When she first heard that the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was interested in featuring an exhibit based on her career, Tanya Tucker says she had her doubts -- at first.
"I thought it might have been a little premature because I had taken a few years off. With losing both of my parents and other things that had happened in my life, I just wanted to gather myself. But when the Hall of Fame decided to do this, I thought this might be God's way of telling me I needed to get back to work," she says. "It's so overwhelming and wonderful to be acknowledged."
Tanya Tucker: Strong Enough to Bend opened last month and will run through May 2015. Included are many of her awards, stage outfits and mementos from some of her heroes, such as a portrait of her with Loretta Lynn autographed by the 'Coal Miner's Daughter' herself. "Those are the things that I look back on," she says. "That's me with Loretta Lynn, my hero. Those are the real things. When we lost George Jones, I told Loretta that we really need to hang on to each other." Losing such a legend also made the singer reflective about the friendships she has enjoyed as an entertainer. "More than anything, I've been learning to take every moment and appreciate it. I'm still a fan. It's so rewarding to have a relationship with some of the greats that are the superheroes of country music."
Tucker's star began to rise at the tender age of 13 with the 1972 Alex Harvey/Larry Collins composition "Delta Dawn." Over 40 years since the release of the song, Tucker still beams with pride. "It still seems so surreal to me -- like it was somebody else singing. I never fail to be proud, because I thought I did a hell of a job on that song. I sang it, but Billy Sherrill produced it, and that was the real key. He knew what he was doing, and I knew what kind of song I wanted to sing. I didn't know which one it was, but I knew it wasn't 'The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A,'" she says, in reference to the Donna Fargo song that the producer wanted her to cut.
Over the years, some critics have said that Tucker never truly grasped the sensual and emotional nature of her hits such as "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)." She might have been a teenager, but she insists, "It's not true. I come from a long line of deep love. My dad had a deep love for his family. A lot of people don't understand that David Allan Coe wrote that song for his brother's wedding vows. So when you look it at that way -- of committing yourself to another person -- there's nothing better than that, nothing more deep or passionate. It could have backfired because I was so young. I was 15. That's why at the beginning, Billy Sherrill wanted to keep my age a secret. He didn't want anyone to know because he wanted the songs to stand on their own, and not have people concentrate on my age."
Another key element of the exhibit is the legendary September 1974 cover of Rolling Stone -- which featured a groundbreaking profile of Tucker as captured by journalist Chet Flippo. "At the time, I didn't realize what an incredible feat that was. I was young and wasn't aware that it was such a big deal. But looking back now, it's an honor. It was a jolt for our career, but I thought it was just another day. I had a great time doing the photo shoot in New York. I had a photographer and a makeup artist, and I felt like a Vogue model. It was a real joy, and traveling with Chet was great. He experienced a lot on the road with us. If he hadn't written that article, I can't help but think what might have changed. I don't know if it would have been anywhere near of an iconic statement without his article. I was the person he was talking about, but the way he wrote it, it connected rock and roll to country. I was so blessed that he wrote that and wish he was still around to do another one," she laments.
Seeing her career on display is something that pleases Tucker, but she admits it does whet her appetite for the next chapter. "The book might be three-quarters written, but I've still got a quarter left," she surmises, telling Billboard that she's been in the studio working on new music. "I've got some tracks that I'm proud of."
And she's also working with her 15-year-old daughter Layla, who is wanting to follow her mother's historic path into the music business. "I'm trying to give her all the tools that she will have to have to attempt to be in this business. It's changed a lot. There's no way that someone could get started the way I did. It would be highly unlikely, but you never know."