I wanted While I’m Livin’ to be a full circle moment for Tanya Tucker. I wanted songs on par with “Delta Dawn” and “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” and I also wanted to bring in an Americana element. The thing that comes to mind when I think of Tanya vocally is she sounds tough, in a way that so many other women in the Americana roots and country genre have never really tapped into. I wanted to give her the chance to sing about some really rugged things, like the Texas terrain, on this album.
But it also has a lot of identifiably female and matriarchal themes. I’m trying to suggest and raise the flag that maybe Tanya Tucker is matriarchal material. She struggles to accept it because she is deeply self-conscious, like a true hero would be. And to be really honest, I think she’s self-conscious because she doesn’t know what we love about her. She’s been told by too many powerful men what makes her important and what makes her attractive. Her ruggedness, honesty, and brokenness don’t seem like attributes to her, but you and I know they are. We’re still working to convince her of that, but I think it’s going to take us three more records.
Tanya hasn’t been given the respect she deserves because she was a child star. But at 13 and then on into her late teens and early 20s, she was making some of the best classic country & western music that I’d ever heard. As she grew up and fell on hard times, I don’t think she was given the same grace an artist like Waylon and Willie and Cash were given for the times that they maybe didn’t live up to their own standards of healthfulness. She should be lauded in the same way that so many of these amazing outlaw men are.
But she’s not quite as old as Dolly or Loretta or other women who are given legend status. She’s in an in-between space, and I feel like we tend to give men that badge of honor a little earlier than we give women. I want the kids to know where their matriarchal outlaw music comes from, in the same way they knew when they heard Johnny Cash on American Recordings for the first time. I think there’s a real possibility of that here. Because Tanya Tucker is so punk rock. She’s so cool. (As told to Joseph Hudak)