After leaving the Air Force in 1955….Mel Tillis returned to Florida where he worked a number of odd jobs….and eventually finding employment with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Tampa, Florida….when he used his railroad pass to visit Nashville….and eventually met and auditioned for Wesley Rose of the famous Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose Music….where Hank Williams resided whilte writing and singing….as Rose encouraged Tillis to return to Florida and continue honing his songwriting skills. Tillis eventually moved to Nashville, Tennessee….and began writing songs full-time….when he wrote “I’m Tired”….which was a # 3 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957…..then came hits like “Honky Tonk Song” and “Tupelo County Jail”…..while Ray Price and Brenda Lee also charted hits with Tillis’ material around this time. In the late 1950’s….then after becoming a hit-making songwriter….he signed his own contract with Columbia Records…..and had his first Top 40 hit “The Violet and a Rose”….which was followed by the Top 25 hit “Sawmill”.
Although Mel Tillis charted on his own Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs list….he had more success as a songwriter….as he continued to be Webb Pierce’s songwriter…..while writing hits like “I Ain’t Never” (Tillis’ own future hit) and “Crazy, Wild Desire”….as artist like Bobby Bare, Tom Jones with “Detroit City”, Wanda Jackson and Stonewall Jackson also covered his songs. Tillis continued to record on his own…..while having well-known songs from his Columbia years which include “The Brooklyn Bridge”, “Loco Weed” and “Walk on, Boy”….however, at this point in his career, he did not achieve major success on the country charts on his own.
In the mid-1960’s, Tillis switched to Kapp Records…. and in 1965, he had his first Top 15 hit with “Wine”…. then came “Stateside” and “Life Turned Her That Way”….which was later covered by Ricky Van Shelton in 1988…while going to # 1. He wrote for Charley Pride with songs like “The Snakes Crawl At Night”….and wrote “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”….as a hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition….plus, he o wrote the hit “Mental Revenge” for Outlaw superstar Waylon Jennings….which has also been covered by the Hacienda Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Barbara Mandrell, and Jamey Johnson….then in 1968….Tillis achieved his first Top 10 hit with “Who’s Julie”….as he was often a featured singer on The Porter Wagoner Show.
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town“ is a song written by Mel Tillis….which is about a paralyzed veteran of a “crazy Asian war”….for which given the time of its release was widely assumed, but never explicitly stated, to be the Vietnam War….as this veteran either lies helplessly in bed or sits helplessly in his wheelchair as his wife “paints herself up” to go out for the evening without him….as he believes she is going in search of a lover….and as he hears the door slam behind her, he pleads for her to reconsider. The song was made famous by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition in 1969….while “Ruby” was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1966….plus, Johnny Darrell scored a number nine country hit with it in 1967.
In this video seen herewith….Mel Tillis performs “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town“ live on stage at Austin City Limits in 1979.