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Tanya Tucker On Life In The Music Industry

Tanya Tucker, Country Music's Wild Child on Music, Motherhood, and Making a Difference in Fans' Lives 

(Webster & Associates)

Long before Taylor Swift or LeAnn Rimes, there was one teenage country singer exploding onto the scene like never before. Country music had teen stars like Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson, but when Tanya Tucker released her debut single "Delta Dawn" in 1972, she outshone her predecessors and paved the way for those to follow.

With a career spanning about 45 years, Tucker is considered one of country music's most successful female performers. Her back catalogue boasts such hits such as "Can I See You Tonight," "San Antonio Stroll," "Love Me Like You Used To," "Two Sparrows in a Hurricane," and "Walking Shoes." Tucker's voice, punctuated by a smoky southern drawl, is instantly recognizable today as it was when she was thirteen.  

During the last four decades, Tucker has been on top of the charts, a tabloid fixture, gave birth to three children, and released 29 albums.

After the release of her 2009 album, My Turn, Tucker took a much needed break. "Just recently, I took about four years off and I lost both of my parents - I think it was just a lot of things- being in the business a long time. I didn't know if I wanted to go back into it. And I have three kids who are into music. I was out on the road with my youngest daughter Layla and we were just being gypsies for about a year."

While vacationing in Colorado with her daughter last year, Tucker got an unexpected jumpstart to making a comeback. "The Country Music Hall of Fame called and wanted to do an exhibit on me. I was thinking its a little premature because I'm don't have anything going on right now. When I did that, I just went from 0 to 200 miles per hour in about three days. Everything came together. The consensus was the fans wanted me back on the road. Then I got new management, which I haven't had since my dad passed. I got a whole new team of people, which I've never had before and they said, 'We're gonna throw your name out.' And it's been overwhelmingly positive and we got about 40 dates of the bat. I wasn't really ready, but I'm doing it."

Tucker at the Country music Hall of Fame earlier this year. (Jason Davis,Getty Images)

Now currently on her North American tour, Tanya Tucker spoke on the phone to Up To Tempo's Brooklyn Brown-Sater for an open, no holds barred interview.

Brooklyn Brown-Sater: You released "Delta Dawn" at thirteen years old, then next year you had your first number one single with "What's Your Mama's Name," and became the first country singer to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone at fifteen. What was that period like for you?

Tanya Tucker: "Oh it was tough. I mean, there wasn't anything easy about it. I played a lot of shopping centers (laughs), but it was a lot of hard work. I saw the back entrance of every gig we played and I usually had to have a house band. I didn't get my own band until I was probably about 16. So it was me and my dad just out there on the road trying to make ends meat, ya know? I was still going to school. Let's see, I had to quit school when I was 15 because I was working in Las Vegas in the Flamingo doing three shows a night. Coming home and trying to go to school just caught up with me. So, you know, those times were fun and great to recall but it was really a difficult time, but I had my dad and we were just out there like road warriors. 

Starting so young, you paved the way for women who came after you, especially the Taylor Swifts and LeAnn Rimes. Did your realize at the time that you were making history in the country music industry? 

"No, no I had no idea. I was just out there doing all I knew how to do. It's very flattering when I hear that. I mean, I hope so, I hope I was a part of that. I don't really think of myself that way, but I am certainly flattered at the suggestion." 

Other women in country like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn have referenced that it (in the 1970s) was a tough time for women in country music and you became famous at a time when women were still being referred to as 'girl singers.' Do you feel that sexism is still present in the industry?

"I think it always will be. I mean, it's just the way it is. It's always been that way. I think there's several females that have crossed that point and done very well, but not as many as the males. But you know, I never really thought about that all too much. Just being a kid coming up, I wasn't aware of it at that age. As I've gotten older, people remind me all the time there's just not as many women out there hittin' it like the men. I don't understand it. I don't know why that is. t's always been more difficult for the women in this business. It's just something that comes with the territory."

You've been doing this for over forty years. How has the recording process changed over the years?

"Well it's changed dramatically - even the way they make records now. I still like to make them with musicians and me in the room trying to come up with something really cool for the public, ya know the people that but the records. It's always a challenge to see what they're going to like. It's important. I care about what people like, but there's a fine line of making music that I really think is good and hoping that the public thinks it's good. That's when you have a real sweet, magical moment. I'm always trying to find that one great song. There was a period of time when I didn't record, several in my career. There was one time back in the 1980's. I took like three years off and I was out in California just doing the Love Boat and Fantasy Island, getting a little acting in, and then I got back to business in '86 when I went back to Nashville and got a record deal with Capitol Records and we made thirteen really great albums. I've been working on an album, but didn't know what I was going to do with it because so much has changed. Cds are going out now. Vinyl came back a little bit but it's been hard on the labels, records stores are closing. So I don't know what the next step is gonna be, but I wanna be right there when we take it." 

You've launched a nationwide tour, your first in a while. What can the fans expect?

"I'm just going on stage and doing the hits. The songs the fans wanna hear. We're not doing any new music yet - which I do have. Thank God for Randy Travis. He's letting me use his bus. Everything fell into place. I have a brand new band. I feel like I'm starting from square one again; I'm doing the same thing over, but differently. We're playing a lot of small dates because I haven't been out there for a while and it's not like riding a bicycle. I just really want to be the best I can be, you know, for the fans."

You've mentioned that you've been working on an album.

"You have to take the steps you have to take to make sure that the music is heard and it doesn't fall by the waste side as so much of my stuff has. I just wanna be careful as to who I hand over this record to because it doesn't matter if it's a 'MacArthur's Park' if the fans and people can't hear it." 

"I listen to the stuff I've recorded in the car because that's the way the people are going to hear it. I listen to it on an old jambox, because not everyone has a great sound system. I'm in the throws of this right now. I've been in the studio a lot, painted my nails and slept a lot before, but now I'm part of the production and everything that goes on I have to know about. It's a different field for me. it's scary, but it's very rewarding if it comes out the way I think it should come out. I really believe in this next record and I can't wait for it to come out so I can do some of these new songs on stage. I gotta tell you, I'm getting sick of singing my songs, haha. I've been singing 'em for 45 years... I'd like to have some new stuff to sing." 

(Webster & Associates)

You touched on the record stores closing and radio having a hard time. That has to make it a little difficult because many different genres of music like to state that they respect their veteran performers, but in country music it is especially difficult for women of a certain age to get on the radio. It's nice to see satellite radio get behind artists, especially women.

"Yeah that is good. Satellite radio is really a savior for us I think. It's really an important entity. It's really a beauty contest. It's a popularity contest, whoever's got the most promotion. Of course they want young entertainers, that's understandable. Everybody's gonna get that way sooner or later. I always said Buck Owens was male vocalist in 1965 and what's changed? He still sounded the same when he was alive. It has to be public opinion and promotion. They do the promotion basically where they tell you what to like. They play it enough where you have to like it." 

"I like these different shows on satellite radio. I just did the Outlaw channel, a big interview for that. I love Willie's Roadhouse because they play a lot of old stuff that was big before I was even born. My kids are very, very knowledgeable of all kinds of music, mores than I ever was. They really are more aware of music than me." 

You have a large, diverse fan base.

"I'm blessed I have a large fan base. My fans from when I was a kid have kids now and they bring them to see me at the shows. We have from 8 to 82, you know, so we have a wide range. It's all about the fans, the more fans you have, the better off your life is. They're passing down the music."  

You even have a decent sized gay following.

"Yes, yes I do! I do! And Native Americans are big fans as,well. But, I have a big gay following and I think that's awesome. I'm gonna give Cher a run for her money."

What does it mean to you to know that your music touches different ages and different types of people?

"Well it's wonderful, I mean, that's what we live for. That what we do this for. When I hear an artist say they don't really care think and they're gonna do what they wanna do I cringe because it's what people like that makes you. And you've gotta find a balance where you love it too. It's totally possible. I try to find songs I think, 'they touch me,' and I think they'll touch somebody else too."

With mentioning your gay following, 2014 and 2015 have been quite remarkable years for the LGBT community. In the country industry musicians Chely Wright, Billy Gillman, and Ty Herndon have come out in an industry with quite the conservative fan base. Do you think there's a place for a gay country superstar?

"Yeah, it used to be a death sentence, but absolutely I think its just inevitable. You can't, you just can't be prejudiced about that kind of stuff. It's obvious people live their own lives and just because someone isn't like you doesn't mean you they should be outed. You know, the color of your skin shouldn't matter. Nothing should matter. The music is all that should matter and how it makes that person feel. And the more the merrier I say. I love it. I am glad to see everyone's getting' to be a little more opened about it."

Dolly Parton was one of the first country artists to be openly supportive, Reba released a song about AIDS, and you have spoken openly about you support in the 80's and 90's when it was quite unpopular in country music to do so. Now there are more and more people who are openly supportive in an industry where at one time it was considered a  career death sentence.

"Absolutely, and still does in certain ways. It's been something that's gotta come out. It can't be held in anymore. Too many people's lives are destroyed over it. I've been so interested in all this with Bruce Jenner. The whole world has been interested. It's something that's hard to understand, but you know, that's the way it is. I have to give Caitlyn my, um what would you call it, approval or support. All the power to her. We'll take 'em all in."

"I really feel that way. I think we're all God's children. I was in Sturgis doing Full Throttle and i was asked if I would let a transgender woman do my makeup and I said 'Well yeah, why not?'  We got to talking' and she said that since she was an eight year old boy she wanted to be me all these years and was a big fan. We had a great conversation and I said a shout out to her onstage and afterwards she was just thrilled that I would recognize her because she hasn't had great support. I asked her what did her dad say, and she said 'he never hugged me my whole life. When I stood up he hugged me and said now I understand.' So it was great that at least the parents were supportive of her."

"It was so amazing that she said she wanted to be me and enlightening to me. It made me understand a little bit more about how I can change some things and I can make music matter to people. And I am touching people. So those kinds of things help me because we get on our bus and we get the walls up, and I say 'we'- me and this mouth I have in my pocket, but we go behind our walls and we don't think about sometimes what we're doing and if it's making a difference. Those little things that someone might say to me are so important, really, very much. 

(Webster & Associates)

You mentioned your children earlier. You're a single mom. Was is hard being a mother in the industry?

"Yeah, I mean at first. The first baby was Presley and I always wanted the picket fence and the husband and the kids and all that but it didn't work out that way for me. And it didn't work out that way for me because I didn't want to say 'I do' when I didn't know if I was, you know? I knew I wanted my kids. They were all very planned out and very wanted. There was nothing illegitimate about them. I think that word should be dropped fro the English language. "

"With Presley, I started showing after about four or five months so I finally had to break down and tell everyone and my dad. We had to tell the record company and figure out how we would put this to the people so they would accept it. I really didn't have any trouble to speak of. i might have, but I never knew of it. But I'm very proud of my kids. They're all very wanted and loved and needed."

We kind of got to know your family on your TLC show Tuckerville that aired in 2005. Was that daunting for you because people weren't just seeing Tanya the singer, they were also seeing the woman and the mother?

"Well, you really expose yourself when you're on one of those things. The only problem with it is they tent to start wanting to script you. They start coming up with ideas. Two camera crews, one on one end of the house and the other with me, and I didn't know what the one crew was doing. If I had of known I'd have pulled my son's ears off for some of the things they put him up to. We didn't want to be scripted, but Hollywood don't wanna wait. It just got to where we didn't wanna do it anymore because of that and a very manipulative producer. so we quit doing it."

Just one last question. You're often referred to as a rebel or country music's original wild child. Do you cringe when you hear the reference or has it become a badge of honor?

 "I'm not regretful. Not regretful at all. I'm not saying that I'm standing here going 'Oh I'm proud of that!' Being a rebel is alright with me because I'm always going to be a rebel. You know, I don't really try to be now, it just sorta happens. If rebel means going against things that are not cool and that I don't believe in then so be it, that's what I am. 

(Webster & Associates)

Brooklyn Brown-Sater is the Style & Entertainment Editor for UpToTempo. Follow her on Twitter: @bbrownsater

Brooklyn & UpToTempo would like to thank: Tanya Tucker, Grayson Tucker, Scott Adkins at Webster Public Relations, & James Garner at CTK Management.

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