The sexual liberation of the sixties finally crashed country music’s gates in the early seventies, in the form of two young Texans: Sabinal’s Johnny Rodriguez, whose luxuriant black hair and Merle Haggard timbre made him country’s first “youth sex symbol,” per historian Bill C. Malone; and Seminole’s Tanya Tucker, with her skintight, midriff-baring outfits and husky alto—a mature voice for a very underage teen. The two often toured together during their early stardom, and they’ve reunited on Rodriguez’s first studio album in more than a decade. (Tucker made her own return to the studio after a ten-year absence with 2019’s While I’m Livin’, which won the Grammy for Best Country Album.) “A Game That I Can’t Win,” written by fellow Texan Dennis Quaid, is a classic-sounding, slow two-step weeper about broken-up lovers feeling the sting of each other’s absence. It’s potent, with Rodriguez, at age 71, crooning alongside Tucker, age 64, fifty years after they first made millions of country fans’ knees go weak.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “A Game That I Can’t Win.” Subscribe today.