A Q&A with Tanya Tucker
She was a country music sensation at age 13. Now, Tanya Tucker, a native of Seminole, talks about her life and her love of music 30 years later.
texasmonthly.com: This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of your hit, Delta Dawn. You have had more than forty top ten since then, and you say you’ve never thought of yourself as a star. Are you really that modest?
Tanya Tucker: I just don’t think about it too much. It’s just not prominent in my mind. I am appreciative of it though. My days are so busy. If I had a lot of time, I guess I might think about it a little more.
texasmonthly.com: Is that the price you pay for popularity, not having time to yourself, right?
TT: That’s part of it. Right now is a busy time because of the record. It’s make or break time. Right now it’s up in the 30’s, so it could go either way.
texasmonthly.com: So you really have to work it?
TT: Yeah, you give it that extra kick that it needs. You have to work extra hard for that.
texasmonthly.com: Is that more difficult to do as you get older?
TT: I don’t know if it is any harder. It’s always hard. The only thing that makes it more difficult is just the time thing. Now I have kids, a family, and a fiancée. It’s just extra added pieces of my attention that are going out. By the time I get done with that, and visit with my fans, if I have anything that I like to do at all, like my horses, that ends up suffering. Hell, I haven’t been down to the barn in…?
texasmonthly.com: Is it all worth it?
TT: Yes because eventually I want to be able to spend time doing those things, but you have to work and make the hay while the sun shines. You get used to doing that. It’s like a pay-and-play. There was a time there for a little bit when I had a lot of time on my hands. Right after I had Layla. My dad wanted to keep me off the road too. He wanted me to be totally dedicated to this album. I haven’t been able to do that before. Sometimes, I didn’t even know the songs when I went in. He wanted to be able to give me that luxury of being able to stay off the road long enough to cut an album. And it kind of worked out okay, because I was in litigation because of the record label. Then it went right into being off the road to cutting the album.
texasmonthly.com: Tell me more about the CD. It shows a more sensitive side of you. Is it easier to get in touch with that side as we get older?
TT: It’s definitely a more personal side, because it was dreamed up, thought up, recorded, and done with my input. From the time it was just a thought in our minds. It’s almost like our second child, because it is the same process.
texasmonthly.com: How is that different than projects you have done before, and is it easier to get in touch with your more sensitive side as you get older?
TT: After doing records and recording in different kinds of ways, I’m sure I’ve done all the ways there is to record—there are quite a few. I have developed a sense of the way I want to do it. We basically did everything I wanted to do.
texasmonthly.com: What was in the way of your being able to do that before?
TT: I just didn’t get any time. Whatever I did, I tried to put my heart into it, but sometimes I was rushed. A lot of times, I didn’t get to learn songs—really live with the songs. It would be great if people let you take home clothes and try them on and wear them for a little bit. That way you know if you really like them, and if they are really going to hold up, but they don’t let you do that.
texasmonthly.com: When you were younger was it more difficult to be vulnerable? And if so, did that get easier?
TT: I think probably so. There is good and bad at both ends. But I grew up in this business and was sort of taught that every day is a different day. There was no set sort of clockwork or anything repetitious—it was always different. I think I have locked into some things now that I’d like to keep the same—which are being able to live with the songs and being able to design them my way. That’s what we did with this CD. I mean, there were very few things that I didn’t get to do, and they were small things that the John Q public, the average listener, will never really pick up on—just small little things. I wanted different instruments. I wanted the Commodores to sing backup on the new single, but I wasn’t able to get them. But those kinds of things didn’t hurt the record. I would have loved to have had them, but who knows if I might have gotten them, and how the record might have sounded with them.
texasmonthly.com: You were part of a unique generation of women in country music—somewhere in between Dolly Parton and Shania Twain.
TT: In the middle—exactly. Someone once told me ‘You are part of the old and part of the new. Maybe you are just a bridge between the two.’ I kind of like that. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. On the one hand, I have the years of experience, and I still have to think about, ‘What would a newcomer do right now?’
texasmonthly.com: Has the attitude of the music changed? Is the level of passion different?
TT: I think we have lost a lot of passion for some reason, and I don’t know why. There are still a few of us around that still have it. I think that’s probably the reason I have lasted so long.
texasmonthly.com: In a recent review of your new CD, People magazine said you sing with a knowing maturity, befitting your station. What are your feelings about that comment?
TT: I don’t know that I sing with any more maturity than I did back then, even though I was not as knowledgeable, I feel like that’s the reason for my success—that people were able to transfer that passion to the ears.
texasmonthly.com: What is the one thing you sing about most passionately?
TT: Well, gosh, love. That’s what we all think about. I have always been known to sing with a lot of feeling. I might not have always known what I was singing about. I think at the very beginning of my career that’s why I wanted to keep it a secret that I was only thirteen.
texasmonthly.com: How were you able to do that at such a young age without the real-life experiences?
TT: That was probably due to my dad. He always coached me—when I was 7, 8, 9, 10, even on up—on feeling. He used Hank Williams as an example. When he sang a song, he made you feel like he was really going through it. You have to be able to project that in a song, especially a country song. That is basically what he taught me in the early stages of my life. He was from a small, little town. He left there when he was 14. He met my mother in Texas, and they married at 15. They have been married for about sixty years, and they live about two miles down the road from me.
texasmonthly.com: Do you feel particularly connected to Texas?
TT: Absolutely. Even though we moved away from there when I was only 9 months old, I feel a big connection to Texas. I have a lot of friends there, and most of my relatives are in Texas.
texasmonthly.com: So in your ideal Tanya Tucker world, you would be doing what?
TT: I would be doing about 60 dates a year, maybe a movie a year, and the rest of the time I would be home.
texasmonthly.com: That’s a lot of gigs.
TT: That’s quite a few.
texasmonthly.com: So you do still enjoy performing?
TT: I do. I do enjoy it.