Highly influential as a jazz-inflected singer whose style would influence
Willie Nelson, Floyd Tillman wrote an early pop crossover hit, "It Makes No
Difference Now," as well as one of country's best-known cheating songs,
As a recording artist, Tillman focused on Western swing and honky-tonk music,
but his songs traveled freely beyond categories. Tillman-penned songs have been
recorded by an array of performers, including Bing Crosby, Ray Charles, Andy
Williams, John Prine and Nelson, who called Tillman country music's "original
outlaw." That "outlaw" tag had nothing to do with Tillman's behavior. Rather,
Nelson was referring to Tillman's refusal to stay within the stereotypes of any
one musical genre.
Raised in Texas, Tillman played local dances as a young man. At those dances,
he would often bend notes and phrase lyrics behind the beat in a manner more in
line with jazz music than with country. He became a top-drawer, jazz-influenced
lead guitar player and worked in other performers' bands before signing with
Decca as a recording artist in 1939. By then, he had already experienced his
first songwriting success, as Cliff Bruner scored with a 1938 recording of "It
Makes No Difference Now," a song that would later be recorded by Bing Crosby,
Ray Charles, the Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. Tillman became a solo
star in 1944, on the strength of #1 hit "They Took the Stars Out of Heaven."
Also in 1944, Tillman had wartime hits with "Each Night at Nine" and "G.I.
Blues," each of which addressed the struggles of soldiers. Tillman himself
served as a radio operator in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Tillman's 1948 hit "I Love You So Much It Hurts" would spawn numerous cover
versions, and in 1949 he hit with "Slipping Around," a song about the
then-taboo theme of infidelity. "Slipping Around" was a #5 country hit for
Tillman in 1949, but it was Margaret Whiteman and Jimmy Wakely's version that
topped country and pop charts that same year.
Tillman tired of the road, and by the early 1950s he had ceased touring. He
remained a writer and occasional performer throughout his life, penning
hundreds of songs. Tillman entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984.
Shortly before his death, he participated in a tribute album, dueting on his
songs with admirers including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Dolly
Parton and others. Released in 2004, it was titled The Influence.