Tillis' biggest hits include, "I Ain't Never", "Good Woman Blues", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy". He also has won the CMA Awards most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year. His daughter is country music singer, Pam Tillis. He is also well-known for his speech impediment, which does not affect his singing voice.
After leaving the military in 1955, Tillis worked a number of odd jobs and moved to Nashville, Tennessee the following year. Tillis wrote "I'm Tired", a #3 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Other Tillis hits include "Honky Tonk Song" and "Tupelo County Jail". Ray Price and Brenda Lee also charted hits with Tillis' material around this time. In the late-50s, after becoming a hit-making songwriter, he signed his own contract with Columbia Records in the late-50s. In 1958, he had his first Top 40 hit, "The Violet and a Rose", followed by the Top 25 hit, "Sawmill".
In the mid-60s, Tillis switched over to Kapp Records. In 1965, he had his first Top 15 hit with "Wine". Other hits continued to follow, like "Stateside" and "Life Turned Her That Way" (which was later covered by Ricky Van Shelton in 1988, and went to #1). He wrote for Charley Pride ("The Snakes Crawl At Night") and wrote a big hit for Kenny Rogers & the First Edition called "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town". He also wrote the hit "Mental Revenge" for Outlaw superstar Waylon Jennings (and it has also been covered by the Hacienda Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, and Barbara Mandrell). In 1968, Tillis achieved his first Top 10 hit with "Who's Julie". He also was a regular featured singer on The Porter Wagoner Show. Although success didn't come quickly or easily as a singer in the '60s, things would turn around for Tillis a great deal in the '70s.
After the success of "I Ain't Never", Tillis had another hit, which came close to #1 (reached #3) entitled "Neon Rose", followed by "Sawmill", which also came close at #2. "Midnight Me and the Blues" was another near-chart topper in 1974. Other hits Tillis had under MGM include "Stomp Them Grapes" (1974), "Memory Maker" (1974), "Woman in the Back of My Mind" (1975), and his version of "Mental Revenge" (1976). In 1976, Tillis signed on with MCA Records. Tillis achieved his biggest success under MCA Records. It started with a pair of two #1 hits in 1976, "Good Woman Blues" and "Heart Healer". Thanks to this success, Tillis won the CMA Awards's most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year, and was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that year. He achieved another #1 in 1978 with "I Believe In You", and then again in 1979 with "Coca-Cola Cowboy", which was put in the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose. Also in 1978, Mel co-hosted a short-lived variety series on ABC television, Mel and Susan Together with model Susan Anton. Other hits around this time included "Send Me Down to Tucson", "Ain't No California", and "I Got the Hoss". In mid-1979, Tillis switched over to another record company once again, this time with Elektra Records.
After signing under Elektra in mid-1979, he continued to make hit songs, like "Blind In Love" and "Lying Time Again", both hits for Tillis in 1979. Up until 1981, Tillis remained on top his game as one of country music's most successful vocalists of the era. "Your Body Is an Outlaw", went to #3 in 1980, followed by another Top 10 hit, "Steppin' Out". "Southern Rains" was his last No. 1 hit, when it became a hit in 1981. That same year, he dueted with Nancy Sinatra on the Top 30 hit "Texas Cowboy Night". He remained with Elektra until 1982, before switching back over to MCA for a brief period in 1983. That summer, he scored a Top 10 hit with "In The Middle Of The Night" and had his last Top 10 hit with "New Patches" in 1984. By this time however, Tillis built up a financial empire, thanks to investing in music-publishing companies, like Sawgrass and Cedarwood. He also appeared in movies, like The Villain (1979 film), Love Revival, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, The Cannonball Run and Uphill All the Way, a comedy western in which he starred with fellow country singer Roy Clark, among others. In 1979 he acquired radio station KIXZ (AM) in Amarillo, TX from Sammons-Ruff Associates, which converted from Top 40 to country music and became a force in the Panhandle region. A short time later Tillis acquired Rock FM station KYTX, which changed calls to KMML (a play on Mr. Tillis' stutter). Still later he operated WMML in Mobile, Alabama. All stations were sold in the fullness of time for a healthy return. He briefly signed with RCA Records, as well as Mercury Records, and later Curb Records in 1991. By this time, his chart success faded from view.
The Grand Ole Opry inducted Mel Tillis on June 9, 2007. He was inducted into the Opry by his daughter Pam. Along with being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, it was announced on August 7 that year that Tillis along with Ralph Emery and Vince Gill are the newest to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.