Tanya Tucker gets right to the point. “Whaddya want to know?” she asks over the phone in her trademark raspy drawl. We already know this: Tucker’s comeback album, While I’m Livin’—released last year and produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings—garnered two Grammy awards and countless accolades from critics and fans. But, like many artists, her touring was cut short in March due to the pandemic. Since then, Tucker has been shuttling between her ranch in Texas and a home outside of Nashville, hunkering down with her songwriter boyfriend, Craig Dillingham, and their two dogs—Ricky Ray, a chihuahua, and Stella, an English bulldog gifted to her by the actor Dennis Quaid.
To tide fans over until she can get back on the road, Tucker is releasing Live from the Troubadour, a 16-song set taken from a gig last October at the legendary Los Angeles club. The album, which Garden & Gun is proud to premiere below, includes many of the new songs as well as a handful of the country pioneer’s early hits, including her first chart-topper, 1972’s “Delta Dawn,” and “Strong Enough to Bend” as well as a transcendent medley of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Tucker has new tour dates scheduled for next summer, but you might get a chance to see her before that, albeit in a more unconventional setting.
Read our interview with Tucker and listen to the album below. Live from the Troubadour is out this Friday, October 16, with a portion of the proceeds going to support the music club, and available to order here.
Do you miss being on the road?
Oh yeah, but we just did a drive-in show in Kentucky. I could feel the love through the windshields. I think there were three or four hundred cars, and they allowed four people to a car. It was so cool. Not having an audience right there didn’t really bother me, and the screen behind was the biggest I’ve ever seen.
Do you still get nervous before you go on stage?
No, it’s not really a nervous thing. It’s just the will to want to be good, to make people happy and have them leave the show going, “Dang, she actually sounds better than she does on the record.” The desire to be loved and appreciated and you know, to not let them down. That’s the key for me.
I read an interview recently with Matt Berninger, the lead singer of the band The National, and he had a great line about performing: “When you walk out and see the people, I can’t tell you what that feels like. That’s euphoria, mixed with terror, mixed with exhaustion, mixed with adrenaline, mixed with alcohol, mixed with weed, mixed with teardrops, mixed with sweat.” Does that resonate with you?
I had all those before the Kentucky show except the weed [laughs]. I can’t believe anybody performs on that. I need all the energy I can get, and it’s just, as I’m getting older, it gets harder. My dad always said, “When you start doing something at 20, you can’t keep doing it at 40.” So I guess it’s not so important to shake my ass anymore.
But in YouTube videos from the Troubadour show, you’ve still got the moves.
It’s just built in. I’ve looked back on some of my shows I’ve done, and I’m standing there stiff as a board. But at some point, I just didn’t care if people knew I wanted to move it. I used to look at Tammy Wynette and Emmylou [Harris] and they just stand there and open their mouths. And I go, “Well, it keeps them from getting wrinkles.” I guess I’ve got more wrinkles than anybody because I’m so expressive.
Do you have a routine before each show?
Nope. It’s more like, “Have the dogs been fed? Where’s my other boot? Do I have to wear a bra with this thing?” That’s pretty much it. I have a little tequila shot with some fresh grapefruit juice with the band. Maybe a couple shots.
Who are your favorite live performers?
Well, Elvis was a big inspiration to me. But I tell you what, I went to see Dennis [Quaid] at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth and he was insane, man. I mean, he is a live wire. You could tell he loves it. He eats it up. And he’s not the greatest voice in the world and he knows that, but Johnny Cash would tell you the same thing: “I said I can’t sing, but I can sell.” And well, that’s the point.
Was there something in particular about Elvis that appealed to you?
I’d love to have a crowd like his because they were from 9 years old to 92. That’s something I always wanted to have in my career, a very broad age group of fans. I’m greedy when it comes to that. And I feel like my growth has been stunted somewhat because I have so much more to offer. I’d like to get those things done before I die. Some people die and say, “Well, I’ve done all I can do.” But I’ll be dying going, “No, no, no. There’s more things I need to do.”
What do you want to do?
There are a lot of things, but one right off the top of my head is that I’d love to do a whole album of standards. I already have the title: Classic Tanya. It would be some really great Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney type songs. I would love to do a children’s album and a duets album with some of my favorites, everyone from Eric Clapton to Jessi Colter.
Are you working on new songs?
Brandi [Carlile] called me yesterday, and just by talking to her, I get my juices going. I have a couple of ideas for songs, and so when I’m around people that are creative, it comes back to me. But I haven’t been around a whole lot of people, you know? The good thing about it is it’ll come back. I’m an idea girl, and I just need to have an architect. Putting together a song is like building a house. I’m going to start building some here pretty soon.