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MEL TILLIS, 1932-2017

Mel Tillis, the country music songwriter and singer who made his stuttering affliction a key part of his act, died Sunday at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. He was 85.

A statement from his publicist said he had never recovered from a series of intestinal issues that started nearly two years ago.

A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tillis had more than 70 Top 40 Country hits, six of which went to #1—“I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” “I Believe in You” and “Southern Rains.”

As a recording artist with more than 60 albums to his credit, Tillis’ prime was between 1976—the year he was named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association—and 1981 when he was recording for MCA.

He got his start playing rhythm guitar for Minnie Pearl and writing honky-tonk songs for Webb Pierce—they had a minor duet hit in 1962 with “How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody but Me”—Ray Price and Patsy Cline. His first hits were Brenda Lee’s “Emotions” in 1961 and “Detroit City,” which Bobby Bare released in 1963.

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” first recorded by The Statler Brothers in 1967, became his biggest hit when Kenny Rogers and The First Edition reached #6 on the pop chart with their version in 1970.

He first signed with Cedarwood Publishing in 1957 and, a year later with Columbia Records. Tillis then recorded for Kapp in 1960s, moving to MGM for nine albums released between 1970 and ’76 before heading to MCA. He had a short run at Elektra in the ‘80s before returning to MCA. His last album was 2010’s You Ain’t Gonna Believe This for Show Dog-Universal.

A regular on Hee Haw and Hollywood Squares, Tillis also had music publishing and film production companies and a concert venue in Branson, Mo.

Tillis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976 and received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2012.

 

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