July 17, 1997 in Features

Tumbleweed Stampede Will Be A Family Affair

Don Adair Correspondent

They say country music is a family affair, and for proof you need look no further than Pam Tillis and Wade Hayes.

Tillis and Hayes play Sunday’s Tumbleweed Stampede at The Gorge. Little Texas, the Smokin’ Armadillos and the Ranch round out the bill.

Both Tillis and Hayes are country born and bred: Their fathers played music, with varying degrees of success.

Tillis’ father, Mel, was a major star of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The elder Hayes led a country band, too, but approached stardom only once, when he signed with an independent label that quickly failed.

Pam Tillis’ background didn’t provide her with an instant entree into the business. And she wasn’t sure she wanted one: She was nearly 30 and had explored a handful of career options before deciding to claim country music as her own.

She released a couple records on Warner Bros. that went nowhere and spent a few years paying dues. She wrote songs, sang on other people’s records and did the Nashville club circuit.

All of which helped prepare her for a powerhouse three-record breakthrough that began in 1991 with “Put Yourself in My Place,” continued with “Homeward Looking Angel” and “Sweetheart’s Dance,” from 1994.

With that run under her belt, Tillis was able to join a short list of female country stars with the savvy and power to produce their own records.

“Producing is what I needed to do this time,” she said after releasing her next record, “Of This Love.”

“This is the way I felt I could grow the most. I didn’t go into producing thinking that I knew everything there was to know; I was willing to experiment and learn along the way.”

If Tillis has enjoyed the fruits of her father’s success beyond the obvious advantage of name familiarity, it’s in her knowledge about the inner workings and the people of Nashville.

“I’ve worked with many of them since I was a kid,” she said. “I’ve never gotten anything but support from the musicians here. So it was really gratifying to be in the studio by myself (as a producer) and feel that coming from those people.”

Wade Hayes didn’t have that advantage when he undertook to conquer Nashville. In fact, he almost didn’t get there.

“I was trying to get through college to get a full-time job,” he recalled. “I knew in my heart it wasn’t what I wanted. I was miserable.”

It was 1991 and he had an epiphany during Ricky Skagg’s appearance on the broadcast of the Country Music Awards.

“Out of the clear blue, he said, ‘All of you young musicians that are struggling with your art, you need to go ahead and pursue it because that’s what you’re called to do.’ I knew when he said that, I was meant to hear it.”

Four years later, Hayes broke though with his debut LP, “Old Enough to Know Better.” It spawned two No. 1 singles on its way to going gold, and he won Billboard Magazine’s New Country Male Artist Award.

Known as one of the new traditionalists - his mentor was Alan Jackson - Hayes eschews smoke and fireworks in favor of a strong, musical stage show.

“If I’ve learned anything from Alan,” he said, “it’s the power of a song.”

If you didn’t hear much from Little Texas last year, it’s because they took the year off - from touring, at any rate. Late in ‘95, the members of the hard-working outfit decided they needed a road sabbatical to recharge their batteries and focus on writing new material.

“It really was an incredible experience for us,” said lead singer/songwriter Tim Rushlow, “because we were able to take a year off from the road, a lot of the strain, financial and otherwise, was off and everybody kind of opened up and started writing stuff like they’d never written before.”

Working among themselves and with other writers, Little Texas assembled a pool of 150 songs from which to choose.

The result was a more confident, more mature-sounding band: “We began discovering dimensions of ourselves that we weren’t even aware of before,” Rushlow said.

Certainly, the new record, the self-titled “Little Texas,” shows a broader range than its predecessors. Songs like “Ain’t No Time to Be Afraid,” “The Call” and “Yesterday’s Gone Forever” lend a new dimension to a band best known for its good-timey outlook.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Tumbleweed Stampede kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Gorge. Tickets are $19.65 (free for kids 12 and younger), available at Ticketmaster outlets or call (509) 735-0500.

This sidebar appeared with the story: The Tumbleweed Stampede kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Gorge. Tickets are $19.65 (free for kids 12 and younger), available at Ticketmaster outlets or call (509) 735-0500.

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