Program Information: Pam Tillis followed by a Guitar Pull with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Iris DeMent and Freddie Powers
PBS Premiere Date: 1996
Repeat Date: Please see TV Schedule.
PBS Stations may carry this program at dates other than the national dates provided here. Please check your local listings for exact date and time in your area.
Austin City Limits presented country music’s twice-acclaimed Female Vocalist of the year, Pam Tillis during Season 21. Later in the program legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard invited cohort Freddie Powers and Grammy-nominated songwriter Iris DeMent to join them in an age-old country music tradition: an old-fashioned “guitar pull.”
Since her 1991 breakthrough album, Put Yourself In My Place, Pam Tillis and her music have provided country music with a powerful antidote to the familiar Nashville sound. Her second Austin City Limits performance reminded her of the many musicians and songwriters who’ve inspired her over the years.
“I’m looking forward to standing on that stage where there’s been so much great music,” she said before her show. “There’s just a vibe out there. When you’re out there you can’t help but thinking that some of your favorite musical moments have happened out there, and it’s inspiring.”
Showcasing her self-produced album, All Of This Love, on Austin City Limits, Tillis dazzled the audience with the romantic ballad “Tequila Mockingbird” plus the fun-loving “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life).” “Austin City Limits is a great chance to showcase new material,” she said. “There’s a great Austin audience and just a lot of fun.” With two consecutive platinum albums and numerous Top 10 singles to her credit, Tillis is one of country music’s most innovative and hardworking musicians. On Austin City Limits she affirmed her reputation as a consummate interpreter of others’ music, performing an emotion-filled version of Bruce Hornsby’s pop hit “Mandolin Rain.”
“One of my most personally/commercially/artistically successful records was [the album] Maybe It Was Memphis , and the lyric in “Mandolin Rain” seems to me the same kind of romantic, nostalgic song,” Tillis said. “It just gave me the same feeling as “Maybe It Was Memphis” and the song was a good vehicle for those kind of feelings.
The first of country music legend Mel Tillis’ five children, Tillis was born in Florida and raised in Nashville where her father pursued his career. Diverted by a wandering spirit until the mid-’80s, Tillis eventually returned to claim Tennessee as her home state and country music as her destiny. She established herself as a premier songwriter and session singer, and her determination paid off when she signed with Arista in 1990, launching her own blockbuster recording career.
The “guitar pull” is a tradition unique to country music, and it probably originated in the living room or out on the back porch. Typically, several amateur singer-songwriters would gather at a friend’s house and take turns singing songs they wrote or just old favorites. The late Roger Miller imagined that the term “guitar pull” came from the fact that there was usually only one guitar to be shared, and the singers would have to “pull” the guitar away from one another to take their turn.
The Austin City Limits stage served as the setting for a round-robin guitar pull with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Iris DeMent and Freddie Powers.
Two of American music’s most legendary performers and song stylists, Haggard and Nelson have collaborated on many occasions, including their best-known duet album, Poncho and Lefty. On Austin City Limits, Haggard premiered a song with a distinctly New Orleans flavor, “Sin City Blues,” from his album No Time To Cry. His acoustic rendition of his country classic, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” served as a reminder of the timeless quality of his work. Nelson also premiered a new song, the tender “Waiting Forever for You,” plus a rare instrumental tune, “Spirit,” showcasing his unmatched guitar style.
One of Haggard’s favorite artists, Grammy-nominated songstress Iris DeMent made herself at home on stage with these country music greats. Since her performance of his song “Big City” on the 1994 Merle Haggard tribute album, Tulare Dust, Haggard has been DeMent’s No. 1 fan.
“There’s a lot of great performances on that album [Tulare Dust],” Haggard explained, “but I think out of all of them, Iris was the most unique thing to come out of that project. She was rare, she caught my ear and for about 90 days I didn’t listen to anything else except her stuff. I studied her music and saw that she was doing what I was doing … I found that she was like me. Some of her writing was just like the way I would have written it.”
DeMent performed one of her most popular tunes, “Sweet Is The Melody,” from her 1994 album, My Life, plus the Jimmie Rodgers classic, “Hobo Bill.” A prolific songwriter and native Texan, Freddie Powers has contributed songs to both his friends’ repertoires over the years. On Austin City Limits he performed “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” and “The Drummer In Me.”
Austin City Limits is a production of KLRU/Austin, the Capital of Texas Public Telecommunications Council. Austin City Limits is distributed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and is funded in part by underwriters Fritos and IBM, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers. Transportation is provided by American Airlines.
Song List: Pam Tillis followed by a Guitar Pull with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Iris DeMent and Freddie Powers
Mi Vida Loca
You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me
The River and the Highway
Guitar Pull with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Iris DeMent and Freddie Powers
Sin City Blues (Merle Haggard)
Spirit (Willie Nelson)
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Freddie Powers)
Sweet Is The Melody (Iris DeMent)
Waiting Forever For You (Willie Nelson)
The Drummer in Me (Freddie Powers)
Hobo Bill (Iris DeMent)
Today I Started Loving You Again (Merle Haggard)
Pam Tillis — October 1995
Guitar Pull with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Iris Dement and Freddie Powers — November 1995