Q&A: Tanya Tucker
Like a comet colliding with a supernova, she exploded onto the country music scene at age 13, with the 1972 hit, “Delta Dawn.” Today, at 57, she’s an industry grande dame and one of its storied survivors, collecting a barrelful of hits including “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” “Blood Red and Goin’ Down” and “Lizzie and the Rainman.” Preparing to perform at the Golden Nugget Dec. 3 as part of Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Tucker spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Steve Bornfeld about her cherished dad, singing with feeling and returning to the town she once called home.
While your family lived in Utah, your dad came to Las Vegas and won $1,500 at keno that allowed you to make demo tapes, and you moved to a house trailer in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas, in 1969. Do you have good memories of that time?
At the Flamingo Hotel, I did three shows a night in the lounge. My dad had all kinds of trouble getting me in there. He had to sign something that said I wouldn’t be in the casino at all, that I would go do my show and immediately leave. Then I had to go to school, 8:30 in the morning. Sometimes I just couldn’t make it I was so tired, so I had to quit school. But I have a soft spot in my heart for Vegas. It’s like going home every time I go back. I’ve also had some of the worst nights of my life in Las Vegas (during her excessive partying in the early 1980s), but it’s still one of my favorite cities in the world.
Performing at such a young age with a lack of life experience, how did you put so much feeling into your songs?
From a very early age, my dad told me, “You’ve got two problems: One, you’re a girl. The other one is you’re a 9-year-old girl, so you’re going to have to sing it with twice as much feeling as whoever sang it first. Nobody is going to believe a kid singing, ‘You ain’t woman enough to take my man.’ It’s not going to be believable.” He got me to sing songs over and over with more feeling, like Hank Williams would. He somehow made me feel it myself. When I sing those songs now, they mean more to me. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, when I sing an old song of mine, that “Wow, I’m really singing and feeling these words.”
Does achieving success so young have adverse effects?
Success is good any way you get it at any time, whether you’re 14 or 40. And the definition of success changes as you continue along your journey. I was lucky that I had a really great set of parents, the best ever, or at least the best for me. They were a fortress, a stronghold for me. The easiest part for me was getting there. It’s staying there that’s so damn hard.
You went through some hard times, both personally and professionally. What do you think when you look back on that?
I have a tendency to look back and see the good. And if I look back at the bad things, I just glance at it, because I don’t want to stay there too long. I had to figure out that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a damn train.
Do you enjoy being an elder stateswoman on the country-music scene?
I love being part of the old and part of the new but mostly, being the bridge between the two.