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Following Father’s Footsteps: Carlene Carter, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis (1996)

Originally published in our June 18, 1996 issue featuring Carlene Carter, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis on the cover.

Stars Pam Tillis, Carlene Carter and Lorrie Morgan have never known life without being influenced first-hand by country music at its very best. Their fathers were each among the pioneers who set country on the road to becoming one of the fastest-growing musical genres. Here’s a look at the astonishing achievements of these three men.

Mel Tillis

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Pahokee, Fla., in 1932, Mel suffered a childhood bout with malaria that left him with a chronic stutter. For years, Mel’s speech impediment was a trademark that endeared him to millions of country fans. In addition to his remarkable talent, the stutter became a source of continued inspiration, including one album entitled M-M-Mel and a 1985 autobiography called Stutterin’ Boy.

Mel worked on the railroad before moving to Nashville in 1957. One of his first songwriting compositions, “I’m Tired,” became a No. 3 hit for country legend Webb Pierce. Later hits included Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City.”

Mel eventually broke into the Top 20 as a singer with his 1965 hit “Wine.”

By 1981, Mel had been named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year and had scored a series of hits, including such chart-topping songs as “I Ain’t Never,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” “I Believe In You,” “Coca Cola Cowboy” and “Southern Rains.”

Mel starred in a short-lived TV series with actress Susan Anton. He’s now a respected actor and acknowledged comedian, having appeared in several movies.

He continues to perform between 250 and 300 dates a year and has a theater in Branson, Mo.          

George Morgan

Born in 1925 in Waverly, Tenn., and raised in Barberton, Ohio, George Morgan is still considered to be one of country music’s most influential pioneers. He began playing in bands and working on local radio stations in the ’40s. He landed a spot on WWVA Radio’s Wheeling Jamboree show and his talents soon became renowned throughout the Ohio area. A demo tape found its way to the Grand Ole Opry and quickly led to a live audition.

George joined the Opry in 1948 and also signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. His self-penned debut single, “Candy Kisses,” scored the artist his first No. 1 hit in 1949. A string of Top 10 hits followed that same year, including “Rainbow in My Heart,” “Please Don’t Let Me Love You,” the Eddy Arnold cover “Room Full of Roses” and “Cry-Baby Heart.”

Despite the invasion of rock ’n’ roll, Morgan clung to his roots and continued to play strictly traditional country music. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Morgan underwent several record label transitions and added such Top 40 hits as “Lilacs and Fire” and “Red Rose From the Blue Side of Town” to his roster of hits.

In May of 1975, the great Morgan suffered a heart attack and died a couple of months later, following open-heart surgery.

Carl Smith

Carl Smith – a honky-tonk giant in the 1950s – was born in 1927 in Maynardsville, Tenn. He loved country music so much that he sold seeds to raise money for his first guitar. He won his first talent contest when he was only 13. He later performed with local bands until his remarkable talent led him to the Opry in 1950. From 1951 to 1978, Carl had a total of 93 singles on the charts – 32 were Top 10s and five of then became No. 1 records.

His distinctive, robust voice produced such standards as “Let’s Live a Little,” “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” and “(When You Feel Like You’re in Love) Don’t Just Stand There.”

From then on, it was one Top 10 hit after the other – songs such as “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” “Just Wait ’Til I Get You Alone,” “Trademark,” “Hey Joe!” “Loose Talk,” “You Are the One,” “Ten Thousand Drums” and “Red Door.” 

The country pioneer eventually resigned from the Opry in 1956, made three minor movie appearances and went on the road for 18 months.

He  hosted the ABC-TV country program Four Star Jubilee.

Carl began to wind down his career by the ’70s. His wife and fellow singer, Goldie, had already retired and the two began spending more and more time on their 285-acre horse farm just outside Nashville.

Although Smith did re-record some of his old hits in the early ’80s, his love for showing horses soon won out over his music. “I just got tired of it,” he said in 1984.

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