Female Friday: Tanya Tucker

This has been the start of a new chapter for the iconic artist...

Written by Cillea Houghton
Female Friday: Tanya Tucker
Tanya Tucker; Photo credit: Derrek Kupish

Tanya Tucker confesses she has some catching up to do. Though she’s been a part of the music industry for nearly half a century, it seems as though the husky-voiced Tucker has experienced an artistic rebirth with her latest studio album, While I’m Livin,’ co-produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings. The 2019 project gave Tucker her first Grammy wins in 2020 for Best Country Album and Best Country Song for “Bring My Flowers Now” after a total of 14 career nominations. As a follow-up, the singer released Live From The Troubadour in October of this year, in an effort to raise funds for the famous venue as it struggles from the effects of Covid-19.

As we chat from the road, she’s on a bus driving through Texas with boyfriend and musician Craig Dillingham at the wheel, and takes a spontaneous phone call from Johnny Lee in the middle of our phone call, adding her signature free-spirited stamp on the conversation. As wild and free as ever, Tucker opens up the personal meaning behind her Grammy Awards, an impending duets album, her desire to be a lifelong student and much more.    

You are a Renaissance woman and have had a career resurgence over the past few years. How does that feel?

It’s an amazing feeling. But this comeback, I was always around. I was busy for 20 years, I just didn’t make a record. But I have a lot of catching up to do, this record is just the beginning for me, again. Now, in a way, it’s even more incredible because I’m a little freer than I was when you build your career and try to do all the things and sing all the songs that are the ones that you think are going to put your mark on. Now I’ve got some ideas of my own that I want to do after 40-something albums. I’ve got two albums, they’re both in the can, that I’ve been working on for a couple years, and they’re ready to go. But along came Brandi [Carlile] and nobody was really interested in those records or those songs and now after [While I’ve Livin’], she’s got a lot of people interested in it. So I think it’ll be interesting to see what they think of it, an album that I did all by myself.

I’ve got an album of duets almost ready to go with Jessi Colter, David Allen Coe, Dennis Quaid, Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile. I’ve got Brenda Lee and some really great friends that I’ve wanted and some great songs, so I want to do about four or five more duets. I’ve got some choice ones; I’d love to do one with Joe Walsh and Tony Bennett, I’d love to do something with him, and Eric Clapton of course is high on the list, but I’ve got a lot of people I’d like to sing with. I’d like to do a children’s album. I’d love to do an album in Spanish, so the Mexican, Spanish, Latino market, love to do that. So there’s a lot of songs and a lot of things that I have yet to do and it’s so cool to be in this business 50 years and still had some things; I’ve never done a Christmas album, so I’m going to do one of those. So there’s lots of things left for me to do, and I’m just kind of playing catch up.

grammy awards winners brandi carlile tanya tucker and shooter jennings
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 26: (L-R) Shooter Jennings, Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile accept Best Country Album for “While I’m Livin'” onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

I want to talk about your two Grammy wins this year for While I’m Livin’ and “Bring My Flowers Now.” Tell me about how it felt to have this recognition with these awards at this point in your career.

Anything I can’t explain, I just said it’s a God thing, and I think that he had a big hand in that. Only thing I regret is that my dad and mother weren’t there, but I had them sewn in a Double D Ranch [that] does my clothes and they dress me out of Yoakum, Texas and they made that suit that I wore that night special-made, and they sewed my mother and dad’s name into the sleeves. They said, ‘your mom and daddy are going to be right with you,’ so I thought that was special, and it meant so much to me that they would think to do that. I didn’t ask them, they just did it, everything was special about it. I had one of my very best friends there, Hank Thompson from Austin, I’ve known him forever, and then Dennis [Quaid] was one of my guests and Shooter [Jennings]. It was a lot of work, a lot of pressure. I said to somebody ‘losing is no pressure. It’s a lot less pressure losing, but winning, the pressure’s on, you gotta be on and it’s not easy.’

But it was really wonderful that people from all genres of music were backstage and running around and I got a chance to meet a lot of them, different ones that I’ve always wondered about. It was really cool to walk down the aisle and everybody going ‘I’m so proud of you,’ Smokey Robinson [saying to Dillingham] ‘we really needed that song [“Bring My Flowers Now”] tonight. We needed to hear that tonight,’ and almost in tears when he heard me sing it. So that’s really special, those kinds of things. But now, no time to lay down and relax. It’s time right now to get it in gear. We got two out of four Grammys this year and hopefully we’ll be nominated for six and get three [Laughs]. I’m just glad, I really can’t believe it, keep pinching myself.

If I win another Grammy or not, I always aim for it, now we’ll keep aiming [for] the Oscar. There’s always something else to aim for, but to keep my sights set on that, that’s a pretty good way to do it. Brandi was all about that. I think it was so important for her and my team and her team and Shooter’s team and for themselves to win it.  I was so glad to win it for them and they were really happy, so it was great because I didn’t win it by myself. There was a lot of unsung heroes underneath that layer, underneath that golden statue that they didn’t mention, but I know if it hadn’t been for all of them put together, then it wouldn’t have happened.

Thinking back when you started out and were picking songs as a young adult, what kind of songs were you drawn to then and what kind of songs are you drawn to now?

What attracts me to [songs] I can never explain, it’s just a feeling I get. Like “Delta Dawn,” I was a kid when I picked that song, so how would I know to pick that song about a 41-year-old woman, I don’t know. It chose me, and that’s the way I feel. My taste back then was always for more of an adult song, and I can’t explain that. I don’t really know why or what draws me to a song because sometimes it can be the lyrics, sometimes it can be the melody, it just depends. I have not cut a whole lot of songs that I really didn’t like. Sometimes you cut a song and you think you’ll like it and then afterwards you go ‘I’m not quite sure.’ So very few of those have I had because I’ve got to live with them for the rest of my life and I want to sing songs that I really love. “Delta Dawn,” I never get tired of singing it. I’ve had some great songs. I’m really proud of my catalog.

What keeps you inspired? What keeps you motivated and creative all these years in this industry?

I think just being around creative people. To me, when I’m around someone that’s creative in doing what I do, whether it’s Brandi and the twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth or Craig or some of my songwriting friends always thinking of a song, it keeps the juices flowing. It’s really just constantly wanting to say what needs to be said and what everybody can relate to. “Bring My Flowers Now,” you relate to that, because the flowers are just decorations, they’re everywhere. [The person is] gone, so it’s not for them. So “bring my flowers” just means show people you love them, tell them you love them, don’t ever regret that. You regret it if you don’t do it.

My brother is in the hospital now, it could be weeks, it could be months. I wrote that line [‘So don’t wait to help your sister/Forgive your brother and your neighbor’] so that was kind of little pieces of me in there. And my horse, Jesse Ray, I lost him last year, year before, and he was 31, and I said ‘I want to write a song about him’ and I never could do it. And then when Brandi and I were finishing this, I had this idea when we started writing it in the studio that day and the last day in the studio, right before we recorded it, Jesse Ray came in, he just showed up. One day, me and Jesse Ray we’re going to ride again.

What are some of the biggest ways that you have evolved as an artist and a person, and how do you feel like that evolution is reflected in your art and music?

Life is a learning process, and you stop learning I think when you hang it up, put you in the ground. I don’t know if I want to go in the ground, but the day I die, that’s the day I’ll stop learning. [I] just want to be a sponge, learn as much as I can, and there’s always something to learn and there’s always something to realize that I’m not the only one in this world and if I was, it’d be a lonely place. So it takes other people to make my world go ‘round. Without them, I’m nothing, so I’m going to try to be the best. I think I said it best in my song [“Messes”], Chuck Cannon said it best, he wrote it, ‘It’s written on my soul to rise above the crowd/And the angels sing my praises right out loud.’ That would be the ultimate for the people to praise me, yes it’s wonderful, but for the angels to, that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s the ultimate. I said to somebody, ‘I just want to be one of God’s girlfriends [Laughs].