Mel Tillis, Choctaw Casino

| August 6, 2014 | 1 Reply
Mel 5 7  nameStory and photos by Mary Jane Farmer — for many photos, click on link at bottom of this short feature.

There’s just something universal about classic country music that brings people together; that makes toes tap; and somehow puts smiles on faces and howdys in hearts. And thanks to Choctaw Casino in Grant, Okla., a bunch of good folk left the Event Center in just such condition.

It was Mel Tillis that graced the stage Friday, Aug. 1, one week before his 82nd birthday. And about the past 55 years of that, he’s been a music mainstay, both with his own performances and recordings, but also because of the songs he’s written for others as well.

Tillis’ first hit was “I’m Tired,” which Webb Pierce took to the top of the music charts in 1957. That was just the start. Since then, Ray Price, Brenda Lee, Kenny Rogers (Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town), Charlie Pride, Waylon Jennings, and boocoos more.

But his own recordings also are classics — “Lying Time Again,” “I Got The Hoss,” “Ain’t No California,” — egads, just dozens more.

And all that time, country music continued to change. Some changed the original “classic” country moniker to “true” country, and now, for lack of better term, “mainstream” country. And it’s the “classic” country version that continues to be the bar that sets the standards for musicians to keep returning to.

Mel Tillis never left it.

Mel "Sonny Boy" Jr.

Mel “Sonny Boy” Jr.

Well, enough of that WikiPedia-type info, that stuff is all over the Internet. What is important is just how great a show Mel Tillis still delivers. In spite of having quadruple by-pass surgery some short weeks before. Only once did the band tease him about his years, and he went along with that as one of the fiddlers helped him get off his knees. He teased himself about the stuttering. And his son, Mel Jr., aka “Sonny Boy,” teased about his dad’s stuttering. All in good fun.

Tillis has worn the same style western blazer on stage for years, witness older pictures on those WikiPedia-Web sites. And he smiled when he said he hoped it was all right with everyone that his band, The Statesiders, dressed up a little bit, too. They looked professional, all in black. Two keybard players, two drums, bass, guitars, two fiddlers… hhmmm, someone is missing here.

One of the first songs he sang and the band played was his song made famous by Billy Grammer, then, Bobby Bare, then Tom Jones — “Detroit City” or “I Wanna Go Home,” which Tillis wrote with Danny Dill.

Several fiddle breaks, and Tillis, which seems to have no “I’m-the-star” ego, gladly turned it over to the fiddlers for “Orange Blossom Special,” the song written a century ago and still a mainstay. Now, that’s classic country. Hoot Hester was just sitting in for one the two regular fiddlers in the band, but to the listening ear, the duo was 100 percent perfect, not missing a beat, a lead, or a backup.

Another highlight was when Mr. Mel Tillis brought out his son, Mr. Mel Tillis Jr., aka “Sonny Boy,” as Mel explained. Sonny Boy is also a songwriter, and opened his few-song set with one he wrote for the late Chris LeDoux, “The Ride.” Later in the show, Sonny Boy came back out and sang a duo with Dad Mel, an inspirational song called “The Father’s Son,” which fiddler Hester had written.

Mel holding little boyAnd as Tillis sang, he also gave away numerous CDs, guitar picks, and other merchandise. When it was over, fans lined all the way around the back of the room, waiting patiently for a chance to grab some merchandise/souvenirs, and for a few moments with the man himself.

Mel took time to hug, pose for photos, listen to stories, and just enjoy each and every fan. Even the young, about 2-year-old boy who was in one of those family/Tillis pictures, seemed to enjoy his moment with the man — after all, he’d been dancing along to the music not 30 minutes earlier.

For many photos, click here.






Category: *- Features, Choctaw Casinos

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  1. Vicki Penhall says:

    Great article and film, Mary Jane. I liked his music and sweet personality. I also like Pam Tillis.

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