By Gregory Crofton
If Tanya Tucker doesn’t get a party started right, I’m not sure what will.
The rowdy, hard-drinking 63-year-old country superstar has helped lead the way for women in the music business since she was thrown into it as a teen.
Tucker’s career and personal life were chock full of highs and lows, including an infamous marriage to a much older Glen Campbell, but the real blow came in 2006 when her father, also her manager, died.
Flash forward to opening night at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival and thankfully things in her life had changed. Tucker strolled down the aisle of the Belcourt Theater with a small entourage to sip her drink and hold court after the new documentary “The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile” screened to a nearly packed house.
Really the chat was meant to be a traditional post screening Q&A, but Tucker hadn’t seen the film and she has a way of owning things from the start anyway. She always makes them entertaining too.
Carlile, a rising country superstar in her own right, helped reboot Tucker’s career with the release of the album “While I’m Livin'” in 2019. Another record from Tanya is due out soon. This will be one of duets. Tucker said she doesn’t like the title slated for it, “Sweet Western Sounds.” She told us that during the Q&A.
Growing up Carlile and her mother were massive Tucker fans. Carlile says in the film that many women working today in country music owe a huge debt to Tucker for leading the way.
Luckily, and kind of by chance, Carlile got connected to the singer through producer Shooter Jennings. Once connections were made the goal became to give the world at least one more Tanya Tucker record. She used Rick Rubin’s sessions with Johnny Cash as a template for the project, and even called him for advice at one point.
The record came out and won two Grammies. The wins were Tucker’s first despite 14 previous nominations. But then also, and kind of unexpectedly, there is a wonderful new film, a documentary directed by Kathlyn Horan, that captured the recording sessions.
It is unexpectedly brilliant and very touching at times. And it is that despite being burdened by its genre, the increasingly popular promotional doc. “The Return of Tanya Tucker” tells the story of how “While I’m Livin'” was made and how much wrangling and determination it took on Carlile’s part to get it done.
Key, though, is Horan’s use of archival footage from Tucker’s life. She weaves it into days of Tucker and Carlile working side by side in the studio. The clips of the past are fantastic and are especially poignant set to Carlile’s beautiful score for the film. And of course any frame focused on Ms. Tanya Tucker becomes for some reason funny, heartbreaking and quintessentially American all at the same time. Don’t miss this doc. It will surprise you.
Listen to Tucker’s visit to Belcourt by playing the audio clip below.