Tanya Tucker's 'While I'm Livin" Marks The Country Star's Return After first shooting to fame in the 1970s, Tucker is back with her first full-length studio album in more than a decade called While I'm Livin'.
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Tanya Tucker Is Back And Taking No Prisoners

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Tanya Tucker Is Back And Taking No Prisoners

Tanya Tucker Is Back And Taking No Prisoners

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The September 1974 cover of Rolling Stone featured a closeup of a teenage girl's face looking over her shoulder. And this was the headline. "I'm Tanya Tucker. I'm 15. You're Gonna Hear From Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELTA DAWN")

TANYA TUCKER: (Singing) Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

CHANG: By that time, she had already had a string of hits, starting with "Delta Dawn." And over the decades, she kept returning to our radios. There were hit albums, Grammy nominations and an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Now Tanya Tucker is back with her first album of original music in 17 years. It's called "While I'm Livin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING MY FLOWERS NOW")

TUCKER: Bring my flowers now while I'm livin'. I won't need your love when I'm gone.

CHANG: My co-host Ari Shapiro spoke with Tucker about the new album.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: "While I'm Livin'" was produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, a new generation of country stars. Those fresh ears and fresh ideas helped Tucker finish a song she'd been thinking about for decades, "Bring My Flowers Now."

TUCKER: It was a song that I've had an idea for - I'm thinking about 40 years, maybe. And it took us about 20 minutes to write it, to finish it. And so I say, well, it took me 40 years and 20 minutes to write the song (laughter).

SHAPIRO: What was the core of this that was rattling around in your brain for 40 years?

TUCKER: Well, I had the chorus, but I just couldn't come up with the verses and tried many times to do it and just never was successful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING MY FLOWERS NOW")

TUCKER: (Singing) Wish I'd been a better friend, a better daughter to my mother. There's no going back when your back's against the wind.

SHAPIRO: The first time I heard this song, it reminded me of something my father said to me while my grandmother was in her last days. And he said, if you've got a choice between flying out here while she's alive and coming out for the funeral, come see her now.

TUCKER: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: You know?

TUCKER: That's exactly right. Because I've always wondered, even since I was a kid, why they sent flowers. And people, that's the only time they get together or see each other, is at a funeral. That didn't make sense to me. Just kind of had it back-asswards (ph) to me.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

TUCKER: And I like to share and be with someone when I can. Of course, you know, our schedules these days makes it difficult. But do the things and see the people that you really need to see and - 'cause you sure all can't do it when they're gone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING MY FLOWERS NOW")

TUCKER: (Singing) If your heart is in them flowers, bring 'em home.

SHAPIRO: When you listen to these songs and then you listen to albums that you recorded in the '70s, what kind of an evolution do you hear? Or do you think this is just a very clear, straight throughline?

TUCKER: In those days, we recorded all those records or those tracks - "Delta Dawn" on up to - probably the first MCA album was the only time, the first time, I ever did an overdub or ever had a set of headphones.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying you recorded them as though it was live? Everybody was in the room. They were doing a take, beginning to end.

TUCKER: Exactly. And if somebody messed up, we had to do it all over again.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

TUCKER: So, you know, that was the way. And I thank the good Lord for that because this situation with Brandi and Shooter, we did all this live.

SHAPIRO: So this is kind of, like, a throwback for you?

TUCKER: It's like going back to the beginning.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TUCKER: I don't think I could've done this album that way if I hadn't had that experience in the very, very beginning of my career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WHEELS OF LAREDO")

TUCKER: (Singing) And if I was a white-crowned sparrow, well, I would float upon the southern skies of blue. But I'm stuck inside the wheels of Laredo wishin' I was rollin' back to you.

SHAPIRO: I hesitate to ask you to point out your flaws, but imperfections can create beauty, right? So is there somewhere on this album that you can point to something that you might have wanted to smooth over, but because it is a little rougher it actually works better?

TUCKER: Yeah. I could tell you a lot of things.

SHAPIRO: Give me one.

TUCKER: You know, well, the one is on "Laredo," at the very end. The one, the - the very last, (singing) wish I was rollin' back to you. Wish I was rollin'.

I wanted to go way up on it, and I didn't.

SHAPIRO: I just got goose bumps.

TUCKER: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WHEELS OF LAREDO")

TUCKER: (Singing) Wish I was rollin' back to you. Wish I was rollin' back to you.

SHAPIRO: You've always been associated with the country outlaw movement. Do you identify with that label? What does that mean to you?

TUCKER: Well, I think maybe it was that in country music, especially, most of the gals, they didn't move around much. They pretty much stood there and sang. And sang great, I might add. I can't do that. I can't stand still.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG RIDGE")

TUCKER: (Singing) Now I'm flyin' like an angel on Dead Man's Run. I got the devil ridin' on my tail.

I think that might've got it started. Plus, I dressed a lot different than most of the gals in country music. You know, I had leather on and tight pants. And when I moved, I moved because I felt it. You know? And I think they took it and kind of went to the outlaw side of things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG RIDGE")

TUCKER: (Singing) I ain't never goin' back to Mustang Ridge.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you about the song "Hard Luck" because I know it's actually an old tune, but it seems almost autobiographical.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD LUCK")

TUCKER: (Singing) Now look at my life and all the trouble I've had. Shows what you get when you got to be bad. Hard luck. I keep truckin'. Born to a hard-luck world.

Well, we changed a lot of the lines 'cause at first, when I first heard the song, I didn't like it at all.

SHAPIRO: Really?

TUCKER: The lyrics - just, no. It wasn't a really great demo, in my mind (laughter). You know, I try to hear through a lot of things, but I couldn't even hear through that one. But when we started working on it, we changed the lyric. And it works. And everybody's singin' on it. I mean, I got my lawyer, got my managers. Dennis Quaid's on it. My...

SHAPIRO: What?

TUCKER: ...Friend, Norman Howell, and Trisha. He's a stunt man that actually got me the horse for the album cover. And just so many different people were singin' on it. It was a lot of fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD LUCK")

TUCKER: (Singing) Oh, my story's so sad.

SHAPIRO: I'm just picturing everybody crowded into the studio around the microphone.

TUCKER: It was really cute.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD LUCK")

TUCKER: (Singing) Oh, so bad. Listen up, y'all.

SHAPIRO: So you now have been making music professionally for almost 50 years.

TUCKER: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: What do you think you understand about making music now that you did not understand when you were that mega-famous teenager?

TUCKER: You know, I just kind of let go, let God. I think that's the name I choose to call my higher power. And I let him rock through me. Because, you know, I've - the one thing I do know after all these years is that I'm not doing it by myself. It's coming through me. And there's a reason for that. I don't know what it is, but I just know that it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T OWE YOU ANYTHING")

TUCKER: (Singing) Aw, I've got somethin' to say.

SHAPIRO: Well, Tanya Tucker, it has been so great to talk with you. Thank you for joining us today.

TUCKER: Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking to you.

SHAPIRO: Her new album is called "While I'm Livin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T OWE YOU ANYTHING")

TUCKER: (Singing) Learnin' the hard way? It might be easier than you think.

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