Interview: Tanya Tucker Talks Hall of Fame Exhibit, Career Highlights + Women in Country
In 1972, 13-year-old Tanya Tucker scored her first country hit with 'Delta Dawn,' which reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. In the more than 40 years since -- filled with plenty of hits, personal troubles and even reality TV -- Tucker has become an irreplaceable part of country music history.
Born in 1958 to Jesse "Beau" and Juanita Tucker, Tanya Denise Tucker earned her first record deal after Bill Sherill, producer and then-head of A&R at CBS Records, signed her to Columbia. When word got around that the voice behind 'Delta Dawn' was just a teenager, Tucker became a country sensation: In two years' time, the songstress scored six consecutive Top 10 hits, including three No. 1s, and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. On her 16th birthday (Oct. 10, 1974), Tucker signed a $1.4 million contract with MCA Records.
Tucker has countless awards and hits to her name, but her personal life is just as well known. Throughout her years as a star, she was romantically linked to Glen Campbell, who was 20-plus years older, among others; spent time in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse in the late '80s; and earned criticism from some in the industry for being a single mother.
Now 56, Tucker is the subject of a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 'Tanya Tucker: Strong Enough to Bend,' which is now open through May 2015. She spoke with The Boot about the exhibit, her career, her family and much more in the following interview.
Tell me about the new Hall of Fame exhibit: How did it come about? How much input did you have?
First of all, this is kind of surreal to me right now ... I was very excited about it. I've been gone. I haven't been back to Nashville, I've been kind of on a journey, and I just kind of didn't want to do it ... I was working on a new record, but that's pretty much it. It kind of stopped for me for a little while, and [I knew I had to] get back to my roots, and when they said ... "You've gotta come for this Hall of Fame thing, they're doing this big display, exhibit and all that," I said, "Well, gosh dang," you know? I guess it's God's way of saying I need to get back to work.
So it was the first of many things we've got planned. I'm right in the middle of my journey here, and I'd prefer this have been a little later so I could have had my new record out at the same time, but you know what? God works in strange ways, so maybe this is this perfect time to do it.
I've very honored, and I will not have any of the credit for putting this together. My [current] assistant and my ex-assistant, who is one of my best friends, and all the people here at the Hall of Fame, they went out, and then they said they needed pictures of things, and I'd tell them the stories about it, so that's kind of how that all happened.
Do you have a favorite piece in the exhibit?
Oh my gosh, they all have special meaning. I think probably one of the cool things is my Harley. My first Harley is here, my pink Harley, and so I think that would be fun for people to see because I really love that bike, and I can't think of a better place for it to be than the Hall of Fame.
But there's a lot of things that mean so much to me, or otherwise they wouldn't be in here, you know? ... But I've got 10,000 square feet that's about 90 percent clothes ... Just over the years, it's a collective. It's been about 45 years, and you tend to keep a lot. There are some things that I didn't keep -- I wish I had 'em -- or I don't know where they are.
You mentioned a new album and some other plans that are in the works. Can you tell me more about that?
Not really right now, because I don't know which ones will come to fruition. There's just so many things here ... I'll tell you what though, I've really enjoyed being in the studio, more than I ever have. It used to be, it was a job -- you know, come in, do my job and leave. But now, I'm the producer, so I get to be a part of everything, and I'm getting to do it, and if I don't like it, I'll go back and do something else. So that's kind of been my experience.
It's been 10 years since I've started this record, so I've got a lot, and I've had pieces here and there that we record, and I've had a lot of help ... to finish the record and cut a few more. But I think it's -- I don't want to jinx anything. I would much rather the people love it than me, but if I love it, and they don't, then I'm gonna be really upset [laughs]. I just hope they like it because that's all that matters. You gotta serve ... so I serve the public.
Let's go back to the beginning of your career. Like you said, you've been in the studio for a long time ...
Yeah, but I haven't enjoyed it as much before ... This time, I've gotten to learn the songs, you know, backwards and forwards. It's just a lot of differences.
So how do you think what you experienced as a "child star," so to speak, is different from what those in a similar situation today face?
Oh, yeah, social media ... It'd probably be a lot different. But I can't -- it'd only be a guesstimate, you know. I'd just be guessing at what it would have been like if it hadn't been like it was.
I think it was just a way of my life as it was intended, because there's that just ... were the reasons that I was able to keep going. And sometimes I think about it and go, "How did I not [give up]?" I think it was because I had a daddy that believed in me, and as long as he believed in me, then I thought, "Well, I can make it." So ...
And I just have to get that again because he's not here in person. But I hear him every day when I talk to my kids, I hear him in their ear. It's a frustrating deal!
I've really enjoyed being in the studio, more than I ever have. It used to be, it was a job ... But now, I'm the producer, so I get to be a part of everything.
Do you feel like there was something specific you learned from your father that helped you in your career?
Everything. I think so ... I really want to hang on to [the country stars I admired growing up] as long as I can. I really want to make some records with some of my favorites, like Charley Pride and Merle Haggard and Crystal Gale and Loretta [Lynn] ... sing some songs with some people I've always adored.
Speaking of her, what do you think about Loretta Lynn's new record deal?
I'd better be singing one with her! She'd better be calling my ass! I'm gonna go out and spend the night with her and hang out with her and have girls' night in and just talk about things and maybe write a song. I've had this idea before to write, with her, called 'More Like You' ... so I've gotta drive out there sometime.
But I'll have to call her and congratulate her. Eighty-one years old, can you believe? That sun of a buck! I'd love to sing with my hero. She went from being my hero to being my friend, and then back to being my hero again.
Are there any female singers out right now that really excite you?
I really like Miranda [Lambert]. You know, I like 'em all, I really do. Carrie [Underwood]'s great. I think she's perfect; I don't think there's anything ... she's gotta have a big ol' mole on her butt or something, I don't know. I can't find anything wrong with her! She's just perfect ... but she's great, and I think that Miranda, man, she's just got that fire, and I like that. I like that a lot. She's spicy.
How do you think the landscape has changed for women in country between when you were coming up and now?
Hey, I didn't have a dang band until -- you know, I was still going to school ... Loretta's the reason I'm here, and Hag's the reason I'm here, and then the reason Hag's here is because of Lefty [Frizzell]. You know, it goes on in circles. But I think -- well, I know -- it's just night and day. It's so night and day that it's not even funny.
But it's great that there's opportunities, more for women than there has been in the last few years. It's always going to be a man's world, and I'm all for equal rights and all that for women. I think women are a lot stronger than men and can know how we work better. It's hard for a man sitting up in an office to tell a country singer what works and how to build their lives ... So I'm glad to see that there's more girls coming out. And the men, the boys, they sound a lot alike. I think us girls, they sound way different. Some of them [male country singers], I can't tell them apart.
It's an easier time to get started, and it's a harder time. It's really harder to stay there than it is to get started these days, or any day, really. Staying there's the hard part ... And my avenues are the ones that worked for me. It just happened that way for me because I had a great daddy that loved me and believed in me more than I ever believed in myself.
You've mentioned your dad a lot, and you have three kids [Presley, Beau and Layla]. Do you ever find yourself going, 'I sound just like my dad!'?
It's an easier time to get started, and it's a harder time. It's really harder to stay there than it is to get started these days ... Staying there's the hard part.
You've heard about "payback's a b---h?" Well, that's what it is ... But we've been traveling together ... and just having a great time doing things that I haven't been able to do without a schedule ... So I've been taking some time to really get closer to my kids and get closer to my youngster, my youngest one, and to help my oldest daughter, Presley, who is now writing and singing. She's working her little butt off and doing it on her own. So, you have to respect that, and I do. And my son's off ... he's putting a band together, and they're going to do the California thing, and my youngest is just, [I'm] being a mama, and [she's] having school, and just really getting to know each other. Even though she's been there, growing up, it just seems a lot different now ...
I want my kids to be successful. Every parent wants their children to be successful, and if I raise kids better than me, then I've done my job.
I was going to ask if any of your children had musical aspirations ...
All of 'em! ... And they know more about music and songs and artists than I ever did, and that's really cool, really cool. Plus, I can play with them!
They've been on stage a lot, but they always have that little intimidation factor, that I'm their mother.