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Encore: Country music artists Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile on their documentary

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Pull up a chair. Get comfortable 'cause you're going to want to settle in and listen to these next two guests.

TANYA TUCKER: I'm Tanya Denise Tucker. And what else would you want to know?

BRANDI CARLILE: That you're a country music singer.

TUCKER: I'm a singer. Yeah. Yeah.

KELLY: Now meet the woman you just heard helping her out there.

CARLILE: I'm Brandi Carlile. I'm also a singer, songwriter, producer and a good friend of the great Tanya mother-Tucker (ph).

TUCKER: (Laughter) Wow. Now, that's an honor right there.

KELLY: Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile have 39 Grammy nominations, eight Grammy wins between them. But they had never met until they decided to make a record together and then a movie about making that record. The result is "The Return Of Tanya Tucker." They dropped by our New York studios recently to talk about it, including the moment in 2019 that Brandi first reached Tanya on the phone.

TUCKER: Six times.

CARLILE: It was the day I woke up...

TUCKER: The day.

CARLILE: ...And I was nominated for all those Grammys for the first time in my life.

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: That was the day I met you.

KELLY: Brandi Carlile might have just been nominated for six Grammys, but Tanya Tucker had never heard of her.

TUCKER: I really didn't know - never knew her music. So I'm an idiot. But my kids knew who she was.

KELLY: OK.

TUCKER: Mom, oh, my God - Brandi Carlile. But anyway, so the phone rings. So I answered. And she just went to talking, and I was sold.

CARLILE: I was like, Miss Tucker, I have got a plan.

TUCKER: Yeah, I was sold. By the time I got done talking, I'm not sure if I was sold. No, I was sold.

CARLILE: She was kind of blown away, you know?

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: And we had been trying to talk her into coming out. She wasn't sure how serious we were. You know, her kids knew who I was...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...But not because I was famous - because I had been calling them.

TUCKER: Oh, that's right.

CARLILE: I had been circling the wagons, and I was saying, I really believe this is a moment...

TUCKER: I forgot that.

CARLILE: ...Of reckoning for country music.

KELLY: Here's the background to why a new Tanya Tucker album seemed like a moment of reckoning. Tanya dropped her first big hit 50 years ago, when she was 13 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELTA DAWN")

TUCKER: (Singing) Delta dawn, what's that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

KELLY: That's "Delta Dawn," her first hit from 1972. By the time she was 15, she was on the cover of Rolling Stone. Brandi Carlile grew up listening to her. She draws a direct line between what Tanya was doing with her voice in the 1970s and what she, Brandi, does with hers today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STORY")

CARLILE: (Singing) I climbed across the mountaintops, swam all across the ocean blue. I crossed all the lines, and I broke all the rules.

CARLILE: I don't like compartmentalizing genre in terms of gender. But if you think about this, there's been a whole lane in sort of female-fronted country music that's, like, got this kind of - like, The Chicks are like this - kind of sassy, kind of rebellious with a wide gait. They stand there. They hold their ground. You got Miranda Lambert doing this. You've got several generations of women influenced by, like, a toughness that comes from, like, a rural sensibility that's different than your typical Southern belle. It's not feminine. It's something else. And I just think that Tanya is the architect of that in the same way that Johnny Cash was the architect of the concept of his lament and the "Man In Black" and his stoicism and steadiness and music was indelible. And Tanya's is indelible, too. We just so happen to be lucky enough that she's young. She was young when she started. She's young now. We have her here. Let's stop screwing around. Let's make sure we get out and see her play because she's - she built us.

TUCKER: Well, that's awfully nice of her to say so. But it was, I mean, unintentional. I was just trying to - you know, trying to get by and survive and do the only thing I knew how to do.

CARLILE: Well, you were so young, you know...

TUCKER: Sometimes I wonder about that.

CARLILE: ...When you started. And unfortunately - this is what we were talking about - it also means that all your peers, all your friends are so much older than you...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...That you're having to say goodbye.

TUCKER: That's what I was leading up to, and that's what our next single is about.

CARLILE: Yeah.

KELLY: Oh, give me a preview.

TUCKER: (Humming).

CARLILE: It's called "Ready As I'll Never Be."

TUCKER: I was singing it all the way over here. Now I'm like...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY AS I'LL NEVER BE")

TUCKER: (Singing) So gather round now. It's time to sing. It's bittersweet, but it's a hell of a silver lining.

CARLILE: Tanya writes songs...

TUCKER: (Singing) Gather round now.

CARLILE: ...In, like, one-liners. And it's - and they're amazing when she'll drop this line on you and it'll just blow your mind. And we had just lost John Prine to COVID. And then...

TUCKER: Yes.

CARLILE: Billy Joe Shaver passed away.

TUCKER: Yes, yes, Billy Joe Shaver. That was tough.

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: And my heroes, you know?

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: And people that were my friends went from being my heroes to being my friends and back to being heroes again.

CARLILE: So I go up to have dinner with her in Nashville the night Billy Joe Shaver died.

TUCKER: Yes.

CARLILE: And we were walking up the stairs, and I said - I didn't want to bring it up, but I said, Tanya, I'm sorry about Billy Joe. I know how much you loved him. And she goes - she says, oh, honey. She goes, that's the thing about - you know, they're all going to get their wings before I do...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...You know, God willing. And then she looks at me with that Tanya look, and she goes, ready as I'll never be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY AS I'LL NEVER BE")

TUCKER: (Singing) I guess I'm ready, ready as I'll never be.

CARLILE: Oh, my. What an amazing sentiment. How true is that - that because she's so much younger, that these icons are going to always go sooner, you know? And it's - God's going to keep you here.

CARLILE: But the difference between her and what I've had before is that, you know, an idea is just an idea until you put it into action. She takes it, and she goes with it. And she don't stop.

KELLY: So this brings me - I want to spend a little time on the song that's at the heart of the film and of y'all's collaboration, "Bring My Flowers Now." That start something like this? Tell us how it started.

CARLILE: The same way.

TUCKER: Same thing. I had the chorus for a long time...

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: ...Long, long, long time. And I was leaving Nashville, going to Austin for Christmas. But on the way, I always call Loretta when I go - 'cause I go right by where the turnoff is to her ranch.

KELLY: Loretta Lynn. Yeah.

TUCKER: We talked, and I sang her that chorus for some reason. I don't know why I do things. But - and then I guess I sang it to you.

CARLILE: Yeah. And you sang her that chorus, and she wanted to write it. And as soon as I heard you say it, you know, bring my flowers...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...Now while I'm living 'cause I don't want to need your love when I'm gone. Don't spend time, tears or money on my old, breathless body.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING MY FLOWERS NOW")

TUCKER: (Singing) ...On my old, breathless body. If your heart is in them flowers, bring them home.

KELLY: "Bring My Flowers Now" won best country song of the year at the 2020 Grammys. It is Tanya's voice, Tanya's story. Brandi shared the Grammy with her as co-songwriter.

CARLILE: I wrote it down for you so you could be your own voice, but I know those are your feelings. So you wrote that song, you know, even if I held the pen.

TUCKER: Well, you know, we all do things differently. But she gets me. And I'm so thankful for her because she's the only one that's really gotten me and has done something about it, you know? And we've talked about what she gets out of it. She ain't getting no money. I guarantee you she putting her in the hole. And I said, why not, Brandi? She goes, because I want people to know I'm serious.

CARLILE: Yeah, it's true.

KELLY: Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker - elsewhere in the program, our conversation continues when we hear about that time Tanya came to stay with Brandi.

TUCKER: She makes the best huevos rancheros I've ever had.

CARLILE: Oh, yeah. I made that for you.

TUCKER: It was awesome.

CARLILE: That was with the shrimp and stuff like that.

TUCKER: I don't know what - it was just awesome.

CARLILE: I'd wake up in the morning. She'd be standing there in her boxers, cooking...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...Bacon with a fork.

TUCKER: Yeah. Those little muffins you made - those are so great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG RIDGE")

TUCKER: (Singing) I got my knee on the wheel, and I'm feeling free with my hobnail on the gas. I just crossed over the county line, trying to make it up to Wild Rose Pass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.