Country music superstar Tanya Tucker at age 17 spoke with Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples for a Circus magazine story published June 1, 1976.
Republished here by permission.
Tanya Tucker is on the ‘Midnight Special’ stage wearing a “Happy Days” T-shirt given her by Anson Williams, leaning into Dennis Linde’s ‘Burnin’ Love’ with so much feeling it appears she will bust the seams of her oh-so-tight jeans: ‘I need a hunka hunka burnin’ love…”
Time was, a few years back, Tanya’s tender age was almost absurdly incongruous with her selection of body-heat tunes. But as she grows older, Tanya the woman is beginning to overtake Tanya the jailbait heartthrob.
She spoke with an assertive self-confidence rare among 17-year-olds as we conversed in her dressing room. Onstage, ELO was singing about evil women and strange magic. Hmmm. We talked about Nashville: “When I left Columbia and my first producer Billy Sherrill, everyone in Nashville thought I was crazy—’what?!? Leave the best country producer in Nashville?,’ and from there I was supposed to be a failure.” Since leaving Sherrill, she’s had one album produced by Snuff Garrett and her most recent, Lovin’ and Learnin’ (on MCA), was produced by Jerry Crutchfield.
“The problem in Nashville,” Tanya continued, “is that there isn’t that much done that’s really distinctive. The session players in Nashville are technically great, but so often the same players appear on so many albums. They tend to be mechanical sometimes, and they sometimes lack fire.”
Tanya’s musical tastes are maturing as she does. “The album that Snuffy produced was a little too soft and overproduced. There’s more of an honest feel to Lovin’ and Learning’—it’s a little more raw, not so much background stuff, which can get in the way. I once did a show with Glen Campbell, and he offered to let me use his orchestra for backup. No way. I’d rather have my own band.”
With Crutchfield, she also finds a greater sense of freedom in the studio. “Jerry picks the songs, mainly because I’m on the road practically all the time, but when it comes right down to it, I make the decision which songs to cut. I like to do a little of everything—stories, love songs—different songs that are not on your regular country albums. So many people get into doing songs with “I loved her and she left me’ hooks, so I look for unusual tunes and lyrics.”
Back on the Midnight Special stage, “Burnin’ Love” has effectively warmed both her band and the audience; TV producer Burt Sugarman broke from his usual ho-hum just-another-bunch-of-performers attitude to make a positive comment. She smokes through “Ain’t That A Shame,” the 1955 rocker, and her last two singles. The people give her an honestly enthusiastic response, which means the Special’s producers won’t have to splice scenes of wildly applauding people into the show as they often do.
After it’s all over, Tanya, her manager/father and road manager/brother pack it up for a ride back to the Howard Johnson’s motel nearby. The heavy schedule of appearances and interviews shows in her father’s eyes; Tanya yawns occasionally, but still has enough energy to talk about her band. What prompted her to pick up players who had done extensive work with Presley’s roadshows?
“Before we signed with MCA, we didn’t have very good pickers because we couldn’t afford to pay good pickers. As we made more appearances and the records started to do well, we hired a band from Chicago, but they didn’t work out very well because they wanted to do their own things—like Eagles and Ronstadt. So we fired them. After the MCA contract, things really started to happen, so we looked again. I met my present steel player, John Rich, at the Chicago airport. I remembered he had been on the Presley tour, so I asked him to put a band together for me a few weeks later. What an improvement!”
“I’ve had a lot of problems,” Tanya continued, “about how they dress onstage. Country people expect matching Nudie suits with rhinestones and all, but I’m through with that. I used to think that’s what it took to have a hot-looking band. But they want to dress as individuals, which is what I want. Sometimes they get a little too casual—my lead player wears painted tennis shoes and baggy pants that are too long, and he acts crazy onstage, which is fine usually. But I let them know when we play a nicer hall that I want them to be neat, however they dress. I used to say ‘no drinks before a show,’ because I don’t drink before a show and they could do it straight if I could. Now as long as they do a good show, they can play on the floor for that matter. It seems they play a little looser and a little better—more energy—after they’ve had a drink or two. They know how far they can go and that’s fine for them. Personally, I could never go onstage without full control of my senses. I’d just tense up. But they stay pretty straight, and they’re not dopies.”
Although she has not had what you call a normal adolescence, Tanya Tucker, the overprotected baby bitch of country music, grows toward Tanya Tucker, the self-confident woman. She shows no signs of burning out before she’s 21; she just keeps growing like any other person at 17.
Note from the author: Reading the last paragraph now makes me cringe. No excuses. Inappropriate. I deeply regret it and apologize to Ms. Tucker. — SKP
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is a features writer and photographer for KHTS Radio News (hometownstation.com) and SCVTV’s SCVNews.com. He also writes the occasional post for his own website and independently provides Web editorial and social media services for select clients. On TV, Peeples is host, writer and co-producer of the popular “House Blend” music and interview show on SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley (scvhouseblend.com). In addition, he delivers the KHTS/SCVTV “SCV Entertainment Beat” report Thursday night during SCVTV’s NewsBreak program. Peeples was the original award-winning writer/producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One (1988-1990) and a 1994 Grammy nominee as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” boxed set (MIPF/Rhino, 1992). Contact him at skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.
Photos: Courtesy Circus Magazine.