BY RYAN TRARES
For The Republic
Among country music aficionados and fans, Mel Tillis is a name synonymous with the upper echelon of music royalty along with Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.
But for all of the pride in her famous moniker, Pam Tillis didn’t want to coast on her father’s accomplishments.
As she tried to make her own way in the music industry, it could be very hard for people to get past the Tillis name and see her own talents.
“It was very difficult, especially at the beginning. I had to really make it a point that I wasn’t just Mel Tillis’ little girl,” she said.
Even with her famous last name and a family tradition reaching to the roots of country music, Pam Tillis has forged her own successful legacy over the past 30 years. Her three platinum and one gold albums have yielded six No. 1 songs, including classics such as “Mi Vida Loca,” “When You Walk In The Room” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.”
Pam Tillis will perform a special concert Dec. 16 at the Franklin Performing Arts Center, bringing her versatile brand of country music spanning her entire career mixed with a selection of Christmas favorites.
“We’re going to do some of the things that people come out to see us for, the hits. But it’s a chance for me to do something a little different,” she said. “In the context of Christmas music, we really get to stretch out in different ways. It’s fun.”
Mel Tillis is a country music legend, one of the genre’s greatest songwriters and a Country Music Hall of Fame talent. He recorded more than 60 albums and had 36 Top 10 singles.
That nebula of creativity is all Pam Tillis has known since she was born.
“He set the bar very high. That’s the biggest thing I can say: He reached such a level of talent, accomplishment, integrity, humility and humor,” she said.
Pam Tillis was active in band, chorus, talent shows, church and other groups around Nashville. She was in everything from jazz and alternative country to pop bands.
But when she decided to seriously pursue a career in music, she was careful not to leverage her father’s reputation to help herself.
“I had to steer the conversation a little bit away from dad, just so people would realize that I was my own artist and that I wasn’t trying to ride on any coattails,” she said.
“I was very careful about that in the beginning. Now that I’ve had my own accomplishments, I’m more relaxed talking about dad, and I’m proud to talk him.”
To create her own pathway, Pam Tillis worked writing music for labels such as Electra Asylum Publishing and Warner Brothers Publishing. Her songs were recorded by artists such as Chaka Khan, Conway Twitty and Highway 101.
Though Pam Tillis had dabbled in pop and made different efforts to find success in the industry, it didn’t happen until she committed to making what she calls an “honest country album.” “Put Yourself in My Place” resulted in two No. 1 singles, two other Top 5 singles and sold more than 500,000 copies.
From that point, her career took off.
“A hit record solves a lot of problems,” she said. “Once I got launched, I had to pursue it.”
Throughout her career, Pam Tillis has amassed 10 studio albums that have yielded more than 30 singles on the Billboard charts. She is a three-time Country Music Association award winner, including taking the 1994 Female Vocalist of the Year award. She has also won a pair of Grammy awards.
But nothing compares to going out on the road, approaching fans and connecting with them through her music.
“Being up on stage, that’s an amazing feeling. Whatever you’re giving, you’re getting back amplified,” she said. “That can be very addictive in a good way.”
When Pam Tillis comes to Franklin, she’ll be mixing her deep catalog of hits with selections from her holiday album, “Just in Time for Christmas.”
“If you believe it and you feel it with all of your heart, generally that’s kind of contagious. It’s hard to be around that and not feel it too,” she said.
The show will also be a unique way to reach new fans and help ring in the spirit of the holidays, truly inspiring people to get in the Christmas spirit, she said.
“Sometimes people almost feel like Christmas is forced on them. That’s the person in the audience I’m going after,” Pam Tillis said.
Her last show this year will be in Franklin, before she takes a break for the holidays. Though she’s looking forward to spending time with family and friends, she has a plan for the downtime — finishing the new album she’s been working on this year.
The hope is it will be finished in early 2017.
“I think my Christmas present to myself is, after I meet all of my family commitments and am with them as much as they need me, I’m going to hunker down in the studio,” she said. “That’s a gift to me, to finish this record.”
“Country music is kind of like jazz — it’s an American art form,” she said. “Country music is a big umbrella; there’s a type of country music for everybody.”
Christmas with Pam Tillis
What: A special concert of Christmas songs and hits by Pam Tillis, award-winning country music star and daughter of the legendary Mel Tillis.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Franklin Performing Arts Center, 2600 Cumberland Drive
Tickets: $20 to $40 on the main floor, $50 in the orchestra pit
Where to buy them: franklinschools.org or call 317- 346-8109