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Floyd Tillman, 88; Country Music Icon Wrote Crossover Hits

August 27, 2003|From the Washington Post

Floyd Tillman, whose deep, plaintive drawl, honky-tonk guitar style and classic compositions about loss and adultery kept him a much admired musical force for decades, has died. He was 88.

Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984, he died Friday, after battling leukemia, at his home in Bacliff, Texas, south of Houston.

Tillman was influenced by a variety of pop, western swing and traditional country melodies as he rambled around in the 1930s.

Having established himself with such crossover hits as "It Makes No Difference Now" and "They Took the Stars Out of Heaven," Tillman broke new ground in post-World War II music, notably with "Slippin' Around." Considered daring for its blithe approach to adultery, the song became a million-selling duet in 1949 for Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely and also a top country recording for Ernest Tubb.

His last hit song was "It Just Tears Me Up" in 1960, but he never stopped performing on television or in clubs, or recording.

Most recently, he was finishing a soon-to-be-released album called "Floyd Tillman -- The Influence," on which he sang duets of his songs with Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Willie Nelson.

Nelson, in particular, cited Tillman as a chief influence as a singer and songwriter. As an early champion of the electric guitar in honky-tonk pop, Tillman also was revered by early rock 'n' rollers, having influenced the playing styles of Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Tillman was the youngest of 11 children born to a sharecropping family in Ryan, Okla. He was 3 months old when his family moved to Post, Texas.

He learned banjo and mandolin, and by age 18 was playing in a popular German-Czech swing band.

Bandleader-fiddler Leon "Pappy" Selph recruited Tillman as lead singer for the Blue Ridge Playboys, which included pianist Moon Mullican and steel guitarist Ted Daffan.

Selph and Tillman made their songwriting mark in 1938 with "It Makes No Difference Now."

First recorded by future Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis, the tune, which the duo sold for $300, also became a hit for Gene Autry, Bob Wills and, notably, Bing Crosby.

For Tillman, the song was the first of his many songs covered with great success by mainstream artists. Years later, Ray Charles and Diana Ross and the Supremes also did versions.

Among his other songs were "I Love You So Much It Hurts," "This Cold War With You" and "I Gotta Have My Baby Back."

Survivors include two sons from his first marriage.

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