Remembering Mel

Written by Don Reid on November 20th, 2017 Posted in General

Another giant in the music industry left us this past weekend.  And a genuine good man he was.  Mel Tillis had that perennial smile and fun personality wherever and whenever you saw him.  We first crossed paths working a country music package show in Charlotte, in the early 60s, before we had even gotten to Nashville. By 1967 we had recorded our first Mel Tillis-written song on our second album, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”  As a songwriter, he was unequaled. Everybody in the business recorded one or more of his fabulous songs in their career.

The five of us were sitting backstage one night somewhere and he was telling us about a gift he had recently gotten. A group of fans had a wood carving made of his likeness; small but very detailed. He took great pains in telling us how they had captured his fancy suit and boots and had perfectly chiseled the way he held the guitar. Then he said, “But when I got up to the head and looked it right in the face, it looked exactly like Phil.” We all broke up and then he looked at Phil and said, “Do you want it?” We had never noticed until then just how much he and Phil looked alike. It was a running joke for years every time we got together.

In the middle of our run of 4th of July charity shows in Staunton, (we did it for 25 years) Mel came to our hometown in 1984 and did the show with us. The consummate entertainer, he could do comedy and with such ease and then slide right into a heartbreaker like “Burning Memories” (yes, he wrote that one, too.) We never felt we had properly paid back his kindness until years later. Mel went to Branson and bought his own theater and worked there for years, most of the time seven nights a week. That’s hard and tiring work. He called us one time when he heard we were going to be in the Midwest and said, “Guys, will ya’ll come out here and do a couple of nights in my theater so I can have a break and take a couple of days off?” We did, and gladly for a friend.

We hosted a couple of award shows together through the years and when we did our second 2-hour tv special in the 80s, Mel came and did that with us, also. Harold and I wrote a great little western skit for him and Reba. The Statlers were the bad guys, Reba was the heroine, and Mel was the shaky sheriff and he was hilarious. He also did a song and a standup comedy routine where I joined him in the end. You can watch it below.

But before you do, let me just say Mel was a man who could do it all and always had fun doing it. He loved his family, his work, his friends, and he loved the country music he was so good at creating.  We will cherish it all from “Detroit City” to “Mental Revenge.” (Yeah, he wrote both of those, too.) We’ll miss you, my friend. But just for a while.



DSR    11/20/17