Derrek Kupish

Tanya Tucker on Johnny Cash, Earning Her Flowers and New Album 'Live From the Troubadour' [Interview]

Outlaw country queen Tanya Tucker follows up her Grammy-winning 2019 While I'm Livin' with Live From the Troubadoura 16-track album recorded live at the legendary West Hollywood venue. (A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Troubadour venue as part of the Save Our Stages initiative.)

A hitmaker since the age of 13, Tucker seems more interested in looking forward than looking back, which explains her made- in-honky-tonk-heaven partnership with Brandi Carlile and second-generation country troubadour Shooter Jennings on While I'm Livin'. ("I'm the only girl he called hoss," Tucker says of Waylon on Live From the Troubadour, before launching into "High Riding Heroes.") She holds court over an enraptured crowd with "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)" and "Bring My Flowers Now" and struts her way through "Hard Luck," "Texas (When I Die)" and a mashup of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Once again, Tanya Tucker has proved that she's earned her flowers and then some.

Wide Open Country caught up with Tucker to chat about Live From the Troubadour, early stage shows, pitching a song to Johnny Cash, her country legend mentors and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Wide Open Country: Everyone is missing live music this year — what does it mean to you to give your fans an album of live music right now?

Tanya Tucker: Well, I mean, it just fit. At the time I was doing the performance I never had any idea that all this was going to happen, you know? And so after it did, I'm thinking, 'Well, let's put something out to the fans and we'll try to help some of these older clubs that are barely surviving right now' — iconic clubs like the Troubadour, which has really been kind of the backbone of music. Elton John got his start there and The Eagles... We sold out the first night, so we had to do two nights and by happenstance, just luckily, we recorded it. And so the thought was, well, we'll give something to the fans...and it would benefit the Troubadour and maybe other artists would follow suit. And part of the proceeds will go to the Troubadour to help keep its doors open... It just worked out and I'm just glad to do it.

It seems like everybody's wanting some music. People can't go to shows and Lord knows it's put a real damper on our lives, not being able to perform. It's kind of taking our livelihood away. I said, 'Man, I've got to go get a job at McDonald's or something.' [Laughs]....But [the album] will benefit them and it'll  be something for the fans to get them through until we get back in the studio and do some stuff.

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WOC: You started performing onstage from an early age. Do you remember the first venue where you performed regularly?

TT: It would have to be the Palomino Club in Hollywood. That was a staple. Everybody played the Palomino... It's not there any longer, but that would be probably be the one club I could think think of that I played a lot of times.

WOC: Do you remember the first time you took the stage there? Were you nervous?

TT:  To me, I was a kid, so it was just another bar, but the good thing about it was I was 15, I think, the first time.  And I remember being on stage and looking back and I could see the wall there. There was a wall back behind some of the people and there was a sconce on the wall — a light. There was this guy standing under it. And I kept looking at him, thinking 'That guy looks familiar'...And I finally figured out it was Waylon Jennings. So he came back after and of course we talked and I just felt like we started a lifelong friendship right then and there.

One of the other iconic nights was the night before Evel Knievel went to [jail]...I wasn't performing. I was just there hanging out and we hung out and had a good time...That was kind of a wild night.

Derreck Kupish

WOC: I love the mashup of "I'm on Fire" and "Ring of Fire" on the live album. Is it true that you pitched a song to Johnny Cash at the first Farm Aid?

TT: Oh was just an incredible moment. I was standing there and everybody was somebody. I mean, there was not an unknown face in that crowd. It was the first Farm Aid... I had just left [Merle] Haggard's bus and walked off stage. And I think [John] Mellencamp — back then I think he was called John Cougar — he was playing and the stage was circular. So one band would be getting ready to go and one band would be onstage in Champaign, Illinois.... All of a sudden I heard a guy say [in a low voice] 'Tanya.' Marty Haggard, Merle's son, said ' T, I think Johnny Cash is calling for you.' I went 'No way, am I in trouble?' [Laughs] I turned around and there he was about 20 feet from me. So we just started slowly walking toward each other and he said, 'How you doing?' He gave me a big hug. And then of course I had to pitch him a song. So [I pitched him a song idea called] 'You Got the Man in Black Feeling Blue.' I think Billy Joe Shaver finished the song with him. I asked [Cash's son] John Carter Cash the other day, I said, 'Make sure you try to find out if your dad ever recorded that song'...So I need to call him back and see if they ever found it. That would be unreal.

It was a great moment. I love me some Cash. In more ways than one. [Laughs]

WOC: You've said "Bring My Flowers Now" is your favorite song you've ever recorded. Could you talk a bit about what that song means to you and why it's so special to you?

TT: Well, I'd had the chorus for I don't know how many years — I really haven't figured it out. I've had it at least from the time I was 11.  I know it's been that long because I found a book. I wrote it down in this songbook of mine that I had when I was a kid. So I had the chorus, but I never could get the meat — the verses — going...When we were recording this album in L.A., Brandi [Carlile] came in. It was the last day of the sessions after three weeks. She said, 'Hey T, the band's on break. Why don't we write that idea you had for so long'... I probably looked like a deer in the headlights when she said it, but I thought about it and I walked into the studio. The band was eating dinner and they were outside in the little hangout room and she was at the piano. I walked in and she started on that first line [singing] 'All the miles' And, wow, it just opened up a can of worms and we went with it. We finished writing it and as soon as we finished...we went right to the vocal booth.

The band came in and it pushed the record button and that's what you hear on the record. So it's a piece of me I think about it, it's probably better that it was this long in the making. If I'd have done it back then, I don't know if people would have accepted it as much because they know I've lived it. It's not just something I'm just singing real good. You know, my dad always told me to put more feeling in the song than whoever sang it first because I was a kid and they weren't going to believe me because the words were too adult...

My dad always told me, back when I was a kid, he said, 'Tanya, one of the biggest records you'll ever have is the one you write yourself.' So I hear him now more than I ever did when he was here.

Derreck Kupish

WOC: What was the best advice your dad ever gave you?

TT: You don't have a couple of weeks, do you? [Laughs] Because I've got a whole little book of them. I wanna have a little coffee table book...He's given me so much advice and I think that advice is coming in handy now more than ever. He never was wrong. That could have irritated a 22 year old kid...but he was always right. He just always gave me really good advice. Oh God, I think there's a whole mess of them. [He'd say] 'If you see a guy driving towards you with one headlight out, nine times out of 10, he's drunk.' Or 'If you go to some of these bars and see a real good-looking guy and he's a really good dancer, nine times out of 10, he ain't worth a sh-t because he ain't been working — he's been dancing. But every now and then you get a Fred Astaire.' Things like that. 'Always be yourself. Love yourself, Tanya. Or nobody else will.' That was probably a hard one for me to swallow because I needed approval. I needed to be loved by people before I could really approve of myself. And it really works the other way around. I could write a book.

WOC: Did you have an artist who served as a mentor to you?

TT: Gosh, you know, they all give me advice. They were all good about that — Tammy [Wynette], especially Tammy. Tammy was good about that. And Loretta [Lynn] — they were my two best friends besides George [Jones]. George was my really great friend. Haggard was a friend, but I was closer to George...Haggard was a lot harder to get to know than Jones was. Everybody was very good to me. I have nothing but good things to say about my peers and the ones that came before me and laid the groundwork.

It goes back and forth. The older [artists] need the younger [artists]. That was my position. Even though I was still busting my ass on the road and making a living, I didn't have any records out. So Brandi [Carlile] came along and Shooter [Jennings] and they changed all that... We were successful. That's the one in a million case scenario. I don't think that happens a lot, but it did and I'm grateful.



'Live From the Troubadour' Track List:

1.   Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)

2.   Jamestown Ferry

3.   What's Your Mama's Name, Child

4.   Blood Red And Goin' Down

5.   Strong Enough To Bend

6.   I'm On Fire / Ring Of Fire (Medley)

7.   Mustang Ridge

8.   The Wheels Of Laredo

9.   I Don't Owe You Anything

10.   High Ridin' Heroes

11.   Hard Luck

12.   Interlude

13.   Bring My Flowers Now

14.   Texas (When I Die)

15.   It's A Little Too Late

16.   Delta Dawn

Now Watch: Songs Every Tanya Tucker Fan Knows By Heart