Mel Tillis‘ Grand Ole Opry swan song came nearly two years before his Nov. 19, 2017 death. A traditionalist until the end, Tillis performs 1970 hit “Arms of a Fool” with a fiddling troupe, led by Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.
As usual, Tillis sounded and looked like a larger than life star. His vocals sound mighty and unwavering, considering he was over 80 years old. Plus, that throwback suit jacket oozes uptown country music class. It’s the sort of performance and presentation that might’ve gotten a standing ovation at any point in his 60-year career.
Much like Willie Nelson and Chris Stapleton, Tillis spent years as a respected songwriter before achieving consistent solo success. His greatest compositions over the years included “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and “Diggin Up Bones.” Before the hits came, Tillis established himself as the sort of charismatic, well-rounded entertainer suited for the age of variety television shows, as seen on the Porter Wagoner Show and other programs. Television appearances, marked by Tillis’ light-hearted mocking of a his own speech impediment, skyrocketed him to stardom. He ranks up there with Glen Campbell when it comes to performers with the perfect personality for the small screen.
Hits came one after another in the early ’70s. While his on-screen persona in the ’60s made him a star, Tillis’ chart success cemented his status as an all-time great.
Tillis’ Opry membership came surprisingly late in his career. His 2007 induction came the same summer as the announcement of his Country Music Hall of Fame induction.