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Pam Tillis: A country songbird

Country singer/songwriter Pam Tillis has had six No. 1 hits, has written songs recorded by Chaka Khan, Martina McBride and Conway Twitty and has won two Grammys. This year, her amazing career brought her another first -- a 32-day trip to Ireland,...

Pam Tillis
Country star Pam Tillis will be one of the headliners at Kick'n Up Kountry music fest, which opens today and runs through Sunday in Thief River Falls.

Country singer/songwriter Pam Tillis has had six No. 1 hits, has written songs recorded by Chaka Khan, Martina McBride and Conway Twitty and has won two Grammys. This year, her amazing career brought her another first -- a 32-day trip to Ireland, Wales and England.

"That was the first time I'd been over there, and it was fantastic," Tillis said in a telephone interview Monday. "They have a great love of traditional country music. It's a beautiful country. We have ties to there, family ties. So, it was like making a pilgrimage home for me."

Tillis, who along with Charlie Daniels will headline the Kick'n Up Kountry Music Festival today through Sunday in Thief River Falls, has had an extraordinary career. The daughter of country great Mel Tillis, she began the entertainment business as a session singer and went on to record hits such as "All The Good Ones are Gone," "Shake the Sugar Tree" and "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial"

At 9:45 p.m. Sunday, she'll be the final performer to take the stage at Kick'n Up Kountry at the Pennington County Fairgrounds. Other performers will include Charlie Daniels, Mustang Sally, Jason Jones, LoCash Cowboys and more. For a complete schedule and more, go to www.kicknupkountry.com .

Early in her career, Tillis said, she considered moving to Los Angeles, which at that time was much friendlier to rock 'n' roll. But she found she didn't want to uproot.

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"And I realized that so much of my music sounded country anyway," she said. She made country music, the music she was "born to make," and signed with Arista Records, which provided her first big break. Her first No. 1 single was "Don't Tell Me What To Do."

After Tim McGraw left the label, it was absorbed by RCA and BNA, she said.

"I just wasn't in sync with those folks, so I ended up leaving there," she said.

In 2007, Tillis started her own label, Stellar Cat Records; her most recent album, "Rhinestoned," was released in April 2007. She also released "Just In Time For Christmas" in 2007. Around Christmastime this year, she plans to release "ReCollection," an album of her hits.

"We're proud to say we're in the black, which is more than a lot of people can say," Tillis said of her label. "We're trying to hang in there with a business that will turn you into hamburger if you don't watch out."

More steps in her career, from a news release:

- Before there was Lilith Fair, Tillis starred in the first all-women country tour with Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter.

- In 1994, she was Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1995, she was awarded CMT's Top Female Video Artist award. Other awards: Two Grammy Awards, seven ACM Nominations and 11 CMA Nominations.

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- Tillis was one of the first women in Nashville, Tenn., to produce her own album. "All of This Love" yielded two Top 5 hits and is nearing platinum status. It will be her fourth certified platinum solo album.

- Away from the music, Tillis' favorite hobby is gardening. A news release says the American Rose Society recently bred a Pam Tillis Rose to honor her in the same way they have Dolly Parton, Andie McDowell and Barbara Streisand.

Now, says Tillis, she's been focusing on writing. She's also dialed back on touring and will perform about 70 dates this year. Touring is notorious for taking a toll on artists in all genres.

"It's like (singer, songwriter and musican) Delbert McClinton said: 'They don't pay you to sing. They pay you to get there. The singing we do for free, but don't tell anybody,'" Tillis said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: THIEF RIVER FALLS
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