To make her new album, “While I’m Livin’,” it could be said that country star Tanya Tucker went on the musical equivalent of a blind date.
When Tucker arrived in Los Angeles to get into the studio, she hadn’t discussed the type of album she was going to make with Shooter Jennings, the co-producer for the project.
Before arriving to the recording session, Tucker had also not met Brandi Carlile nor had she heard her music. In fact, she knew very little about Carlile, who teamed up with her long-time musical partners, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, to write most of the songs for “While I’m Livin’.”
“Finding out that the twins and Brandi wrote all of these songs, most all of them, custom fit to me, I mean, how do you do that?” Tucker remarked. “How do you write songs for a person you’ve never met and you don’t really know and custom fit (them)?
“I totally believe that’s a real talent right there,” she said. “I don’t know how they did it, but they did. I just adore them for that. We’ve become very close friends, and I just adore all three of them.”
But much like a blind date that starts on a sour note, Tucker’s initial impression of the songs presented by Carlile ... well, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“I wasn’t sure about the songs, really. I don’t know if it was the space I was in, right after Christmas, I don’t know if I was in a melancholy mood or what. But I was listening to the songs and I just thought ‘No, I just don’t hear anything.’”
In fact, just a few days before she was due at the studio, Tucker tried to call off the session, only to be talked into giving the project a try by Jennings. (She’s known Shooter since he was a baby through her friendship with his late father Waylon Jennings.) He then got Carlile involved as co-producer and songwriter.
Once Tucker arrived in Los Angeles and got into the flow of recording, doing full vocal takes of the songs with no overdubs or fixes, she warmed to the task at hand.
As for Carlile, she jumped at the chance to be part of the “While I’m Livin’” project. Wasting little time, she and the Hanseroth twins started researching Tucker’s life and music, building bits and pieces from her life and times into the lyrics to bring an autobiographical dimension to the songs, which have an earthy, acoustic-centric feel that straddles the lines between country, folk and rock.
Carlile had been a long-time fan of Tucker, who burst onto the country scene in 1972 at age 13, when her song, “Delta Dawn,” became a huge country hit. A couple of years later, Tucker landed on the cover of “Rolling Stone” magazine, with a headline that read “Hi, I’m Tanya Tucker, I’m 15. You’re gonna hear from me.”
And Tucker made good on that promise — and then some. During the 1970s, she reeled off a string of hit singles that included “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” “Blood Red and Goin’ Down” and “Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone),” returned to the charts in a big way in the mid-to-late 1980s with hits like “Down to My Last Teardrop,” “(Without You) What Do I Do With Me” and “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane” and had one last brush with chart success in 1994 with the Top 5 hit “Hangin’ In.”
She also became known for a number of romantic relationships with high-profile stars including Merle Haggard, Don Johnson, Andy Gibb and most famously Glen Campbell. Musically, she is credited with being one of the few women associated with the late 1970s outlaw country movement for her accessible rock-tinged country sound, while her tough and sexy persona made her stand out in the conservative world of country music.
Tucker, who has gone 17 years since her last album of original material, is just getting started with playing shows in support of the new album. She’ll visit Hard Rock Hotel & Casino 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Her set list has been opening with “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone),” then moves into some of her early hits and later material and a few songs from “While I’m Livin’” before finishing up with “Delta Dawn.” Tucker wasn’t the one who came up with this sequence of songs.
“The first show we did for the record, for this album, was at the Exit In in Nashville, which is kind of like the Troubadour of Nashville,” Tucker said. “I just didn’t know what (songs) to do, so I asked my friend, Frank Liddell, who’s a great producer and a friend of mine, and I said ‘Man, what do you think I should do?’ He actually did the set list for me.
“I was thankful that Frank had a vision for that because that’s not really one of my fortes there, doing a set list,” she admitted. “I really don’t know what people expect from me. I know they want to hear my hits and all that, but there is an art form to having the right set list and having the flow of the whole thing go right. It kind of builds up to a crescendo there.”
She hopes to include more new songs as touring continues.
“I am just now kind of learning these songs because I did not know them when I recorded them,” Tucker said. “So I’m just kind of learning them with my band, and every few shows, we try to throw a new one in. But at this point we’ve only got four of them (rehearsed). We’re hoping to keep adding to that.”