Country Music · Cowpoke Legends

Mel Tillis (1932-2017)

Mel Tillis (1976 Photo)
Mel Tillis receiving his entertainer of the year award from the Country Music Association in 1976.

It’s a sad and solemn Sunday here in the KWPX studio, with the news that magnificent M-M-Mel Tillis has gone to his great reward.

According to a statement issued by his publicist, Mel, who was 85 years old and resided in Ocala, Fla., had “battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered.”

Mel had written songs for many years and played back-up guitar for several performers in the 1950s — notably, it was one of those performers, Miss Minnie Pearl, who pushed him into the limelight despite his fear over his stutter.

“I was so bashful and scared,” he said in a 2002 interview, “and she said, ‘If they laugh they’ll be laughing with you, not against you.’ And I began to tell anecdotes that had happened to me, and people would laugh. And I began to like that, you know.”

Mel had more than seventy Top 40 hits on the Country charts, earning him a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame and a National Medal of Arts. He wrote “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” a crossover hit in 1969 for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, as well as “Detroit City,” a Top 20 Pop and Top 10 Country hit for Bobby Bare in 1963.

Among his biggest hits was “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” from the 1978 Clint Eastwood movie, “Every Which Way But Loose.” In his prime, he placed 35 singles in the Country Top 10, including fifteen in a row from 1976 to 1981.