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Tanya Tucker: Interview with a celebrated country icon (Includes interview)

A highly respected figure in country music, Tanya Tucker had, until fairly recently, been taking things easy. After a few years away from the scene, the blonde bombshell, number 20 on CMT’s countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2003, returned to touring earlier this year and is set to go again on July 17.

Before the telephone was passed to the talkative Texan, who later revealed that she used to do 250 shows a year “back in the day,” I exchanged pleasantries with her tour manager, James, who just happened to be English.

“This is Tanya,” was the next thing I heard, spoken in Ms. Tucker’s best English accent, her keen sense of humour immediately apparent. “I’m starting to talk like James now!”

On her welcome return to live performance, she states, “I just embarked on touring again – I’d been off for about four years. I was out doing my thing with my horses and my youngest daughter. We were travelling around in the horse trailer, visiting friends and just taking the time to enjoy life…

“Then they started putting this whole thing together and all the stars seemed to line up. Now I’m with new management and we’ve got a band. All of a sudden, they threw out that I was back on the road and now we’ve got 60 dates to do.

“The consensus from the fans was ‘get back on the road, we really want to see you’ – so I’m just trying to do what is wanted of me. It’s great that over the years I’ve built a great fanbase and we hope to pick up a few more. You can never have too many fans.”

Since her first hit, “Delta Dawn,” way back in 1972, the 56-year-old perfectionist (“I’m still working towards my best – it can never be good enough”) has remained an active presence in the singles chart, with 10 number ones and many other Top 10 hits. Which tend to get the best reaction when sung live?

“Oh my gosh, we only have so many songs… We just put our new band together, so they have not even had the chance to learn all my songs because I have so many of them. But we picked out a few and we’re working on those songs until we get them right, and then we’ll move onto the next ones.

“We cover a pretty good span of years, and then hopefully we’ll be adding some new music pretty soon. Making records is always fun and exciting and I’ve really gotten to love being in the studio. In the past I’ve spent a lot of time painting my nails and sleeping on the couch, but now I’m a bigger part of that process.”

We moved onto the aforementioned televised conversation (recorded last week, but showing this week) with famed talk show host Tavis Smiley. “What a fun interview that was,” enthuses the confirmed animal lover (Tanya takes her two dogs out on the road with her).

“I mean we could have talked all night long and I promised him I would come back and do segment two because he’s so easy to talk to. You can see his heart through his eyes and I really enjoyed talking with him… Plus he has Kevin Costner coming in in the next week or two and I told him I’m waiting on him to get a divorce because his true love is right here!”

“I can’t really remember everything we talked about,” admits Tanya, managed by her late father Beau right up until his death in 2006, opening up about what was discussed.

“We talked a lot about the past, a lot about my dad and the early days – before I even got started. That’s where the true story really lies; everything else everybody pretty much knows… But some of the real early things that me and my dad went through trying to get me started, and thank God for my dad. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be if it hadn’t been for him.”

I wondered whether the interview touched on her well-publicised troubles with drugs and alcohol back in the 1980s. “I think that was just a sort of stage I was going through… Everybody was doing everything, so it wasn’t something that was any different – I just happened to do it in the public eye.

“Anything I’ve done was not to hurt anybody else. I’ve had a lot of fun throughout my years and met a lot of great people, but I think that was mostly a stage. It’s quite common in this business and it stems from a lot of things. Loneliness is a lot of it…

“If you’re afraid to be lonely, then don’t get in this business! You’ll have the audience and all the love, and then all of a sudden you’re back in your room and there is nothing but a telephone with a dial on it – and maybe one in the bathroom if you’re lucky!”

Has the country ‘outlaw’ ever felt that she might have gone down the same tragic path as the late Mindy McCready, for example, had she not sought help for her addictions?

“No, never would have ended up like that – there’s not a chance in hell, and I feel so sorry for that situation… I mean anybody around her probably should have known that that was coming, but people are really unaware of how bad the pressure is in this country. It took Robin Williams to kind of put a light on it and say this is really something that needs to be dealt with.”

“I think a big part of addiction is loneliness and not having any idea where your place in life is,” continues the 56-year-old mother of three daughters. “I’m very well-grounded; I come from a great set of parents. Anything I ever did off the chart was my own doing, not from their teaching, that’s for sure. I think being grounded like that is what saved me.”

Finally, I asked the former teen sensation, the subject of a recent exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame, what advice she would give to any young female singers starting out today.

“Well, I’d just say ‘stick close to your parents,’ if you’ve got good parents, and stay close to the people… If you quit going to the grocery store, you get out of touch with what people really want from you.

“The everyday working man and his family is what makes my living and they’re more important than anything, to me. So you have to stay in touch with those people; you cannot isolate yourself. Put your head down, go through the storm and have a lot of faith.”

Tanya Tucker’s interview with Tavis Smiley will be broadcast on PBS on Friday July 10. Check your local listings for details.

To check on upcoming tour dates, visit her official website.

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