Tanya Tucker

Tanya Tucker on life on the road and her new album.

Evan Smith: You must be so happy to have your new record out.

Tanya Tucker: Well, yeah. I’m just happy people are still interested. I didn’t know that would happen with a record of covers.

ES: I think it’s about you, but I agree—it’s also about your decision to perform these extraordinary songs.

TT: Most of them were songs that I sang as a youngster, ones that my dad had introduced me to or songs that I had heard all my life and had never sung but had always wanted to. It was a real challenge for me to do them to the best of my ability. You know, you have the original staring you in the face. That’s never bothered me too much, but a few times it has. Like if I hear a Delbert McClinton demo. It’s like, “Whoa, how am I going to beat that?”

ES: The originals were sung not by shrinking violets but by big personalities like Ray Price and Buck Owens, people who play leading roles in the history of country music. And yet listening to your versions, you’ve managed to make them your own.

TT: That’s the ultimate compliment, but I could never make them mine. To me, they’ll never be as good. These folks are my heroes. How can you outdo your heroes? The way I look at it, I’m paying tribute to artists who inspire me.

ES: Tell me about your approach to the material.

TT: I had those songs in my head. On some of them, like “Crazy Arms,” I had a little bit of recoil, because after I finished it, I thought, “Man, maybe I should have done that a little bit more like Ray Price.” And someone said, “No, no, you did your own thing. You didn’t lose the magic.” Some people take originals and make them into something I don’t like, but then some people do something else with them and I think, “Wow, what a difference.” Norah Jones did Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart,” and I loved it, even though it was completely different from the original. I can only hope and pray that people like my versions as much as I liked hers.

ES: How did you settle on the songs on My Turn ?

TT: Pete Anderson, my producer, came over to my house—

ES: He’s Dwight Yoakam’s producer, isn’t he?

TT: Yeah, and he played guitar on all of Dwight’s records, and I told him he had to play on mine too [laughs]. So he came over to my house in Malibu, and he had a list of songs. Of course it was wonderful to work with him. He’s got that Bakersfield kind of sound, but at the same time he’s very knowledgeable about old country.

ES: So you didn’t make the selections yourself?

TT: Oh, absolutely not. There were a few of them I was pretty much against. One of them I can recall is “Big, Big Love.” Wynn Stewart wasn’t on this planet long enough, but the song of his that I remember the most is “It’s Such a Pretty World Today.” That was one of his big hits. But Pete said, “Let’s not do the obvious.” Even when I was doing the final vocals, I said, “Pete, I don’t know if I really like this song.” And it’s one of my favorites on the whole record.

ES: You said there were some songs you would like to cover if you ever do another record like this one.

TT: Oh, God, yeah. Some really classic songs. “For the Good Times.” “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” I love “Me and Bobby McGee”—I haven’t done my own version of that one. “Make the World Go Away.” Got to put some Loretta Lynn songs in there too: “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ ” or “Fist City” or “Your Squaw Is on the Warpath.” That’s the problem I had with Merle Haggard and George Jones. Which of their songs should I pick? I could do a whole album of Merle Haggard songs.

ES: It’s almost cruel to have to choose.

TT: It is cruel! I used to go to Printer’s Alley [the legendary Nashville hot spot] back in my wilder days, and I could sing a whole hour of Merle Haggard—just one song after the other. But [for this record] I didn’t do the songs that I sang back then. I chose “Ramblin’ Fever,” which is one of my favorites, but it was probably the most difficult for me because I’m such a Merle Haggard freak. I just think, “Mine sucks compared to his.”

ES: It’s a trip to hear you talk about the old days. Even though you’re only fifty, you’ve been doing this a long time.

TT: Someone once said to me, “You’re a part of the old and a part of the new, but did you ever think that you might be the bridge between the two?” Well, I feel like a bridge. And no longer over troubled water.

ES: Most everyone gets past it.

TT: You’ve got to, and if you don’t, you die. Michael Jackson is a perfect example of that.

ES: Can we return to the topic of your dad for a second? He seems, years after his death, very much on your mind.

TT: All the time, and especially when I was recording these songs. There was no memorial, no tribute, after my dad passed away. I wanted to do something publicly. I realized when I was singing in the studio, he was right there with me. When Pete sent me “Lovesick Blues,” I said, “This is my dad, my early years.” My dad would tell me to “sing it like Hank Williams,” to “put it in there like he would.” He’d say, “You’ve got two strikes against you: You’re a female, and you’re nine years old, so you’re going to have to sing it with twice as much feeling as anybody has ever sung it,

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