She has released some of Music City's top singles of the past two decades such as "Deep Down" and "Maybe It Was Memphis," but Pam Tillis's latest musical adventure has everyone talking - in and out of Nashville!
"I'm too close to it to be objective," the singer of her collaboration with up-and-coming R&B singer Kris Thomas, titled "Two Kings." The 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year told Billboard "I have to have people tell me if it's any good or not."
The song is a powerful piece of music that blends the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elvis Presley, as well as the social and cultural impacts the two men made. Tillis, who wrote the song with Brenda O'Brien, says that she's a little amazed at how much press the song has gotten so far given the humble beginnings of the composition.
"I think it started out more or less as a songwriting exercise," she says. "I met Brenda at a songwriting camp. She showed me a lyric. It was totally rough, but there was a great and unique idea in there. So, I made a few little suggestions. I said I could really hear a choir on there. I told her that she had an anthem or at least the beginnings of an anthem. So, she went and stewed on that, and the more she thought about it, the more fired up she became. She started working on it, and she called me and said 'We need to do this."
Though the singer's schedule was packed tight, there was something about the song that kept her coming back to it. "Anybody who knows Brenda knows she can be more than a little persuasive," she admits. "So, I told her, 'Let me see what I can do about it.' So, I rewrote it, and finally we made a demo of it. I wasn't even going to sing it. I was going to get someone else to do it. I was just trying to help her finish her song, but it just kind of took a life of its' own. I ended up singing it because I could hear it in my head and how I wanted it to sound."
That's when the musical experimentation began. "The demo sounded pretty country, but I thought 'Let's add a loop to it, and then it started not to really fit any one musical category - a little country, a little R&B, and a little Gospel. We just didn't want to pigeon-hole it. We made a video out of it, and we made a master. At that point in time, we found Kris and put his voice on it."
The performance and video - shot in Memphis - have caused quite a stir, particularly on YouTube. Her bluesy tones make for one of her most entertaining recordings to date. Could this be a new direction for the singer? She admits it's hard to say. "I wouldn't really say that, but then again, I didn't really write it for myself. Sometimes it's good not to worry about those kinds of things. But, I've always sang some R&B, so it wasn't really that out of character. But, the music that I've sang lately is a lot more country. It's a nice little detour."
Tillis says what makes this song so exciting was that there wasn't any major plan. It happened because of the power of the song. "We just put it out there, and didn't really have an agenda. We just said 'This song deserves to have life, so let's just let the chips fall where they fall. We've just been going through the comments and thoughts from people. I hope this is a good way to get Kris's voice exposed to people around the world. He's such a great singer."
When asked about her plans for 2012, Tillis said she was going to be on the road a lot. She has her regular concert dates scheduled, then will be performing as part of a all female trio with Megan Lynch and Mary Sue England. She's also got several dates planned with Lorrie Morgan, who she hopes to collaborate with in the studio. Another project she's excited about is an album full of re-recordings of her hits for Arista. She hopes fans will like her newer versions of the songs that added many to her fan base.
"There are a lot of sloppy re-recordings albums out there, so we wanted to take our time. She also has some new songs that she says she can't wait to record for a new country release. So, in the singer's words, "The Pam Tillis juggernaut hasn't even begun," she says with a smile.