NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly chats with country music legend Tanya Tucker and artist Brandi Carlile about their new documentary, “The Return of Tanya Tucker: Starring Brandi Carlile.”
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK. Pull out a chair. Make yourself comfortable because you’re going to want to sit down and listen to these next two guests.
TANYA TUCKER: I’m Tanya Denise Tucker. And what else would you like to know?
BRANDI CARLILE: That you’re a country singer.
TUCKER: I’m a singer. Yeah. Yeah.
KELLY: Now meet the woman you just heard helping her out there.
CARLILE: I’m Brandi Carlile. I’m also a singer, songwriter, producer and a good friend of Grandma Tanya-Tucker.
TUCKER: (Laughs) Wow. Now, that’s an honor right there.
KELLY: Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile have 32 Grammy nominations, eight Grammy wins between them. But they had never met until they decided to make a record together, and then a film about the making of that record. The result is “The Return of Tanya Tucker”. They popped into our New York studios this week to talk about it, including the moment in 2019 when Brandi first reached out to Tanya on the phone.
CARLILE: That was the day I woke up…
TUCKER: The day.
CARLILE: …And I was nominated for all these Grammys for the first time in my life.
CARLILE: That’s the day I met you.
KELLY: Brandi Carlile may have just been nominated for six Grammys, but Tanya Tucker had never heard of her.
TUCKER: I really didn’t – I never knew his music. So I’m an idiot. But my children knew who she was. Mom, Oh My God – Brandi Carlile. But anyway, so the phone rings. So I answered. And she started talking, and I was sold.
CARLILE: I was like, Miss Tucker, I have a plan.
TUCKER: Yeah, I was sold. By the time I’m done speaking, I’m not sure I’ve been sold. No, I was sold.
CARLILE: She was a little blown away, you know?
CARLILE: And we tried to convince her to come out. She didn’t know how serious we were. You know, his kids knew who I was…
CARLILE: …But not because I was famous – because I called them. I had been around the wagons, and I was like, I really believe this is a judgmental moment for country music.
KELLY: Here’s the context why a new Tanya Tucker album felt like a moment of judgment. Tanya released her first big hit 50 years ago when she was 13 years old.
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “DELTA DAWN”)
TUCKER: (Singing) Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you’re wearing? Could it be a faded rose of yesteryear?
KELLY: It’s “Delta Dawn,” her first hit from 1972. At age 15, she was on the cover of Rolling Stone. Brandi Carlile grew up listening to it. She draws a direct line between what Tanya was doing with her voice in the 1970s and what she, Brandi, is doing with hers today.
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “THE STORY”)
CARLILE: (singing) I’ve climbed mountain peaks, swum across the blue ocean. I crossed every line and broke every rule.
I don’t like to compartmentalize gender in terms of gender. But if you think about it, there’s been a whole streak in a kind of girl-fronted country music that’s had this kind of – like, the Chicks are like this – kinda sassy, kinda rebellious with a wide gait. They stand there. They are holding up. It’s Miranda Lambert who does that. You have multiple generations of women influenced by, like, a toughness that comes from, like, a rural sensibility that’s different from your typical Southern belle. It’s not feminine. This is another thing. And I just think Tanya is the architect of that in the same way that Johnny Cash was the architect of the concept of his lament and the man in black and his stoicism and his stability. And the music was indelible. And Tanya’s is indelible too. We happen to be lucky that she is young. She was young when she started. She is young now. We have it here. Let’s stop messing around. Let’s make sure we go out and see her play because she built us.
TUCKER: Well, that’s very nice of him to say. But it was, I mean, unintentional. I was just trying to – you know, trying to get by and survive and do the only thing I knew how to do.
CARLILE: Well, you were so young, you know…
TUCKER: Sometimes I wonder.
CARLILE: …When you started. And unfortunately – this is what we were talking about – it also means that all your peers, all your friends are so much older than you…
CARLILE: …that you have to say goodbye.
TUCKER: That’s what I was heading towards, and that’s what our next single is about.
KELLY: Oh, give me a preview.
CARLILE: It’s called “Ready as I’ll Never Be”.
TUCKER: I sing it up here.
(SONG SOUND CLIP, “READY AS I’LL NEVER BE”)
TUCKER: (singing) So get together now. It’s time to sing. It’s bittersweet, but it’s one hell of a silver lining.
CARLILE: Tanya writes songs…
TUCKER: (singing) Get together now.
CARLILE: …In, like, one-liners. And it’s – and they’re amazing when she throws that line at you and it’ll blow your mind. And we had just lost John Prine to COVID. So what…
CARLILE: Billy Joe Shaver is deceased.
TUCKER: Yeah, Billy Joe Shaver. It was hard.
TUCKER: And my heroes, you know?
TUCKER: And the people who were my friends went from my heroes to my friends and back to being heroes.
CARLILE: So I’m going up to dinner with her in Nashville the night Billy Joe Shaver died.
CARLILE: And we were walking up the stairs, and I said – I didn’t want to talk about it, but I said, Tanya, I’m sorry about Billy Joe. I know how much you loved him. And she’ll – she say, oh, honey. She’s leaving, that’s the problem – you know, they’re all going to have their wings before me…
CARLILE: …You know, God willing. And then she looks at me with that Tanya look, and she leaves, ready as I’ll never be.
(SONG SOUND CLIP, “READY AS I’LL NEVER BE”)
TUCKER: (singing) Guess I’m ready, ready like I’ll never be.
CARLILE: Oh, my God. What an incredible feeling. How true is that – that because she’s so much younger, these icons are always going to leave sooner, you know? And that’s – God’s going to keep you here.
TUCKER: But the difference between it and what I’ve had before is, you know, an idea is just an idea until you put it into action. She takes it, and she goes with it, and she doesn’t stop.
KELLY: So that brings me – I want to spend some time on the song that’s at the heart of the movie and your collaboration, “Bring My Flowers Now”. It starts something like this? Tell us how it started.
CARLILE: In the same way.
TUCKER: Same. I had the chorus for a long time.
TUCKER: Long, long. And I was leaving Nashville to go to Austin for Christmas. But on the way, I always call Loretta when I go there – because I pass right by the turnoff to her ranch.
KELLY: Loretta Lynn. Yeah.
TUCKER: We talked and I sang that chorus to him for some reason. I don’t know why I do things. But – and then I guess I sang it to you.
CARLILE: Yeah. And you sang her that chorus, and she wanted to write it. And as soon as I heard you say it, you know, bring my flowers…
CARLILE: …Now while I live (ph) because I don’t want to need your love when I’m gone. Don’t spend time, tears or money on my tired old body.
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF SONG, “BRING MY FLOWERS NOW”)
TUCKER: (Singing) …On my old, breathless body. If your heart is in these flowers, take them home.
KELLY: “Bring My Flowers Now” won Best Country Song of the Year at the 2020 Grammys. It’s Tanya’s voice, Tanya’s story. Brandi shared the Grammy with her as co-composer.
CARLILE: I wrote it for you so you could be your own voice, but I know it’s your feelings. So you wrote this song, you know, even though I was holding the pen.
TUCKER: Well, you know, we all do things differently. But she understands me. And I’m so grateful for her because she’s the only one who really got me and did something about it, you know? And we talked about what she gets out of it. She doesn’t get any money. I guarantee you she puts it in the hole. And I said, why not, Brandi? She’s going because I want people to know I’m serious.
CARLILE: Yes, that’s true.
KELLY: Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker. Our conversation continues on Monday, when we hear about the time Tanya came to stay with Brandi.
TUCKER: She makes the best huevos rancheros I’ve ever had.
CARLILE: Oh, yeah. I did this for you.
TUCKER: That was awesome.
CARLILE: It was with the shrimp and stuff like that.
TUCKER: I don’t know what – it was just awesome.
CARLILE: I woke up in the morning. She was standing there in her boxers, cooking…
CARLILE: …Bacon with a fork.
TUKER: Yeah. Those little muffins you made – they’re so awesome.
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “MUSTANG RIDGE”)
TUCKER: (singing) I put my knee on the wheel, and I feel free with my nail on the throttle. I just crossed the county line, trying to get to Wild Rose Pass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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