Country Girl Power in Beaver Creek
July 12, 2010
Little girls and their dads tend to have a special bond. And for country music stars Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, the cliche certainly holds true. Both women followed in their fathers’ musical bootsteps. Morgan first performed with her dad, country star George Morgan, at the Grand Ole Opry in 1975, when she was barely a teenager. Pam Tillis, daughter of country star Mel Tillis, performed on the same stage when she was only 8 years old. It seems somehow fitting, then, that the women with similar – at least on the surface – upbringings tour the country together. Monday, they’ll perform on the Vilar Center stage in Beaver Creek at 8 p.m.”I love the setup,” said Tillis during a phone interview last week. “We both sit on stage the whole time and we share a band. The whole thing is like a dialogue. We go from song to song and talk in between songs. The shows have been going great. (Lorrie) is a fantastic singer, and it’s fun to sing with other good singers.”Speaking of other singers, Tillis grew up underfoot of some of the best: Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and the like. There’s no doubt in her mind that influenced her path in life. “Growing up around all of that, that kind of music just works its way into the fabric of your music,” she said. “It’s almost subliminal – that’s just the well you draw from.”
Over the course of her nearly 30-year country music career, Tillis has seen the landscape of country music change, especially when it comes to women.”Things tend to be cyclical. One year you’re talking about the year of women in country and the women are kicking butt, and then a couple of years later it’s all guys and you’re like, ‘Hmmm, where’s the big female?’ It’s just cyclical. … When I came out and started having my hits, there was a strong feminine voice – Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tricia Yearwood, Martina (McBride) and Faith (Hill) were just getting started.”That’s not to say there isn’t great talent out there now, Tillis said, citing Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert as examples. And all they need to do to continue their success is keep one thing front of mind: the music. “I just think they need to make sure they really record songs that speak to other women,” Tillis said. “It’s just so important. It’s mostly guys who are producing records, I’ll tell you that, and it’s a good ol’ boy network in the song-writing community, too.”While there are plenty of talented artists, Tillis said good material is another thing entirely. When Tillis listens to country music radio stations, there’s one thing that concerns her.”I think the labels don’t go for much originality anymore,” she said. “Something becomes a success and they want 10 more of that. We need more original, unique voices. We don’t need people that look cookie cutter. I hate that homogeneity – that’s the enemy.”For Tillis, there’s way more “country music” happening across the country than what shows up on the 10- or 20-song radio playlist. “There’s a world of country outside of that,” she said. “I love folk country, Americana, and there’s amazing talent in the bluegrass and acoustic world. There are 10-and 12-year-old wunderkinds who can pick circles around anyone. It’s just crazy what the machine overlooks.”
Tillis believes “getting in” to country music, at least at the sign-with-a-record-label level, is harder now than it’s ever been. “There are some good people knocking at the door, but it’s hard to get in,” she said. “It’s never been so hard.”But, as Tillis firmly believes, “there’s all different ways to have a musical life.””I have friends, singers and songwriters, who operate outside that little bitty window of commercial country radio and they have interesting, neat careers. Do they make money? Maybe not, but it’s artistically gratifying. And to tell you the truth, the serious artists inside the circle, they’re all watching the people on the outside of the circle because they know they’re talented.”They’re watching because the most interesting music of all is being made right now by those standing outside the circle. “People who have nothing to lose make really good music,” she said. High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.