The rest is history. Tillis went on to write more than 1,000 songs, record 80-plus albums and receive all of country music's major awards. He remains one of its most treasured entertainers.
Tillis and his veteran band, the Statesiders, will perform
The festival runs from
Tillis may have started writing songs in the
"I played in the band during the first half of football games, and after we marched, I ran in and changed into my football uniform, so I played football the second half," he said.
Once in the
"I was always on KP duty, and so I wrote a song about it. 'Clank clank go the pots and the pans, into the KP rhythm of a soldier man,'" Tillis said by telephone during his recovery from heart bypass surgery.
While in the military, he joined The Westerners band (1952-1954), "and there wasn't a damn one of us who were from the West," he said with a laugh.
The Westerners performed his KP song on the radio, and the song went out from
"Somebody taped it, and years later a guy came by at one of our shows in Branson and he gave me a CD with my song 'The KP Rhythm of a Soldier Man.' I didn't know a recording even existed."
Tillis' next song that hit the radio would come several years later and made a much bigger impression.
The song got Tillis to
"They said I needed to write songs, and I said, 'I can sing,' and they said, 'No, you need to write songs.' I started writing songs, and I was successful."
Tillis recorded his first single for
Tillis laughed and said he quickly learned that any time someone covered one of his songs, it was more income for him, and that was good.
Among his favorite performers to cover his material were
At 81, Tillis has been in the music business for 58 years and still writes songs.
"I don't know how many songs I've written. I still find one in my sock drawer every now and then."
Tillis became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2007 and was inducted into the
Perhaps his best-known tune is "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town," made famous by
Tillis has recorded 36 Top 10 singles and nine No. 1 songs, two of which were on the "Every Which Way But Loose" soundtrack. He appeared in the movie with
Tillis formed The Statesiders in the mid-1960s, and a number of its members have been with him for more than 40 years.
The name of the band came from a song he had written about his
"I would wander into the little villages, and I was just homesick. I really was missing stateside."
The Statesiders can play pretty much any country sound he's written or performed over the years, including Texas Swing.
Tillis loves to play shuffles, and he recorded songs with
"I still do dances, but there aren't as many around as there used to be. I am looking forward to coming to
Tillis was pleased when Legends producer
"I'll be doing what the people want. I love what I do, and I carry the best band in country music."
Looking back over his career, Tillis said that there's been so much to be happy with. "I am so thankful to be blessed with a big family, five girls and one boy. My career has been one good thing after another. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing."
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