A Cinderella she’s not, nor is she a “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” But Tanya Tucker’s life, however, could be described like one in a fairy tale, or even a rags-to-riches saga. She’s sassy, yet sincere; has struggled, but is successful; and is simply — a star.
Since she made her debut almost 25 years ago as a 13-year-old country girl who belted out the classic “Delta Dawn,” Tanya has not only ridden a whirlwind, but has been one. Thirty albums later and now a single mother, who’s waded through a life of heaven, as well as heartache, music remains the Texas native’s deepest passion. It was this very passion which quickly launched a life and career that millions would find remarkably interesting. Whether the interest being in her quick rise to fame or party-girl lifestyle, to drug addiction and her steamy relationship with “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell, the public eye keeps batting at Tanya with questions.
At only 38, the country music diva and long-time target of the tabloids has finally answered those batting eyes by unveiling her fascinating life story in her long-awaited autobiography. Nickel Dreams, written with long-time friend and writer Patsi Bale Cox, finds Tanya candidly sharing the details of her enduring country music career, as well as her much-publicized personal life. Her memories include those of her two children (seven-year-old Presley Tanita and five-year-old Beau Grayson); her love affair with the children’s father Ben Reed; her dad Beau Tucker’s often pushy career support; accounts of her treatment for drug and alcohol abuse at the Betty Ford Center; as well as the many disappointments that coincide with fame and fortune.
The title, Nickel Dreams, actually stems from a song written by tunesmith Mac McAnnaly about a young girl’s dream of someday being a singer. The little girl, however, discovers that stardom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With perhaps a similar story of her own, Tanya admits that she’s always liked the song but has never actually recorded it. “Maybe it hits a little too close to home,” she says.
Tanya’s Nickel Dreams makes several home hits, many of which don’t paint the pretty pictures we often expect in the lives of the rich and famous. Despite Tanya’s counts of drug and alcohol abuse and first-time sexual encounters, and several violent fights with Campbell, the book reveals that this lady of adventure is also a woman of courage, a loving mother and like everyone else — just wants to find her slot in life.
“I feel like it’s important that people read this book so that they feel like they really know me a lot better than they think,” says Tanya. ” It’s hard for me to step outside and know what others think. I can only feel what I feel inside. But I’ve heard all sorts of comparisons…like the Madonna of country music. Someone even called me the Dennis Rodman of country music. I just don’t think a lot of people really know the real me. Hell, I don’t even know me sometimes. I’m still finding out things about myself everyday.”
The things that people will find out about Tanya in her tell-all book will, indeed, prove that Tanya is her own person and makes no quips about the mistakes she’s made in her life. She’s also quick to point out, however, that along with her errors is her softer side as well.
“I’m always thinking of ways to better myself — to be a better person and to be a better singer, too,” she says. ” I will never say that I’m a pretty girl or that I’m a great singer, but I will say that I’m a good person and I’ve got a really big heart. I know that sometimes that gets me into a lot of trouble, but I love people no matter what. And I think everybody has some regrets in their lives. I just try to live life to its fullest and I try to make it a happy time for anyone who is around me. I’m a real friendly person, so I like to have lots of friends around and show them a good time — especially when they’ve never been to Nashville.”
Such a good time recently occurred in Nashville where Tanya has resided for several years, right before the release of Nickel Dreams. Tanya made perhaps the hottest headline at this year’s Country Radio Seminar held in Music City. She was accompanied by Dateline NBC’s Stone Phillips, who was in Nashville working on a recent television special. The singer led the entourage to one of her favorite hang-out spots in Nashville’s famed Printer’s Alley. They also made their way into a club that was being utilized by Epic Records. To promote the record company’s artists during the seminar events, such acts as Collin Raye, Ty Herndon, Joe Diffie and Sons of the Desert were shuffling performances in the club. Although details on Tanya’s unannounced visit ranged from simply interesting to dramatic, most witnesses agree that the Capitol recording artist managed to barrel onto stage for a couple of songs, flash some folks in the club and initiate a spicy verbal exchange with both Herndon and an Epic Records executive.
“We were on our way to Barbara’s, which is a fun place for us to go,” Tanya later explained. “Someone drags me off the street, and I walk in and see these three gorgous men on stage — Collin Raye, Ty Herndon and Joe Diffie. One thing led to another and pretty soon they were going, ‘Come on up!’ So I finally got up on stage and sang a song or two. And I said something to Ty Herndon and it was only a big joke. I hope he didn’t get his feelings hurt, because I love him to death. I don’t really think about those kinds of things, I just kind of find myself in the middle of them. It was just another one of those Tanya moments.”
When asked about actually flashing the people inside the club, Tanya replied, “Oh yeah, I probably did that. You just had to have been there,” she laughed. “But we did have a good time and I didn’t mean to make anybody mad. When you’re in the middle of a storm, you don’t feel the wind blowing so much. But then when you step outside of it, you say, ‘Whoa! Look what I did and look what happened!’”
Preventing any hurt feelings was very important to Tanya when writing Nickel Dreams. The temptation to sometimes gloss over many of the negative experiences in her life was a tough task.
“I think there were not only those temptations, but things that I just didn’t mention in the book. I don’t want to hurt the other people,” she stated. “That’s probably the hardest part about writing a book. When someone in this business or a friend of mine tells me something in confidence, I just can’t tell the world. But I told everything that I could tell without ruffling too many feathers.”
Perhaps the person whose feathers stood to be ruffled the most were those of her first love and fellow singer Glen Campbell. The two first met in 1973 at the Opry. They got together almost four years later in Las Vegas where Glen was performing. He was a whopping 23 years older than Tanya and married at the time. As well as marking her first love, the relationship also marked Tanya’s first experience with cocaine. With more drugs and extensive fights, the two finally disbanded their relationship two years later in a dramatic hotel brawl. The event left Tanya furious as a rattlesnake after fighting slaps from her jealous lover, and Glen with a split-open head from eventually being pushed into a table.
“I’ve never really understood the continuing interest in what happened to Glen and me, a decade and a half later,” Tanya noted. “And I never intended to go into our relationship in public. I didn’t even talk about the relationship after I read his book, because I knew then that if I wrote an autobiography, that is where I would set the record straight. The reason we didn’t make it, I believe, was drugs, pure and simple. Also, Glen thought I wasn’t lady-like enough around his Hollywood friends, like George C. Scott and Jim Garner. And he was terribly jealous, whether over some guy in my band, or Merle Haggard.
“There are a lot of things that I couldn’t disclose to anybody,” adds Tanya. “But that’s between me and Glen and the old man upstairs. I just tried to be as careful as I could,” referring again to the book. “One ounce of pain for Glen wouldn’t make a pound of happiness for me. It just wouldn’t make me feel good to write anything bad. When I talk about me, it’s no problem. Whether it’s something that I’ve done wrong or done right, that doesn’t matter. I can talk about me. But when it involves other people and their children and their children’s children, I get really protective of them. It’s all not important anyway. What’s done is done.”
While Tanya’s book is finally done, so is her 30th album, entitled Complicated. Following up such albums as What’s Your Mama’s Name, TNT, Strong Enough To Bend, Tennessee Woman and Can’t Run From Yourself, the Complicated project marks a milestone in Tanya’s career. The album was produced by Greg Brown, ending Tanya’s long-time partnership with producer Jerry Crutchfield.
“I was more involved with this album,” admits Tanya. “Usually, I’m out on the road and back in the studio and then right back out on the road again. There were many times before that I’d walk into the studio and didn’t even know the songs. I was under the gun a lot. I felt like my music suffered because of that. But it’s hard to turn down those road gigs. That’s the bread and butter,” she laughs. “That’s where our fans are.”
Complicated kicked off with “Little Things,” a catchy tune Tanya describes as “a girlfriend song.” “It was a song that I didn’t fall in love with right away, but then it kind of grew on me.” Hopefully, the entire album will grow on a lot of country fans. With so many changes involved with this new release, Tanya expects the album to surprise a lot of fans who would normally expect something different.
Though Tanya has often surprised the expectations of many throughout her roller-coaster life, what’s not so surprising is her love for country music. At a time when many brand new artists have to compete for radio airplay, Tanya has remained a strong force for 25 years in the music business. Having been nominated for several top music honors in years past, Tanya won the trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year from the Country Music Association in 1991. In recent years, however, even in country music, longevity has become more difficult to achieve. So what’s Tanya’s secret?
“There are a lot of folks at Capitol Records who are very supportive,” Tanya says. “I think a lot of it, too, has to do with my age. I still have somewhat of a stamina to hang in there. But country music is always going to be changing. That’s just nothing different for me. All the wonderful acts like Garth Brooks have just exploded country music to where I thought it should have always been. I had those dreams for country music and could see those things when I was a kid. So I’m just going to keep kickin’ until I kick the bucket clean,” she laughs.
If anyone can make such a promise and mean it, it’s Tanya Tucker. It was in 1976, when the budding music star graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with the headline: “Hi, I’m Tanya Tucker, I’m 15, You’re Gonna Hear From Me.”