Country music’s celebrated singer/songwriter strikes a compassionate chord for Louisiana’s animals
The iconic and illustrious female artist finds the time to lend a helping hand to the furry friends in need at the Louisiana SPCA while touring North America and recording her next album.
Since her debut in country music in 1990, musical dynamo Pam Tillis has remained one of the genre’s most beloved and accomplished female artists, garnering tons of hits including 14 Top Fives and 6 Number Ones, selling over six million records, having her songs recorded by various popular artists including Martina McBride, Chaka Kahn, Juice Newton and Conway Twitty, winning a GRAMMY Award, scoring an extraordinary CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award, being one of the first female musicians in Nashville to produce her own album–heck, the sultry songstress has even had a lovely rose named after her! The critical acclaim and outpouring of love from fans has been plentiful, thanks to Tillis’ rich, angelic, lush and soulful vocals. That rare, honeyed voice continues to satisfy and amaze scores of audiences as Tillis tours her way throughout North America, selling out venues both as a solo artist and as half of a duo alongside fellow country artist Lorrie Morgan on their well-received Grits and Glamour Tour, where Tillis and Morgan tell stories and perform their cherished hits, including Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree.”
Ever so kind and always a conscientious fan of New Orleans, Tillis joined forces with the Louisiana SPCA to become a celebrity co-chair for the 34th Annual Howling Success Patron Party and Gala, the largest fundraiser of the year for the animals of Louisiana held on Saturday, October 20 in the Hyatt Regency’s Empire Ballroom. The event will feature fabulous food, a swank silent auction and plenty of fun, along with other compassionate celebrity supporters such as Vanessa Williams, Ali Landry, Sasha Cohen and Tiffany Fallon. Tillis graciously took time out of her busy schedule in between life on the road, recording a new album with Morgan and awaiting word of whether she’ll be adding to her crowded mantle after being nominated for the 2012 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Song of the Year Award for “Somewhere South of Crazy,” written with Dale Ann Bradley, to catch up with “New Orleans Living” about her music, her sweet puppy Pearl and her fascination with food, proving to be her most gregarious, sincere and charming self, even with her plate stacked high to Heaven!
Hello Pam! You and Lorrie Morgan must be having a blast out on your Grits and Glamour tour, playing your hits and sharing stories. Will we see a collaborative record from you and Lorrie soon?
It’s been a lot of fun! We’ve decided to keep it going, because as long as people are still loving the show, we’re doing it. Fans have been so responsive, and now we’ve kinda got the cart before the horse, because we started touring and then we realized how great it’d be to have a record together. So yes, there is an album in the works. The idea for the record really happened at the autograph table because every third person that came through would ask, “Where’s the record?” (Laughs). They wanted what they had seen in concert on a record and that makes perfect sense. In fact, we even wrote one of the songs for the record at the autograph table in between signing autographs; somebody said something funny, we got to laughing, I started scribbling on the back of an 8×10 glossy and the next thing you know, we’re in the studio recording it. It’s been pretty fun.
I guess songwriting can come easily when you have chemistry like you and Lorrie have when you perform together. Y’all are like creative muses for each other.
Yeah, it’s very much like musical conversation; the whole thing is like that. To tell you the truth, the cool thing about doing the record now is that it’s a different record than the one we would have made prior to working together the way we have been. We’re very picky about our own material and the songs we’re putting on it. We have three really fun songs on the record, even though the time we’ve had to write together has been pretty slim.
You recently recorded the song “Two Kings” with New Orleans-based musician Chris Thomas King. Tell us about this moving tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and Elvis, the King of Rock n’ Roll.
I was teaching at a song-writing camp in British Columbia where students shared their song ideas and the instructors sort of helped them. This particular song idea by Brenda O’Brien intrigued me, so I ended up corresponding with her for a couple more years after the course and helped her finish the song. Then she talked me into demoing the song for her, and she wanted to make a video.One thing led to another and we wound up finding Chris and I loved his voice–it is a little reminiscent of Michael Jackson–and then he’s got some other wonderful aspects about his voice that I love. We just thought it was an interesting song and an interesting connection between those two men, and the idea of the song is that there are a lot of ways to touch the world and whatever your particular gift is you bring it, and that’s what those two men did.
What do you love about New Orleans?
Oh Christine, so many wonderful things come to mind. New Orleans is fascinating and beautiful. I love the music. I love the vibe. I love the Spanish-French feel; it’s such old-world history. All those moody Anne Rice novels come to life when you walk the streets of New Orleans. I like the party atmosphere and I adore the architecture. I just love it! And I’m crazy about the food in New Orleans.
Speaking of food, like many New Orleanians, you are one of those people who possess more of the “live to eat” type of mindset instead of an “eat to live” one …
(Laughs) Yes! My whole family and I were foodies before you even heard that term. We share a great love of cooking and enjoying meals together. You know, we’re all so busy but you’ve got to eat! So I like to elevate that experience. I find that when I’m touring and running in and out of town, the only chance I get to spend quality time with some of my close friends is to take the time to go out and eat together. And with the advent of appreciation that Americans now have for great cooking and great food, I feel like I’m right in step with the times! There are so many really great new restaurants in Nashville, like the Catbird Seat. Nashville has a wonderful burgeoning food scene right now and that’s a nice thing to see, but New Orleans has always been about great food.
Indeed! You love being in the kitchen as well. You’ve even done some food blogging and you’ve written a food column for “Country Weekly.” Do you feel it’s that same creativity that applies to both your music and your time spent in the kitchen?
Yes, I do, and I like to step outside the box by starting with a recipe but never being dictated by it. I have spent some time as a food writer and I enjoyed it very much. And for me, being in the kitchen is also therapy. Out on the road and in so many places in your life in general, things are out of your control, and I feel like you’re kind of in charge with certain places in your life, and one of them is the kitchen.
You are really into both the good stuff and the bad stuff when it comes to food. One of your spa meals that you posted on Facebook is carrot-ginger soup, which looks fabulous. Eating right is obviously important to you, and you look like the picture of health.
Oh yeah, that carrot-ginger soup is delicious and good for you. Yes, it is good to have that balance. I totally agree.
You are a celebrity co-chair for the Louisiana SPCA’s Howling Success 2012 Gala, which will be held downtown at the Hyatt on Saturday, October 20. That’s fabulous, because “Howling Success” is the largest fundraiser of the year for the 15,000+ homeless pets of the Louisiana SPCA. Tell us why you believe strongly in this cause.
Well, animals are close to my heart. It’s something that perhaps doesn’t immediately spring to everyone’s mind when there is a crisis, but, pardon the pun, the ripple effect of these bad storms are that the furry members of our family, such as our cats and our dogs and our birds and our fish and all our pets–they get lost, they get abandoned, some don’t make it and it’s just wonderful that people are so tender-hearted that in addition to helping family and people, they care enough to try to help the animals. Those stranded horses and cattle; that’s unbelievable! We had some of that when it flooded in Tennessee, but you guys have been hit so hard, and it’s a stunning number of animals. Even without any natural disaster occurring, every day is a struggle for homeless animals and I’m proud to support the Louisiana SPCA’s faithful mission.
That’s so cool that you are involved with the Louisiana SPCA. Now you have an adorable pit bull named Pearl! How did she come into your life?
Through Lorrie, actually. I call Lorrie the “Dog Grandmother!” (Laughs). Of course, some people are afraid of pits and I understand that there are some dogs that, unfortunately, because they’ve been neglected or abused or not put in the right situations, have certain temperamental characteristics that can be problematic. But I am such a defender of this breed now; we are totally enthralled with this little animal. And I’ll be quite honest, I’ve always been on the road so much that a pet was something the kids had or somebody else looked after. Pets weren’t really a part of my life. I’m one of those people who have a hard time just keeping up with themselves. Finally, though, I had a dog a few years ago, right when I met my husband and that year we had been flying around so much that I ended up not bonding with the dog the way I needed to, and it wasn’t fair to the dog, so he went to live with the lady that was helping me look after him at the time. I said he ran off with another woman! (Laughs). And it was really great, because she was having a lot of issues in her life and they needed each other. So I know how healing animals are for people. A couple of years ago I started feeling a really strong need to have a pet and my husband and I got Pearl, and this has been the first time in my life that my circumstances have allowed with me to bond with an animal like this. It’s just been a game-changer for us and our home. You learn so much from dogs and they’re so chill while everybody else is just losing their minds! (Laughs). We just totally love her; she is so temperamentally exceptional. Oh, you would just love this dog! Everybody loves this dog!
I know I would love sweet Pearl. I love that breed as well; my family and I found an abandoned pit bull mix on our front porch and he wound up becoming a family pet. Buster truly made a difference in our lives for the thirteen and a half years we had him. Oh how we loved that dog! Once you’ve had one as a pet, they are irresistible. Many of the stray dogs that the Louisiana SPCA winds up with happen to be pit mixes, so it’s great to have you be a voice for them as a celebrity co-chair.
Oh great, that is wonderful to know. Pearl is great with other animals, too. When we get super busy in the studio or whatever, she goes to this little doggie daycare (Laughs). She loves to be with other dogs. I have seen her be so gentle, too; my sister had a kitten that she came over to the house with and the kitten put both paws on Pearl’s face and held her muzzle with her little paws. Pearl just licked her! It was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen!
Aw! That’s a great vision; sounds like the makings for the most ultimate teenage girl poster ever! (Laughs). So what are some fall dishes you look forward to preparing, and how do you like to celebrate Halloween?
I like good, hearty soups and beef stews and crock pot tenderloin–foods that are a little bit richer. I try to eat lighter in the summer. If I’m ever in town [during Halloween], I just love being at the door with candy for the kids. I’m not a big dresser-upper but I like to look at all the kids’ costumes. And Christine, I’ve got a song that I’m threatening to record, and it is the cutest Halloween song. It’s hard to find Halloween songs, so you better hold me to it! It’s hilarious!
Get busy Pam, we’d love to hear it! Humor and Halloween: two of my favorite things! On your website, you mention that you are “part farmer.” I saw a photo of you on a tractor, working that farm, girl! How is your new farm?
It’s been great, but I’m late getting in my fall crops, and I’m stressing over it. Maybe I’ll get to that next week. The farm was really beautiful at a certain point. My husband and I got some nice vegetables out of there. It’s our first year with the farm, you know, so we’re still getting our feet wet, and it’s been a real joy. It got away from me a little bit while I was touring but it’s great, it’s just beautiful.
You and I both love a great book, and we have a mutual friend originally from the New Orleans area, Brian Edwards, who’s releasing his first book next year called “My Conversations with the Divas.” That thing is going to be a hell of a page-turner! I cannot wait to read it!
Oh Christine, I cannot wait to read it either! Brian’s a good storyteller with a great memory. He’s never done drugs, so he has all of his brain cells left and he remembers everything, which can be good or bad! (Laughs).
For more of Pam, visit www.pamtillis.com, or check her out on Twitter: @PamTillis. For more information about the Louisiana SPCA’s Howling Success Patron Party and Gala, visit la-spca.org/howlingsuccess