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Pam Tillis proves it's all relative
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If one were to try and count the number of famous recording artists whose offspring have achieved some measure of the acclaim and success that they themselves have enjoyed, one would likely wind up with a relatively short list.
  By and large, most “children of the stars” wind up with plenty of connections, and a big leg up in a notoriously fickle and nepotistic industry, but only a modicum of raw talent.
  As if that weren’t enough, the fact that they’re directly related to an iconic figure means that whether they’d care to admit it or not, there’s a tremendous amount of baggage that’s attached to their last name (or unmistakable cheekbones, whichever the case may be). That baggage may take the form of a mountain of neuroses that fuels their zealous desire to make their own mark on the house that mom (or dad) built – or, it can manifest itself as a legion of their parent’s fans, all expecting more of the same from Li’l Tiny Junior.
  And if Junior simply isn’t capable (or willing) to put forth what this ready-made fanbase assumes he (or she) has in ‘em, they’ll be relegated to the cut-out bins faster than you can say “Julian Lennon’s Second Album.”
  There are notable exceptions to this rule, for sure. For example, Bob Dylan’s son Jakob has sold millions of records with his band The Wallflowers, and – despite the fact that he shares his  brooding eyes and Semitic smolder with his Über-famous dad – Jakob’s music sounds much more like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello than anything he might have picked up at home.
  Still, for every Jakob Dylan, Liza Minnelli or Rufus Wainwright, there’s at least a dozen ne’er do-wells, like Dino Martin, Desi Arnaz, Jr., or Donovan Leitch. In the world of country music, it’s much the same way – although some might argue the batting average is a bit better. You’ve got Hank Williams, Jr. and his son Hank III. You’ve got Billy Joe Walker, Jr.. You’ve got Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter. You’ve got the Judds, sort of.
  And then there’s Pam. Tillis that is.
  Since she first hit the charts in 1990 (her actual debut album was released in 1984), she’s placed fourteen songs in the Top Five (including six that made it all the way to the Number One spot), and she’s sold in excess of five million records. She’s had her original tunes covered by folks as diverse as Juice Newton, Conway Twitty, Martina McBride and Chaka Khan – and was one of the first women in Nashville to take the reins in the studio and produce her own material.
  Oh, and her dad is Mel Tillis.
  Growing up in the shadow of one of country music’s greatest living tunesmiths (he was named Songwriter of The Decade by BMI not once, but twice) and vocalists instilled in Pam a dedication to create work of lasting impact, and that’s just what she’s done. She’s been rewarded for that dedication with a handful of major industry accolades (including three Country Music Association CMA awards – including 1994’s Female Vocalist of The Year, two Grammys, and an International Bluegrass Music Association award).
  She starred on Broadway in the musical Smokey Joe’s Café (and was the first established female C & W star to grace the New York stage), and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2000. Her most recent album was a tribute to the music of her father, entitled It’s All Relative, which was named one of the top five albums of 2002 by many major critics.
  With a recently-released concert DVD receiving high marks, and a back catalog of memorable radio hits to draw from (including such fan favorites as “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” “Let The Pony Run,” and “Shake The Sugar Tree”), Pam and her longtime road band have become a popular mainstay on the live circuit. Their energetic, crowd-pleasing shows often draw capacity crowds.
  With a new album nearing completion, and in the midst of an ongoing campaign to see her father inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pam Tillis is once more broadening her famously open-minded musical horizons.
  "I have always been able to find inspiration in my role models; legendary artists like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and of course, my father," she says. "But I am equally inspired by the fresh, young talent on the country and Americana sides of music."
  “I hang out at record stores a lot,” she says with a chuckle. “There's so much great music out there right now, it just feeds my soul.”
  I caught up with the charming singer by phone at her home in Tennessee, as she packed her bags and prepared to board the bus for a series of dates that will find her playing our own Lucas Theatre (I could hear her repeatedly zap her morning coffee in the microwave as we conversed).
  We spoke candidly about the travails of being a hard-working woman in a man’s industry, her growing interest in alternative rock, and her longstanding love of gardening.
Connect Savannah: Tell me a bit about your early days in the country music business. Did you spend a great deal of time on the road with your father? Was that your introduction to the industry, or did you avoid getting involved with the music business till you were older?  
Pam Tillis: Well, it wasn’t that I avoided it, but he toured so hard and heavy that it wasn’t a great place for kids to be, if you know what I mean. And, don’t forget that it was a different era, too. Back then, the guys were the breadwinners and went out into the world, while the mommy stayed at home and held down the fort. We actually had a really normal upbringing in suburban Nashville while he was out being the road warrior. He’d take us out in the Summer, or when he did the local television shows like the (Grand Ole) Opry or Dolly Parton’s show. He’d try and have us accompany him to those, so he made sure we were definitely exposed to the business.
Connect Savannah: Did you ever get to hang out with him on the set of the Cannonball Run movies?
Pam Tillis: No. (laughs)
Connect Savannah: Is there one particular achievement that you’ve made in this business that you’re most proud of?
Pam Tillis: Well... (laughs) If I was just jokin’ around, I’d probably name the typical things. Like, it’s cool that I won a Country Music Association award, and I’m a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and I’ve sold quite a few records. But I think when you stop and think about it, anytime you get to make a living and do what you love to do, and also take care of and support your son – I’m a single mom – I’m sure my daddy would say the same thing. He’d say all the rest is gravy, and to make sure I have fun doin’ it!
  I’ve met a lot of nice people through makin’ a life in music. In the end, people may remember some of the songs, but they won’t remember how high "Sugar Tree" made it up the charts, or how many shows I played in some given year. You know what I mean? That’s really not important.
  I think too, that when it comes to your achievements, you might not really understand what it was exactly that you really did accomplish till after you’re gone. If you’ve influenced some younger artists and inspired them and been comforting to people in the world, then that’s really what matters. A lot of people have shared with me that my songs meant so much to them at a certain difficult time in their lives. I had one person tell me that a loved one of theirs was in a coma, and they would play my song "Land Of The Living," and it just helped them all get through, you know? All artists have stories like that.
  So, if you can participate in the healing power of music, Then that’s what it’s all about. I tell people you don’t have to be a big star of any sort to have that same kind of impact on your listeners.
Connect Savannah: You play well over 100 shows a year. Do you find it difficult to maintain that kind of a workload?  
Pam Tillis: In country music, touring like this is pretty much a way of life. We do it all the time. I’m sure I’d be lyin’ if I said no. (laughs) Sometimes your spirit is willing for commitments, but the flesh is weak.
  It’ll catch up with you, and you’ll think you planned it better. For instance, we’re putting a new show together, and starting our touring year and starting a record all at about the same time. We didn’t plan it that way. We thought the record would already be done!
  It can stay somewhat hectic, but I tell myself I have nothing to complain about. Because, in truth, I couldn’t be any more fortunate. It’s hectic, but my goodness, all artists are happiest when the phones are ringing! (laughs) I’m thrilled people still allow me to do what I wanna do.
Connect Savannah: You’ve been threatening to make a jazz album for some time  and a project of that sort is looming on the horizon. But for right now, what’s the next record going to sound like?
Pam Tillis: We’ve got an album that we’re about two weeks from finishing, and it’s straight-up country. People sometimes ask me, well what kind of music haven’t you done? When I was goin’ through my formative years, I experimented with all types of music. Now, make no mistake – I love country as much as anybody, but my dad’s the purist in the family.
Connect Savannah: So, is there a particular musical group or artist you enjoy listening to that might really surprise your hardcore country fans?
Pam Tillis: Hmmm. Lemme think about that, OK? I don’t know. I subscribe to a musical magazine called Paste. It’s a really good magazine. It has these little compilation discs that come with it, and they’re always filled with roots rock and alternative rock. I love that stuff. It sounds so fresh to me! Sometimes my disenchantment with Nashville comes from the fact that the records they make here can sound too calculated. So, I tend to like things best that sound “real” to me.
Connect Savannah: So, can you see yourself ever getting together with one of these alternative bands and making a raw, Americana album?
Pam Tillis: I certainly wouldn’t hold that outside the realm of possibilities. Those kinds of collaborations are important. I heard one of these groups way down in one of those CDs, they were at number 14 or something. They were called Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, and they were from Canada. It was so hip! It was like Dave Edmunds meets Gram Parsons! I just loved it and it turns out that Colin Linden of that group lives right around the corner and we actually had lots of mutual friends!
  He called my producer and joked with him about having me sing on their album. Colin said he and his band had been talking about how cool it would be if I was up for something like that. So, one Sunday afternoon, I went down to the studio and just did it! That’s what keeps you going in this business - discovering cool new music that’s different and challenging.
  My heroes are Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, because they’ve continued to reintroduce themselves. And now my dad’s actually doin’ the coolest thing! He’s staying inspired by producing a new group. He’s been working with a guy who’s twenty-two years old. (laughs) Well, dad’s having so much fun that now he’s goin’ back in the studio to work on his own project!
  See, I don’t buy into that theory that you’re washed up after a few hits and a few years. If it’s good, people will latch onto it, Don’cha think?
Connect Savannah: Tell me what your Savannah audience can expect from this upcoming show in terms of your setlist. How long do your shows usually run, and what material do you normally include in your shows these days?
Pam Tillis: Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure. But we’ll play as long as they’ll let us! (laughs) Some places have union considerations, and you just gotta get off the stage whether you want to or not! (laughs) In a nutshell, we just try to do our most requested songs. Our show includes some of the big hits and some of the album cuts, and a few fun covers just for grins. We’ll also be performing some of the new music that’ll eventually be out on our next album.
Connect Savannah: Have you settled on a name for the new record yet?
Pam Tillis: We’ve had some pretty funny working titles, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve learned that it’s best to wait till a record is completely finished before you settle on a name for the whole thing.
Connect Savannah: Gardening is one of your favorite hobbies, and that the American Rose Society recently bred a variety of rose named after you. How did that come about? Are there other country music stars who are into gardening that we might not know about?
Pam Tillis: I have to tell you a funny tale. Some people have hobbies that you’d never imagine. (laughs) I also like to go antiquing and interior decorating, because that’s a passion of mine. I hope Ronnie Dunn wouldn’t mind me saying that I run into him and his wife all the time out doing that. They both love that kind of thing. Marty Stuart, too. John Anderson, he grows roses as well.
  People have to have an outlet. Some other thing to help take their mind off the music business. It helps provide balance in your life. If I can just keep anything alive for most of the year, I’m doin’ good.

Pam Tillis and her band play The Lucas Theatre at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 6. Tickets are available at the Trustees Theatre, at, or by calling 525-5050.