “It’s All Relative,” a tribute to her father. In 2020, she released “Looking for a Feeling,” her first album of original material since RhineStoned in 2007.

Video: Maybe It Was Memphis

Video: Don’t Tell Me What To Do

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Pam’s Grand Ole Opry bio

Link to buy tickets