Tanya Tucker Gets Real: Brandi Carlile, John Prine, and Coming Back

Tucker Debuts Delta Dawn “Live From The Troubadour” 

“I had some hesitation about the songs,” Tanya Tucker says of what became While I’m Livin’, her 2020 Grammy Award-winning Country Album of the Year. “I didn’t know if they were strong enough, but I call it a God thing. I’ve never been so glad to be wrong in my life!”

Videos by American Songwriter

With that brazen laugh, equal parts tequila, dirt road and hay loft, Tucker confesses the awkward origins of her Shooter Jennings/Brandi Carlile-produced phoenix-rising project. If she wasn’t sure about the songs, she certainly couldn’t have imagined a year that would take her to Bonnaroo, the Newport Folk Festival and the Troubadour, the iconic West Hollywood club she’d never set foot in during her rock years living in Los Angeles.

The Troubadour now serves as the location for a career-spanning 15-song live set that drops Oct. 16 to benefit the National Independent Venues Association’s #SaveOurStages initiatives. The set closing “Amazing Grace” into her original career-exploding “Delta Dawn,” by the late Alex Harvey, debuts exclusively today.

If she’d known Jennings from a small boy, she’d never heard Carlile sing. But with blind faith, she kept heading West, arriving and almost literally going straight into the studio for the greatest career return since Jack White stewarded Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.

Ironically, it was by going back to the beginning the country firebrand’s next chapter took shape. As she recalls of those sessions, “It was all live, like with Billy Sherrill. I wouldn’t have been able to do this record if I’d thought about it. There was no ‘wait ‘til later’ to do anything. It was all NOW.

“Brandi was in the vocal booth with me. I’d never done that before. But the songs, I didn’t really know them. I’m reading them off a sheet of paper…”

A feral singer, Tucker’s performances transcend delivery. Still, these songs were something else.

While Carlile, Jennings and the Hanseroth Twins (Phil and Tim) had written or selected songs reflecting Tucker’s Outlaw journey, they were unlike any sort of Nashville song construct. Not that Tucker wasn’t used to unorthodox, given Live from the Troubadour’s set opening “Would You Lay With Me (In A Field of Stone),” her 1974 chart-topper written by the iconoclastic David Allen Coe.

Never one to shy away from risks, she confesses, “The last I went to LA to make a record, it was the TNT record, and country music disowned me. Some disc jockey in Louisiana called all these stations, saying I’d left country music and not to play me. But all I was trying to do was take country music to another level, to show it was beyond a horse and buggy…”

TNT was a more rock-leaning record, but it contained “Texas (When I Die),” one of Tucker’s most iconic hits. It also contains an impossibly steamy “Angel from Montgomery,” recorded with John Prine on harmony vocals.

“I think I’d heard Bonnie Raitt’s version, so normally, I would never do a song after that. So when I decided to, I said, ‘I want the guy who wrote it to sing it with me!’ Honor him, too.

“And it’s sweet, because from 1978, having first met him, I didn’t really know him. Then in the last few years, I got to be friends with John and his wife. We did a show in Florida together in Florida, in the rain, and I ran out and wiped the rain off his guitar, sang ‘Angel’ with him. It was so sweet.”

If TNT was a left turn, it hardly stopped the gravel’n’kerosene vocalist. She would return to Capitol Nashville in the mid-80s and unleash another torrent of hits, winning the Country Music Association’s 1991 Female Vocalist of the Year Award.

“I’d told my Dad I was ready to get back to work,” she explains of coming back to country after her rock foray. “And he told me, ‘Nobody’s going to sign you, Tanya. You’re record company poision.’”

Reaching out to Jerry Crutchfield, who’d produced her as a younger woman and could vouch for  Tucker in the studio, they took their shot. Calls were made. Capitol Nashville decided to take go ahead.

Tucker remembers the meeting, “I said to (label head) Jim Fogelsong, ‘There are a lot of things you’ve heard about me that are true. There are a lot of things you’ve heard about me that aren’t true. But I guarantee you, there is no one who’s a harder worker.’”

Drawing on the town’s emerging writers, Tucker enlisted many women including Matraca Berg, Beth Neilson Chapman and Marshall Chapman.

“People like to say it all begins with the song, but it really begins with the songwriter,” she begins. “Songwriters are my favorite people, and I love hanging out with them. I have a fondness for the way they think, their hearts, their creative spirits…”

With tracking for Livin’ almost done, when Carlile slipped into the control room with a proposition, it’s not surprising Tucker paused. But then jumped.

“Brandi said, ‘The band’s on break. Let’s go write that song idea you’ve had for years…’

“I wasn’t even sure, because I’d had this chorus idea, carrying it around for years… So I said, ‘Well, let me go to the bathroom,’ ‘cause I needed to think about it.”

When Tucker emerged, she found the studio empty. Carlile was in the piano room, and nobody was around. “We must’ve knocked it out in, oh, it must’ve been an hour. The band came back in, and we cut it.”

The song, of course, was “Bring Me My Flowers Now,” which would win the Grammy for Best Country Song. It would also provide the title While I’m Livin’ for the album. With that humility that underscores her bottomless bravado, Tucker says, “Sometimes the greatest things in the world happen without you even knowing it. The things in your world you don’t see coming, sometimes they’re better than anything you could’ve tried to put together.”

And in that same gratitude Live from the Troubadour was born.

“It was never my intention to make a live album. If it had been done as a proper recording, we’d’ve had a truck there. But with all these historic places in trouble because of (COVID), this seemed like a way to give something back. “We have a lot of great audiences and play a lot of different kinds of venues, so if it can help a little, then here we go.”

Leave a Reply

Ferris Pier Teams With Elle Winter For New Song, “Anywhere You Like”