November 19, 2017

If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, these three pictures are worth their weight in gold. They were taken on one of Mel Tillis’ last appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. You can see from the smile on my face how easily he could make me laugh…and in the last picture you can see how much we genuinely cared for one another.

I probably knew Mel longer than I knew any other Nashville artist. We met in late 1957 or early 1958 on a show called the Peach State Jamboree in Swainsboro, Georgia. I was one of the “local” entertainers and Mel was the week’s special guest from Nashville. Our first conversation, after being introduced, went something like this:

Mel: I…I…I heard your rec…record on every damn ra…ra…radio station in Ge…Ge..Ge…Georgia on my way d…d…down here. Hoss, it’s a sma…sma…smash!

Me: Thank you. Are you talking about the ballad called, “City Lights?”

Mel: Hell, n…n…no. It’s tha…that…that one with the crazy drum be..beat.

Me: Oh, you mean “No Song To Sing.” Yeah, that’s on the other side.

Mel: W…W…Well, every station I lis…lis…listened to was p…p…playing it. Do…do you have an extra cop…copy I could have?”

I assured him that I did, and I gave him one. Next thing I knew, he had returned to Nashville and recorded his own version of “No Song To Sing” on Columbia Records. It wasn’t a hit for Mel, but it was the flip side of his first national hit, “A Violet And A Rose.”

In later years, he confessed to never having flipped my record over and listening to “City Lights.” “Hell,” he stuttered, “I cou…could have had the hit in…in…stead of Ray Pr…Pr…Price!”

In 1989, toward the end of his recording career, Mel started his own label called Radio Records. Believe it or not, his first release…and the last record he ever had on the Billboard charts…was an incredible version of “City Lights.”

Rest in peace, my friend. And thanks for a lifetime of laughs, music, and memories.