Tanya Tucker: My Turn Tanya Tucker recorded her first hit single when she was 13. Now, after nearly four decades in the music business, a Grammy nomination and a tumultuous past few years, the country singer has released a new album, called My Turn.
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Tanya Tucker: Living In A Country Song

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Tanya Tucker: Living In A Country Song

Tanya Tucker: Living In A Country Song

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Ms. TANYA TUCKER (Musician): I want to be the first one on the moon. I want to be the first artist to play on the moon.

(Soundbite of laughter)


That's Tanya Tucker. She didn't launch her singing career on some reality TV show or YouTube, for that matter outer space. The story of her nearly four decades in the music business is refreshingly old-fashioned. She was born in Texas. She sang in contests all over the Southwest and was 13 years old when her first single hit the charts. It wasn't some bubble-gum pop tune — "Delta Dawn" was about an older woman remembering the lover who left her.

(Soundbite of song, "Delta Dawn")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) She's forty-one and her daddy still calls her baby, all the folks around Brownsville say she's crazy.

SIMON: Several years, hit singles and a Grammy nomination later, Tanya Tucker was living inside a country song. She moved from Nashville to Los Angeles and back. She publicly dated Glen Campbell and a few more names we could rattle off. She sought comfort in alcohol and cocaine. After a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic, Tanya Tucker kept making albums. She has a new one out, it's called "My Turn." She joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. TUCKER: Hello there.

SIMON: You've had a life, haven't you?

Ms. TUCKER: I have - I have.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Nine lives I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, good for you. How did you - this CD is what you could almost call a great American country songbook. What did you want to put on here. How did you decide?

Ms. TUCKER: They're classic songs from people, from the artists that I grew up listening to and singing a lot of their songs. I kind of wanted to call it "Songs My Daddy Wanted Me To Sing." This album is a tribute to my dad. And he was in the studio with me, believe me, when I was singing every song. And of course, immediately when I walked out of the studio after singing the last song, I realized there were about 30 more I should've done.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: So maybe we'll have volume two, who knows.

SIMON: Let's listen to a little bit of a real classic, "Ramblin Fever."

(Soundbite of song, "Ramblin Fever")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) My hat don't hang on the same nail too long, my ears can't stand to hear the same old song, an' I don't leave the highway long enough, to bog down in the mud, 'cos I've got ramblin' fever in my blood.

SIMON: Boy, that's a great song. A Merle Haggard song, as many of us first heard it, and you do it so well here.

Ms. TUCKER: Yes, sir. Well, Merle Haggard is - wow, he's tall timber to me. I mean I've listened to him all my life and I've been able to do shows with him and become kind of close with him. As close as you can get to Merle Haggard. And man, you know, if I'd thought about it too much, I probably wouldn't have done it. I'd probably run scared out of the studio. But you can't think too much about the originals because they were so great. I just want to pay tribute to some of the greats in country music and that's what this record's about.

SIMON: For people who haven't heard the story recently, your father used to drive you to things like talent shows all over Arizona. And then how old were you when Mel Tillis said, I like the way that girl sings?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Maybe I got to bring her up on stage?

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, well, he didn't say it that quickly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Oh no, that's right. Mel Tillis had a very famous stutter, didn't he?

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, when I was eight years my mother took me to the Douglas County Fair in Douglas, Arizona - Cochise County Fair, actually. And she said, go up there and talk to him. So he was sitting in a station wagon with another gentleman. He said what, what, what can we help you with? Then I said, well, I wanted to know how you get started in this business. And he looked at me and said, well, can you - sing?

And I said, I think so. My daddy says I can. And so he said, meet me backstage and we're going to hear you. So I sang him "Your Cheatin' Heart." And he said -after I finished he said, how many do you want to do on the first show?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: So he put me on the stage and unfortunately I couldn't be on the second show because my mother was afraid to drive all the way back to Wilcox with no spare tire.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's hear a little music.

Ms. TUCKER: Okay.

SIMON: I'd like to - let's hear a little "Is Anybody Going To San Antone."

Ms. TUCKER: All right, Charley Pride.

(Soundbite of song, "Is Anybody Going To San Antone")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) Wind whipping down the neck of my shirt, like I aint got nothing on, but I'd rather fight the wind and rain, than what I've been fighting at home, yonder comes a truck with the US mail, people writing letters back home, tomorrow he'll probably want me back, but I'll still be just as gone.

SIMON: Now, I hear a little - is that a little like a little San Antonio (unintelligible) in there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, that's Bloco(ph) on a squeeze box.

SIMON: Is that really?

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, you know, he played on all…

SIMON: Bloco Jimenez(ph). I didn't know that.

Ms. TUCKER: (Unintelligible) records. So we took a little, another road on this song, and it's one of my favorites, and Charley Pride is one of my idols, and always has been. And in fact, I saw him sing this song the first time in Arizona, at the Arizona State Fair, when I was 11 years old. And you talk about going crazy now. He was closing the show behind (unintelligible) Young and Merle Haggard. And when he hit that, Is anybody goin to San Antone, or Phoenix Arizona, I mean the crowd went wild, including me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: How do you think the way you approach songs now has changed from when you were younger? Because when you were younger you were not singing kids material.

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, well, I would have to say that my taste has always been for more of an adult song because that's all I ever knew. That's what I grew up singing. So when I spent 17 or 18 weeks on "The Lew King Ranger Show," in Phoenix, Arizona, my dad - we'd left Wilcox trying to get me started, and Phoenix was the first big town. So he thought that was a good place to start.

And I went out to try out for the talent show they have on the show every week, and it's a morning kids show. When I tried out, they said, no, we want you on as a regular. So I did 18 weeks singing "Here Comes Peter Cottontail."

SIMON: Oh, I'd give anything - I'd give anything to hear that.

Ms. TUCKER: "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window." And I finally - after 18 weeks I said, daddy, I can't take it no more. I can't take it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Can we talk about what I'll refer to delicately as the lost and confused years?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, if I could remember half of them. If I can remember what you're going to ask me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, those were - those were the '80s, you know, end of the '70s and into the '80s I was out in California tearing it up. But you know, I was just living my life, and of course the papers were recording it and everything I did, and taking pictures. And so it made it I think a lot more dramatic than it actually was.

SIMON: Were you in fact having a good time, looking back now?

Ms. TUCKER: Oh, I had a blast. I had a blast. I did more, I drank more.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I was looking for, you know…

Ms. TUCKER: Oh yeah.

SIMON: …for you to say, oh, I regret all of it.

Ms. TUCKER: No, no, no, I drank more, I did more coke than anybody. I could last more days than anybody, because I was young, you know?

SIMON: Excuse me, I want to tell my daughters to get away from the radio now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Go ahead.

Ms. TUCKER: It's a kind of thing that, again, my dad was right on top of it. He ended up moving me out of LA, which was probably a good thing. But you know, LA, New York, Nashville, it's all over the place now. So y'all got it even worse than my dad had it.

SIMON: Let's hear, if we could, "Walk Through This World With Me."

Ms. TUCKER: Oh yeah. George Jones.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk Through This World With Me")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) Walk through this world with me, go where I go. Share all my dreams with me, I need you so. In life we search and some of us find I've looked for you a long, long time.

SIMON: A song about your daddy?

Ms. TUCKER: Oh, no. Nothing greater than a George Jones song. Now, this is -well, you know what? I never thought about it like that. Yeah, that's an excellent song for my dad, actually, amazing. What a song to dedicate to him. And it's true, because we were, you know, we were partners, you know, in whatever we did. You know, my world kind of felt apart when he passed away on Thanksgiving morning in 2006. And I'll tell you what, I've got great family and great friends and fantastic fans that have really helped my pull through. Wow. Thank you for that.

SIMON: Ms. Tucker, you've been a delight. Glad we could be here. Hope we talk to you again. Thank you so much.

Ms. TUCKER: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: Tanya Tucker, her new CD, "My Turn."

(Soundbite of song, "Walk Through This World With Me")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) I've looked for you so...

SIMON: And you can hear songs from "My Turn" at our Web site, nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) Come take my hand and walk through this world with me, baby, come take my hand and walk through this world with me…

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