Tanya Tucker: The Teenage Teaser
She consciously defies labels. MCs throughout the country pronounce her “delightful.” Nashville’s country stars think of her as a real pro. Middle-aged audiences describe her as a charming entertainer. Lechers see her as a torrid teenaged sex-pot and prepubescent boys look on her as a Holy Grail. And all she wants to do is sing.
On a sweltering summer afternoon in Uvalde, a southwest Texas town of 10,000, Tanya Tucker and Johnny Rodriguez were at the home of a friend of their families, a stereotypically tall Texas Ranger named Joaquin Jackson. He had decided to throw a little (32 gallons of) beer-and-barbecue party for about 50 friends just before the concert at the Uvalde Civic Center.
Tanya toured this summer with Rodriguez, the 21-year-old Chicano country singer from Sabinal, a dusty settlement 20 miles east of Uvalde.
Rodriguez, a dusky, aquiline-nosed six-footer, flashed a Valentino smile and Tanya delivered perfunctory greetings. As she walked out of the house and into the backyard, she was followed closely by her father, Bo. Pale and wavy-haired, Bo is a muscular, chain-smoking, vaguely owlish, outgoing former prospector. He shook hands gingerly; both his arms had been broken in a recent car wreck when he was rushing Tanya to a date. His wife Juanita’s back had been broken in the wreck and she had left a hospital just the day before this Uvalde date. Bo had his arm casts off so he could get back to driving the big Caddy and managing his daughter’s tour.
Tanya Tucker is never alone, never permitted to go off by herself. One of the Tucker clan or a trusted friend is with her at all times. Don, 30, a shorter, stocky version of Bo, acts as her driver and road manager and even accompanies her into public restrooms. If other women are there, he asks them to leave. There is some intangible fear that she might be a kidnap target and a very real apprehension about some of the followers she attracts.
An attractive 15-year-old in body-fitting outfits singing “Would You Lay with Me” draws a peculiar cross-section of fans. Lesbians, for one thing, Don Tucker said. Also horny males of all ages. After a Little Rock show, a man there began following her bus with his Mustang and stayed with the tour for two weeks until fatigue caused him to run off the road one night. Adolescent males camp outside her motel-room door. In Altoona, a 14-year-old tries to explain for himself and a buddy: “Tanya is our age and she’s a good singer. We love her. She’s the best.” She also inspires a fierce protective spirit. Truckers watch for the Tanya Tucker bus and via their citizens-band radios keep Don advised of the location of “Smokies” (cops) so he’ll know when to gear the tour bus down from its maximum speed of 82 mph. Policemen gravitate to her side at concerts, eager to lend a stiff arm to discourage persistent fans. Give them an autograph and a smile and they’ll follow her anywhere.
Bo Tucker and “Happy” Shahan, owner of the Alamo Village, a nearby tourist ranch where Rodriguez was first discovered by Tom T. Hall, led the way back into the parlor where, flanked by their beaming mothers, Tanya and Johnny had finished “Delta Dawn” and were working through “Pass Me By.” One of Rodriguez’s nephews was crawling over the carpet with a toy M-81 tank; another was pulling Joaquin Jackson’s trophies off shelves. But lulled by beer, meat and music, no one minded, and the living-room show continued until an hour before showtime.
Happy herded the crew into the yard. “Hot damn,” he yelled. “Is Tanya ‘Rodriguez’ ready?”
“I’m ready, Happy.” She tripped out into the yard, stopped and studied the pink-and-gray marble-streaked sunset. She turned to Shahan. “You know where I wanta be? I wanta be out at your ranch, ridin’.”
Happy embraced her. “Darlin’, you love horses so much, I’m just gone give you one. You come out to the ranch tomorrow and take your pick.” She did.
A ragged caravan of huge cars soon arrived at the Civic Center, a pink-brick Spanish shell surrounded by palm trees. Tanya and Johnny went into the dressing room, which was a Winnebago parked outside the back door.
Inside, perhaps a thousand country fans were lugging picnic coolers to long folding tables that were scattered around the hardwood dance floor. Due to local laws, this was a “brown bag” dance. No alcohol was sold but you could bring in liquor in paper bags or beer in coolers. Moms and Pops sat down at the tables and commenced to drinking while the youn’uns crowded around the stage and waited for their sex symbols. The 15-year-old girls were primed for Rodriguez, while their younger brothers were calling for Tanya. A perfect package show.
Tanya, in brown leathers, pranced inside the Winnebago: “I saw the cutest lil’ ole puppy dog today on the road. I just wanted to take him home with me.” The local promoter gave her thigh an obvious squeeze, and she pretended not to notice.
Tanya opened the show and from the first had to dodge the outstretched hands of high-spirited young ranch hands. Still, there was no encore. She was playing with a pickup band and the crowd was there for Rodriguez.
The next morning, the Rodriguez and Tucker clans gathered at Shahan’s Alamo Village. Bo was sitting on a rough-hewen bench outside the Cantina, the Village’s showroom. Tanya and Johnny were off riding Shahan’s horses and shooting Joaquin Jackson’s machine guns and .357 Magnum pistols in the desert.
Bo and Juanita married in Denver City, Texas, when both were 15, and they chased around the country, first in search of oil, then of copper. Tanya was born October 10th, 1958, in Seminole, Texas, near the New Mexico border. From there, the Tuckers drifted throughout the Southwest, Bo getting work where he could find it. He drove heavy equipment, flew planes and prospected for copper in Arizona and Nevada.
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