Pam Tillis: Making It in a Man’s World (1995)
Pam breaks into the boys’ club as sole producer of her 1995 album, All of This Love.
Originally published in the Nov. 28, 1995 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Pam Tillis has been fighting for years to make it in the male-dominated world of country music—and it’s finally paying off.
She’s earned the respect of her peers as a result of sheer talent, years of hard work and dogged determination.
The signal that Pam has finally become part of the industry’s power structure is her new album. On All of This Love, Pam debuts in a role that has been entrusted to very few women in country music—sole producer.
“Producing is what I needed to do this time,” Pam said. “This is the way I felt I could grow the most. I’ve been in a studio since I was 18 years old,” she told Country Weekly. “It’s not like I have to have somebody do that for me. I certainly don’t think I know everything; I just did it for the learning, for the experience of it.”
It’s the latest example of her hands‑on approach to her work. She’s involved in everything, from songwriting to making business decisions with her manager, Mike Robertson, to developing and staging her road show, music videos and television projects.
Earlier this year, when Pam hosted five episodes of TNN: The Nashville Network's At the Ryman, she offered suggestions on everything from the positioning of lights to where the background singers should stand.
“Every time she sings a new song, you know you’re listening to a lady who wants to do it all—and probably will,” Vince Gill said in introducing Pam at the Country Music Association Awards.
As sole producer of her latest album, she was responsible for budgeting, choosing musicians, booking the studio and finalizing the mixes of every track. For three months, she put in a lot of 12‑ to 16‑hour days.
Not even Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire have produced solo. Many female as well as male artists co‑produce their albums, but the reins are usually held by a professional with more experience. Virtually all studio producers are men.
“That's the last boys’ club in country music, but this is the decade that it’s going to change”' Robert K. Oermann, co‑author of Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music, told us.
“One of the reasons Pam was able to break through that barrier is that for years before she became an artist, she made a living in recording studios as a background singer, as a songwriter, as a demo singer and as a jingle singer.
“She has the respect of her fellow musicians and they feel comfortable because she is a pro in the studio. Pam’s assertive without being threatening. She’s very savvy and a very smart woman.”
Pam doesn’t think in terms of being a groundbreaker. For her, producing solo was another step in her educational experience.
“I learned so much from it that I think when I work with [a co‑producer] again, I'll be able to work better with somebody,” she said. “I really have a picture now of where my strengths and weaknesses lie in the studio, and I wanted to see what it was like.”
The result on All of This Love, her fourth Arista Nashville set, bears little resemblance to her original vision.
“To tell you the truth, I had an idea of this record being a lot more stripped‑down and simpler. In a lot of ways it’s layered up, and certain parts of it are even kind of lush. One of the songs has strings on it—I just got in there and went kind of crazy.
“I think it was like a kid getting the big box of crayons for the first time,” Pam said, with a girlish giggle.
The musicians helped her musical coloring project. “They were excited that I wanted to do this. They got in there and were like, ‘Hey, we’ll help you do this! This is going to be fun! This is going to be cool! You can do this! You can pull this off, Tillis!’
“I never tried to be bossy with it or act like I knew it all. We’d just kick it around until everybody was satisfied.” She is.
“It sounds like a Pam Tillis record; it doesn’t sound like a huge dramatic departure,” she evaluated. “But every one of my albums is a little bit different. Your tastes are always changing. One day you want to paint your room blue, one day you want to paint it yellow.”
She was supported by the “great ears” and expertise of her engineer, Mike Poole; her manager, Robertson; and her songwriter/husband, Bob DiPiero. Pam and Bob co‑wrote “It’s Lonely Out There” for the album. She turned to her brother, Mel Tillis Jr., to help her pen “Tequila Mockingbird.”
Her father, legendary singer/songwriter Mel Tillis, also figures into her career. They intend to record a duet, possibly for Pam’s next album, and to work a “handful” of concert dates together. Pam said there are no plans for a duet album and full‑blown tour with her dad, contrary to published reports.
On the home front, “In August we moved into a new home in South Nashville, not far from my mama,” she said. “I just love it. It’s kind of a cabin. It’s completely surrounded by trees and it’s so private that I feel like I’m 50 miles outside of Nashville.”
Does it include any fancy amenities? “You know what the amenities are?” she replied. “There’s squirrels and frogs and deer and owls and trees—that’s all the amenities I need.”
Her son from a previous marriage, 16‑year‑old Ben, lives with her and Bob. Ben’s a creative person, too, with a keen interest in painting, photography and music.
Pam left us with a personal message for our readers: “I just hope they do love the new album. I always like it when people show up with a copy of Country Weekly for me to sign. It’s nice that they save them. I know you’ve got a lot of nice readers, because I’ve met them out on the road. Just tell them to keep coming to see me!”