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Country Music Star George Jones

Jones is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest country singers, but his 40-year career has also been marked by alcohol and drug abuse. He wrote about his experiences in his autobiography "I Lived to Tell it All" which was published two years ago. (Villard, New York). This originally aired 5/8/96.


Other segments from the episode on September 3, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 3, 1998: Interview with George Jones; Interview with Tanya Tucker; Review of The Wandering Eyes' album "The Wandering Eyes Sing Songs of Forbidden Love."


Date: SEPTEMBER 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090301np.217
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This last week of the summer season is country music week on FRESH AIR. Waylon Jennings once said: "If we could all sound like we wanted to, we'd all sound like George Jones." Rock stars like Elvis Costello and Keith Richards have also paid tribute to Jones.

Before we hear from George Jones, let's listen to his first big hit, "She Thinks I Still Care" recorded in 1962.


She thinks I still care
Just because I asked a friend about her
Just because I spoke her name somewhere
Just because I rang her number by mistake today
She thinks I still care

GROSS: George Jones recorded several popular duets with Tammy Wynette during their stormy marriage which lasted from 1969 to '76. Wynette died last April. George Jones is featured on a new tribute CD called "Tammy Wynette Remembered." He also has a new recent CD of his own called "It Don't Get Any Better Than This."

I spoke with George Jones in 1996 after the publication of his autobiography. He first performed at the age of nine in Pentecostal churches and revival meetings. After helping to save souls, in his early teens he played to the sinners at rough and tumble roadhouses. He was under age, but he worked with a married couple who served as his guardians.

Jones says fights often broke out while the band played.

JONES: Back in those late '40s, when I was appearing in these places with them, you know, we had to put chicken wire around the bandstand -- the little stage we had -- to keep bottles from flying over and busting our guitars up. It would be brawls break out every hour or so. But we got through it. It was part of the training, I guess.

GROSS: Were those bottles intended for the band, or were they just incidentally hitting you?

JONES: Not really. Not really. There was one or two that'd get in a fight, and start something and then get knocked into another one, and he'd get mad and he'd join in fighting them. So next thing you knew, it was a dozen fighting and tables turning over and bottles are flying -- throwing them at each other, you know. And they'd naturally head that way, too, you know.

GROSS: So when there was fighting when you were playing, would you just keep playing?

JONES: We were told to do that, and that's what we done most of the time, unless -- until, you know, it got really too rough to continue, and then we'd quietly bow out and get out of the way.

GROSS: Let's see, you were married at age 17, divorced a little less than a year later, I think; went into the Marines for a couple of years. How soon did you start recording when you got out of the Marines in, I guess it was 1954?

JONES: Right away, in that following February of '54.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

JONES: I went into the studio the first time and we didn't do all that good until '56 I think or '55, we lucked up with a tune called "Why, Baby, Why?" and then we moved onto Nashville to a, you know, a larger company that could distribute, you know, the records better.

GROSS: Well why don't we hear "Why, Baby, Why?" recorded in 1955. One of the things interesting about this is that I think really you're best known for your ballads, and this is really up-tempo.

JONES: Well, the first days were rough, you know. The early days, we recorded for Starday Records (ph) and really it was terrible sound. We recorded in a small living room of a house on the highway near Beaumont. You could hear the trucks. We had to stop a lot of times because it wasn't soundproofed. It was just egg crates on -- nailed on the wall, and the big old semi trucks would go by and make a lot of noise, and we'd have to start over again.

GROSS: So George Jones, let's hear your first hit, recorded in 1955, "Why, Baby, Why?"


Tell me why, baby, why baby
Why baby why you make me
Cry baby, cry, baby
Cry baby cry

I can't help but love you
'Til the day that I die
So tell me why baby why baby
Why baby why?

Well now I've got a crow
I want to pick with you
Just like last time
When the feathers flew

You're running wild
Kicking up your heels
While leavin' me home
With a handful of bills

Well, I can't live without you
And you know it's true
But there's no living' with you
So what'll I do?

I'm goin' honky-tonking
Get as tight as I can
And maybe by then
You'll 'preciate a good man

Tell me why baby why baby
Why baby why you make me
Cry baby cry baby
Cry baby cry

GROSS: That's George Jones -- his first hit back in 1955.

George Jones, how did this record affect your life? How did it change your life?

JONES: Well, it gave me a little more to eat and got me to traveling around driving my car to places close to East Texas, the big cities, Houston, Dallas, and over into Louisiana; sometimes Oklahoma. And it was a local hit for me. It was a national hit for Red Savine (ph) and Webb Pierce, which back at that time, Webb Pierce was about the number one big star that was recording at the time.

GROSS: Now, how did you get the reputation as "No Show Jones" -- of not showing up for dates?

JONES: Well, that was -- that was easy as time went by. No, I just -- I missed a few dates back when I was doing a little bit too much of my drinking, and later on I got into drugs and -- but I didn't really miss as many dates as it's been built up to be, but a lot of the things the fans and people didn't know that the management that I had around me at the time were also booking dates on me on the -- a lot of times, several dates on the same date, and getting advance -- you know, monies on -- for the dates.

And they knew I would get the blame, you know, for it, and that they would never have to refund those monies. So I wound up with so many lawsuits that I didn't know what to do with, so that's why I had all of those problems with the lawsuits, and finally got it all straightened out, though, thank goodness, and we don't have to worry about all that anymore.

GROSS: Right. You went through many years of drinking to excess and then some years of doing cocaine, as well. I imagine there was a long period during which when you performed, you were often very drunk. How did that affect your performance?

JONES: Well, it -- I thought it -- I thought it made me do a good job, but I found out later, I didn't sound as good as I thought I did, you know. No, but really, to be honest with you, I did drink performing, but I didn't usually go to excess with it until after the shows. Usually after the shows is when I stayed up picking in the rooms and stuff like that, and partying and ruining my health and all the other things that came, well, you know, with it.

GROSS: Did you have blackouts?

JONES: Well, I'd -- I did a lot of passing out. I don't know if I blacked out.

GROSS: That's what I meant.

JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: Would you get worried when you'd come back to -- regain consciousness after passing out and just wonder: what did I do that I've forgotten?

JONES: Oh, yeah, yeah. Many times. Many times. Yeah, you just -- you don't realize the things you have done and then when people start telling you some of the things you've done, you didn't want to hear it, and instead of straightening up then, then you go right back do the same things again. So I don't know what makes people do that, but thank God we found out about it and got a little sense before it was too late.

GROSS: Actually, it strikes me as being particularly dangerous when you're famous because there's always people out to get you when you're famous, and they can make up things that you did while you were drinking and you wouldn't be able to -- no one would know whether you did it or not, because you'd blacked out.

JONES: Well, you know the things you actually do is bad enough. It's the things that people around you -- they build it up and make it worse. So that's one reason I wrote -- I wanted to write the book, and there's been a couple of other books out on me that's been written from just hearsay, and mountains built out of mole hills. And I just wanted to set the record straight. And that's one of the reasons that I went ahead and -- with Tom Carter and wrote the book.

And some of the things they claimed I done was even worse when I get through telling it, but so many of the things, though, that I didn't do, that I'd just like to let everybody know my side of it.

GROSS: Let's hear another one of your songs, and this is "These Days, I Barely Get By" which was co-written by you and Tammy Wynette. And I think you recorded this shortly before or shortly after you separated.

JONES: I think so.

GROSS: Do you remember which it was?



GROSS: Wrote shortly after?

JONES: But I'm sure it was just before we separated and got divorced.

GROSS: Tell me what your life was like when you recorded this?

JONES: Well, it was already getting to one of the lowest points in my life, from drinking so much. And this was what led to -- a lot -- to the cause of the divorce. And so, you know most of the story after that.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is "These Days, I Barely Get By" sung by my guest George Jones.


I woke up this morning
Aching with pain
Don't think I can work
But I'll try

The car's in the shop
So I thumbed all the way
Oh, these days
I barely get by

I walked home from work
And it rained all the way
My wife left
And didn't say why

She laid all our bills
On the desk in the hall
Oh, these days
I barely get by

GROSS: George Jones, recorded in the mid-'70s.

I'm wondering, if you're truly living the lyric that you're singing about, do you think that that helps you make it even more expressive?

JONES: Oh, the song you mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

JONES: Well, I certainly do. I know when I'm singing a song on the stage or recording one in the studio, I have to get deeply involved in it and if not, you can't put the emotions and the feelings in, and I don't think they come out if you don't.

GROSS: My guest is George Jones. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is country music star George Jones.

Let me play the song that you say "turned your life around." This is "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Tell me, well, before we get to how this song changed your life, what was your life like when you recorded it?

JONES: Well, it was getting better. I had came out of rehab and I was doing a lot better and I went in and recorded the song -- that I'd carried it about a year before while I was all messed up, and it was -- it just turned my life around.

It was the biggest record that I'd ever recorded in all my recording years, and you know, they say good things happen when you try to do good things, you know. And maybe the good Lord, when I straightened up, it -- he was kind of thanking me for it.

GROSS: Now, you had this song for about a year before recording it, and you asked the songwriter to rewrite it several times. What was the original song like? How is it different from what you recorded? And why did you think it needed to be changed?

JONES: Well, when I first got the song and first heard it, it didn't have the last verse of the recitation part. It didn't have that part for the -- I kept telling him that the lady had to come back. You know, the girl had to come back one way or the other, either to see him or come to his funeral or something. And they went back and rewrote -- and wrote the last verse, then, that -- where I do the recitation, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. OK. Do you still sing this?

JONES: That was when she came to the funeral, you know.

GROSS: Do you still sing this song a lot?

JONES: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: OK. Recorded in 1980, this is George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."


He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

You know, she came to see him one last time
Oh, and we all wondered if she would
And it kept runnin' through my mind
This time, he's over her for good

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

GROSS: How did you finally give up drinking?

JONES: Well, first of all, I went in rehab, and I went back during the first couple of years, you know, four or five times, just for a couple of days at a time. You know, when these things would come back on you, you'd get your sickness, you know?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: And this was about the time that I had met Nancy, and of course, I was getting all the good help that she could offer.

GROSS: She's your wife.

JONES: Right. And all of a sudden, one day, you know, it was just over with, you know. And so that's been, I'd say -- I'm guessing around 11 years ago.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So what was it like the first time you sang on stage without drinking?

JONES: Well, it was rough. I'd have to say that. It was rough and that -- it was rough for about the first couple three weeks. And then each night, you know, I got more used to it and it was -- I was forgetting that I thought I might need it or something like that. And in other words, we fought it and we got through the worst part of it and then those nights were over.

GROSS: What's it like to sing drinking songs now? Do they have a different meaning to you?

JONES: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's -- life itself is different, you know. I thought I lived in a science fiction movie or something, all of them years -- bad years, but, naw, it's -- I wake up now, you know, and enjoy the farm, enjoy the horses I got, and just have a great time knowing your family and knowing things that you never did know before, you know, and realizing what you got and what you're thankful for.

GROSS: Now, have you ever -- always taken your voice for granted. I mean -- here's what I mean. It came so naturally to you. You never seem to have had to work at singing. You just had this gift, and sometimes when people just have something, they don't realize how special it is.

JONES: Well, a lot of times you can't see the forest for the trees, and we don't wake up when we ought to sometimes, if you know what I mean. And I never did take it all that serious. The only thing I took serious was I loved to do it, and the people liked to hear it, and that's -- my happiest times is when I was on the stage and they seemed to be enjoying it. That made me enjoy being there.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you think of your voice as a gift? I mean, do you think of it as a gift?

JONES: Oh, naturally.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: Naturally. It's -- I think there's only a few every now and then that come along that are lucky enough to have the little different sound in their voice and the drive, the heart, the soul, whatever you want to call it. It's just a little something different that we're blessed with, you know.

GROSS: It seems to me that for a good part of your career, maybe I'm wrong here, that you didn't much like giving interviews or really, you know, thinking out loud about yourself and your life.

JONES: Yeah, I was awful shy when I was growing up and I didn't like interviews and I didn't like to be in crowds unless I was on stage, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: And I was sort of a loner or shy, whatever you want to say, back in those days. And I just really didn't like giving interviews 'cause I didn't think I could talk, you know, right. And I still think I don't today.

But I don't know, back in those days, I was shy and I didn't know what to say, you know. I was afraid someone -- they would ask me things that I wouldn't know how to answer it. So I was really scared more than anything.

GROSS: And you're comfortable with yourself now.

JONES: Yeah, right.

GROSS: OK. Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

JONES: Well, I've enjoyed it.

GROSS: George Jones, recorded in 1996. His latest recording is called "It Don't Get Any Better Than This." He's also featured on a new CD paying tribute to his ex-wife Tammy Wynette who died last April.

From that tribute CD, here's Jones singing "Take Me To Your World."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


If you can find it in your heart
To just forgive
Oh I'll come back and live the way
You wanted me to live
All I want is you to be my girl
Let me come and get you
And take you to my world

Take you to my world
Away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where you won't have
To take the drink
Or hear another dirty joke

All I want is you
To be my girl
Let me come and get you
And take you to my world

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: George Jones
High: Country music star George Jones. He's widely-acclaimed as one of the greatest country music singers, but his 40-year career has also been marked by alcohol and drug abuse. He wrote about his experiences in his autobiography "I Lived To Tell It All" which was published two years ago.
Spec: George Jones; Music Industry; Entertainment
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.

Date: SEPTEMBER 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090302NP.217
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:31

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our country music week continues with Tanya Tucker. She was a country music star by the age of 14, instantly distinctive for singing songs about madness, passion and despair in a little girl's growl. Unlike a lot of child stars, however, she didn't fade away. Instead, Tucker has remained a central figure in country music into adulthood.

In the '80s, she altered her image to include rock and roll and spandex, racking up hits as well as inches in the gossip columns for celebrity friendships that have included Cher, Don Johnson and Glen Campbell.

These days, she's the mother of two children and recognized as the precursor to today's teen country star LeAnn Rimes.

We're going to hear an interview Tanya Tucker recorded last year with our pop music critic Ken Tucker, just after the publication of her autobiography "Nickel Dreams," written in collaboration with her friend Patsi Bale Cox.

First, let's hear her first hit, "Delta Dawn."


Delta Dawn
What's that flower you have on
Could it be a faded rose
From day's gone by
And did I hear you say
He was a'meeting you here today
To take you his mansion in the sky

She's 41 and her daddy still calls her baby
All the folks around Brownsville say she's crazy
How she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man

In her younger days
They called her Delta Dawn
Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on
Then a man of low (unintelligible)
Stood by her side
Promised her he'd take her for his bride

Delta Dawn
What's that flower you have on

KEN TUCKER, POP MUSIC CRITIC: It sounds from reading your book that from a very young age, you were the one who wanted to pursue a career in show business, rather than being pushed by your parents. Is that true?

TANYA TUCKER, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: Absolutely. You know, that was my dream to be a country singer. I've never thought or dreamed about being anything else. And I guess it's kind of strange to know what you want to be at such a young age. My dad saw that I had this dream and so we sort of had the dream together, and we -- we pursued -- pursued it together.

K. TUCKER: And he ended up being your manager. And it seems, again in reading the book, while he'd never had any great experience in show business, he comes off like a very smart, aggressive, protective guy in dealing with, you know, big-time concert promoters and record executives. What was it like to have your father as your manager?

T. TUCKER: Well, it was -- it's been a real blessing. I mean, not to say we don't have our good and bad times like any father and daughter, but he -- it's just amazing, when I was writing the book with Patsi, some of the best times that I recalled and some of the most -- I don't know -- wonderful times to me was the early years of us trying to get started and going to Nashville when I was nine, the first time. And then the second time when I just turned 13, and of course recorded "Delta Dawn" in 1972.

K. TUCKER: Yeah.

T. TUCKER: And it -- he's knocked out -- he's kicked a lot of doors down. He really has.

K. TUCKER: Probably literally.

T. TUCKER: Absolutely, absolutely. And he's been with me all along, and is my most trusted -- my most trusted friend.

K. TUCKER: What was it like traveling around at such a young age when you were just starting out -- before you were even signed to a record contract. I would imagine you didn't have a band. You were probably working with pickup bands that you would come to in each town. Is that right?

T. TUCKER: Exactly. I mean, we would go together, my dad and I, in a station wagon. And we would drive to different shows. And I think I was making around $600 a night.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: So I had several number one records out. And I didn't have a band. And it was very difficult to get these musicians to listen to a 14-year-old kid. It wasn't easy.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, I was going to say. How did you ...

T. TUCKER: Especially a girl.


K. TUCKER: Yeah. Did you feel frustrated? Did you want to tell the band how you wanted your music played? What kind of accompaniment you wanted?

T. TUCKER: Absolutely. But of course, me -- I really didn't have any musical background either. I mean, I've -- it was late -- it kind of came later.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: So -- and my dad didn't have any training as far as getting into the business. I mean, we knew nothing about it.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm. Do you think the industry has changed significantly in its attitudes toward child performers or a performer that comes right out of the box with a number one hit and what you have to do?

T. TUCKER: Yeah. I think it's changed totally, not just for child performers, but for everyone. I mean, there are so many people infiltrating -- so many new artists infiltrating the business now, sometimes it's a little hard to tell them apart, you know. But there's a lot of great music coming out of Nashville and a lot of great music coming out of country music. And that makes me feel really good because from where I started out, it was a lot different -- a lot different -- a lot more difficult.

When I started out, there was not that many female singers -- not that many country girl singers. It was Tammy and Loretta and that was about it, you know.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And so there wasn't a whole -- not to say they weren't competition, 'cause they certainly were. It's two of the greatest of all times. But there wasn't a whole lot of us. And now, women in country music are just exploding. I mean, it's just amazing. We're drawing the big ticket and we're selling the platinum albums and we've come a long way.

K. TUCKER: Yeah.

T. TUCKER: I like to think I've been a part of that, you know.

K. TUCKER: Well, yeah, you certainly have. I mean, in -- and before you, women singers and country music tended to be very polite, demure, mannerly.


K. TUCKER: I mean, you were the real ...

T. TUCKER: Lots of ruffles and lace.

K. TUCKER: ... yeah, exactly.

T. TUCKER: Big hair.


K. TUCKER: Right. And you were really the first person to say: "Hey, you know, women can get rowdy, too, and have a good time."

T. TUCKER: Absolutely.

K. TUCKER: I mean, I think that was an important thing when you came along to establish. Did you feel ...

T. TUCKER: Well...

K. TUCKER: ... feel at the time that you were doing something different? Did people say: hey, don't act like that."


T. TUCKER: They do that all the time.


K. TUCKER: Still today?

T. TUCKER: They say that all the time.

K. TUCKER: Yeah.

T. TUCKER: No, I -- you know, when you're in the middle of the storm, it's hard to feel the wind blowing, I think, sometimes. I mean, I was just so inside of it that I really -- I don't think I really noticed that change that much. If I did, the first time I did was when I did the T&T album. I went to L.A. and then recorded the T&T album, and that was -- everybody thought I'd gone rock and roll, which -- that wasn't my -- absolutely was not my motive. My motive was to do basically what Garth did -- is just spread my wings. And I wanted the world to hear country music.

And I knew that if they were exposed to it, they would love it. But my image sort of changed as far as people were concerned, the public, when I cut that T&T album. I did the foldout thing and ...

K. TUCKER: Yeah, I remember. I vividly remember that.

T. TUCKER: In the red spandex.

K. TUCKER: And the red spandex and the spike heels and the -- all that.

T. TUCKER: Yeah.

K. TUCKER: It was -- in fact, I...

T. TUCKER: And the dynamite.

K. TUCKER: Right. I was living in L.A. at the time and I remember a showcase that they had for you, I think, at the Whiskey A-Go-Go (ph).

T. TUCKER: Right.

K. TUCKER: That you were -- you performed there and it was like this...

T. TUCKER: No, I think it was at the Roxy.

K. TUCKER: Oh, you're probably -- that's right. You're probably right.

T. TUCKER: It's the Roxy, yeah.

K. TUCKER: And it was a big deal 'cause it was like I was a rock critic at that point in L.A. and it was a big thing to get the rock press out and see you at that time.

T. TUCKER: Right.

K. TUCKER: It was a real image change for you.

T. TUCKER: It really was. But it wasn't the one that I really wanted. I mean, I don't mind the image so much as the music. I really didn't care for -- I mean, I -- it wasn't a good time for me.

K. TUCKER: Well, your first big hits were produced by the great Nashville producer Billy Sherill...

T. TUCKER: That's right, yeah.

K. TUCKER: ... who had worked with people like George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

T. TUCKER: You bet.

K. TUCKER: Was it intimidating to be 14 and working with what I would assume was a tough buzzard like him?

T. TUCKER: You know, it was absolutely wonderful.

K. TUCKER: Really?

T. TUCKER: We had a great relationship and I look back over those times and I -- it really was really quite, quite something to have taken the chance to sign me. I mean, I was 12 years old when he signed me and I turned 13 and we recorded "Delta Dawn" in May -- I guess May 6th it came out, was the release date on "Delta Dawn" -- when it hit the radio stations.

And I -- I had to -- I had to really, really look back and think how wonderful that was because I think if I would have fallen into the hands of someone else, that I wouldn't be here today.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: I mean, he listened to me. He listened to a 13-year-old girl when I said: "I don't think that 'Happiest Girl in the Whole USA' is my song. I just don't think it's my kind of song."

K. TUCKER: Was that a song that was originally given to you to sing?


K. TUCKER: Really.


K. TUCKER: So that became this big Donna Fargo hit.

T. TUCKER: Exactly.

K. TUCKER: Launched her career.

T. TUCKER: Absolutely. And we later, of course, became friends and we discussed that, me and Donna.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: But of course, he played "Delta Dawn" for me, and I said: "Now that is my song."

K. TUCKER: I think that's amazing that at that young, you would have that sense of yourself and what you -- the kind of material you should be doing.

T. TUCKER: Well, looking back over it, it's amazing to me, too, but -- not only that, but that he would listen to me.

K. TUCKER: Right.

T. TUCKER: You know, because here's this big major -- I mean, everybody kept telling me: oh, Billy Sherrill, Billy -- I didn't know who Billy -- I didn't know a producer from Adam, you know what I mean?

K. TUCKER: Right.

T. TUCKER: I mean, I didn't know what they did.

K. TUCKER: Yeah.

T. TUCKER: So -- but I kind of got -- kind of caught on after a while that this guy was really incredible -- incredible talent, and really an icon in Nashville at that time.

K. TUCKER: I'd like to play a little bit from one of your earliest hits. Billy Sherrill produced -- this is "Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone?".


Would you lay with me
In a field of stone
If my needs were strong
Would you lay with me

Should my lips grow dry
Would you wet them dear
In the midnight hour
If my lips were dry

Would you go away
To another land
Walk a thousand miles
Through the burning sand

Wipe the blood away
From my dying hand
If I give myself to you

Will you bathe with me
In the stream of life
When the moon is full
Will you bathe with me

Will you still the beat
When I'm down and out
In my time of trial
Will you stand by me

Would you go away
To another land

K. TUCKER: That's Tanya Tucker, one of her earliest songs. That song, as well as "Delta Dawn," dealt with some very mature themes. Can you remember how you related to those songs at the time? What you thought about when you sang the lyrics? 'Cause that song "Will You Lay With Me In A Field Of Stone" -- people criticized you for, you know, it was interpreted as...

T. TUCKER: That's true.

K. TUCKER: ... the sexual nature of the lyrics.

T. TUCKER: Yes. Yes, they did. And it was banned on a few stations. But it still went to number one.

K. TUCKER: Really?

T. TUCKER: It was a number one record for me. So it was written by David Allan Coe (ph), and he was a strange bird.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, one of the original "outlaws."

T. TUCKER: Exactly. And later became a very good friend of mine and still is. But he walked in. He had like seven of his wives with him.


And I -- he played Billy this song. He sang it to him. And of course, after he left, I kind of went: ooh, that was a weird one, man, right there. Ooh.

And I -- then I said: it's a great song and I'm going to cut it. And we did. And of course, it -- we did get a lot of criticism, but David Allan Coe told me later that that song he wrote as wedding vows for his brother's wedding.

And I think when you listen to the song with that in mind, it changes it all around. It makes it something that's really, really strong and -- it's the kind of love that -- you know, I want to be loved like that. I think everybody does -- someone that would do those things for you has got to be someone that really loves you.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: So instead of a sexual connotation, it was more of a incredible, deep, emotional love, spiritual love, so to speak.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And that was -- I mean, I could understand that when I was -- I was 15 when I recorded that song. So I could understand that. I mean, I came from a lot of love. I mean, I've never known how it would feel not to be loved. And that song really was very, very, very, very strong, very strong.

K. TUCKER: Yeah.

GROSS: We'll hear more of Tanya Tucker's interview with our pop critic Ken Tucker after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


Let's get back to Tanya Tucker speaking with our pop music critic Ken Tucker. Their interview was recorded last year after the publication of her autobiography "Nickel Dreams."

In the '80s, Tanya Tucker was riding out a rocky period that included sagging record sales and a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic. She'd also entered into a stormy relationship with Glen Campbell.

K. TUCKER: You write that you'd have these tremendous fights with him. You were both doing drugs. You'd stop and do cocaine and then start fighting again -- these things were such epic -- I mean, these sound like marathon sessions. And even though you're very specific about the violence involved, you say that he knocked your front teeth out in one fight.

T. TUCKER: Right.

K. TUCKER: Although, I guess we should say he denies that.


T. TUCKER; Oh, God. Oh, well.

K. TUCKER: Well.

T. TUCKER: Oh, well.


Someone had to knock them out. I mean, I don't have them for some reason.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, they're just not there.

T. TUCKER: But you know, a lot of that -- those are some of the difficult things that were hard to talk about because you know, I really, really don't need to. I really, really don't want to hurt Glen Campbell and I mean, to me, he's been hurt enough and he's hurt himself enough. And I must didn't want to be on that bandwagon. I care about him and I want him to be happy. It was very difficult to write about personal things. I could have written a lot more.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: But I don't figure that -- that anybody's life is going to be bettered by it. And I think it should be between me and Glen and the good Lord, you know?

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: I really don't think I feel like ratting on anybody.

K. TUCKER: Right.

T. TUCKER: And that was one of the difficult times for me in writing the book was just trying to be careful, but being honest at the same time, you know. I wanted to be totally honest.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, well that's what strikes me in reading the book is that, you know, everything gets -- it's in the air now about that kind of physical abuse and that kind of thing, but...

T. TUCKER: Exactly.

K. TUCKER: ... but you, I mean, this may be a politically incorrect question to say, but I wonder when you're involved with somebody in a passionate way, isn't there a sense in which fighting almost becomes part of the love affair?

T. TUCKER: You know, it's true, especially when there's drugs and alcohol involved.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: It just becomes a real big cycle. And we did -- I have no doubt that we didn't really care about each other, but too many things were in the way. I mean, too many things. And -- now I'm not going to say -- I'm not going to sit here and tell you that if there were no drugs or alcohol involved that he and I would have made it, but we might have made it a little longer, I think. But it was just a time for me where I was coming into my own and I was just becoming a grown woman, you know, at 22. And he being much older, twice my age.

But I was certainly in awe of him and I think it would be very dishonest to say I wasn't. He was a big hero to me, and one of the greatest singers I've ever known.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And one of the greatest musicians. So we had some bad times, that's for sure.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And I just hope I never have those kind of times again.

K. TUCKER: Well, lots of older country stars like Waylon Jennings and George Jones have complained that country music is now a young person's game; that only, you know, attractive guys and gals in their 20s get played on the radio.

You're certainly not as old as those guys, and your music is certainly played on the radio, but do you think they're basically right in that criticism?

T. TUCKER: I think they're right in a way, but I -- I see no reason why Waylon Jennings couldn't have a hit record today. I think he's a great singer. He's one of our icons. He's a legend. I love to hear him and I think it's just material. I think that Merle Haggard should have a number one record right now. And I think he's -- I think Loretta Lynn should have records out.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: I mean, these people -- I think they've just been in the business so long they're kind of tired. And they kind of want to kick back. And I think that's probably what's kept me going, is I -- I'm still -- I'm still wanting it. I'm still wanting to be out here. I'm still wanting to do it. I'm still young enough to feel like doing it. Instead of complaining, Waylon -- I think we ought to over and give Waylon a hit -- I think he can still do it, you know?

K. TUCKER: Right. Well, I think one of the problems ...

T. TUCKER: But it's true, though -- it's true, though, Ken, a lot of -- they're just not playing the old ...

K. TUCKER: Right. That's what I was going to say, was that, you know, even before -- just when LeeAnn Rimes put out "Blue," one of the things you heard was the industry say: that's too country. This absurd situation where country radio doesn't want to play anything that's too country because it has to somehow appeal to, you know, aging baby boomers and...

T. TUCKER: The younger generation...

K. TUCKER: ... rock and roll fans and stuff like that.

T. TUCKER: Yeah.

K. TUCKER: It's an awkward...

T. TUCKER: Well, they can't forget there's a few of us out here that really like to hear that country.


I like it real country.

K. TUCKER: That's right.

T. TUCKER: But I like everything. I mean, I'll -- I like everything from Jimmy Rogers to Frank Sinatra.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And I think there's a lot of other people out there, too. And I think we always try to categorize things too much.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, I mean everything get too, kind of, market-segmented and directed at, you know, specific audiences and all that kind of thing.

T. TUCKER: Exactly.

K. TUCKER: But...

T. TUCKER: Oh, it'll come back around. Radio, you know, they're pretty smart. They -- they -- they'll get back around.

K. TUCKER: Yeah, I mean there's already this movement I keep hearing about called "alternative country," that's, you know, younger players doing very old-style honky-tonk country music.

T. TUCKER: Exactly. Yeah.

K. TUCKER: I mean, that's the kind of stuff that I would think you want to hear more of.

T. TUCKER: Absolutely. I love it. I'm ready for it. I mean, we're always ready for new faces, and I just -- I love the new faces, but I loved them old faces, too.

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And someone told me, they said: you know, have you ever thought about you -- you are like part of the old and you're part of the new, but have you ever considered you might be a bridge between the two?

K. TUCKER: Mmm-hm.

T. TUCKER: And I thought that was the most beautiful compliment I've heard in my life.

K. TUCKER: Well, thank you so much for talking. It's really been great. I appreciate it.

T. TUCKER: Oh, I love talking to you, Ken, and thanks so much. I hope I get to hang out with you again sometime.

GROSS: Tanya Tucker spoke with FRESH AIR pop critic Ken Tucker last year after the publication of her autobiography.

Here's a song from her latest CD, "Complicated."


It's kind of gentle and easy
Something to do with the heart
A sweet song crying way down deep
You got a place baby
No way to state it
It's a love thing
It's got no name
It's just a feeling inside
It's a full moon
A summer rain
And when I'm holding you tight
It's a love thing

GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new collection of country music "cheatin'" songs.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Tanya Tucker
High: Country singer Tanya Tucker. She became a star at 13-years-old with the chart-topping song "Delta Dawn." Since then, she has had countless other hit songs, Grammy nominations, and in 1991 was voted the Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year. But her success has not been without its low points, enduring problems with drug and alcohol abuse. She wrote about her experiences in her autobiography last year, "Nickel Dreams."
Spec: Tanya Tucker; Music Industry; Entertainment
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.

Date: SEPTEMBER 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090303NP.217
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Infidelity is one of the primary themes of country music, and a new CD collects some classics of this sub-genre. A loose coalition of young country performers, including Dale Watson, Kelly Willis and Rosie Flores, calling themselves "The Wandering Eyes," have gathered together to perform some well-known and obscure examples of cheatin' songs on an album called "The Wandering Eyes Sing Songs of Forbidden Love."

Ken Tucker has this review.


It's a cheatin' situation
A stealin' invitation
To take what's not (unintelligible)
To make it through the midnight hours

It's a cheatin' situation

KEN TUCKER, MUSIC CRITIC: It remains a truism that country music is far more interested in the subject of adultery than rock and roll is. In the '50s and '60s, this was somewhat understandable. In those years, rock and roll was still essentially a music of youth, aimed at a teenage audience far more concerned with dating and making out than in marriage and the sanctity of wedding vows.

But these days, many rock and roll stars and their audience are well into marrying age, and I'm surprised that it hasn't yielded more songs on this subject. The only great rock album I can think of that's based on marital betrayal is Bob Dylan's brutal "Blood on the Tracks." And that one carries rather little of the guilt that makes country songs about broken unions such, well, guilty pleasures.

But even at its most callous, rock and roll has never come up with a song as predatory as "Cheatin' Traces," sung here by Ted Roddy.


I'm gonna sweep the car
Make sure no hairpin's left behind
Check the ashtray
So no lipstick cigarettes she'll find

Roll the windows down
So that the perfume smell erases
Before I get home
I must lose all those cheatin' traces

All the signs
of slippin' 'round

TUCKER: Whoa -- "sweeping the car to make sure that no hairpins are left behind" -- that is one cold dude. Country music at its best is always realistic, grownup stuff with its working class roots steering it toward matters of making a living and making a marriage work.

The paradigm of the latter may be Tammy Wynette's hit "Stand By Your Man," but for every song about the bonds of fidelity, there are five more about catting around.

Vladimir Nabokov, or at least Adrian Lyne, director of the recent movie "Lolita," has nothing on the '70s songwriter Mel Street, co-author of "Forbidden Angel" as you'll hear on this version sung by Jason Roberts.


Girl, you kissed me like a woman
Though you're barely seventeen
There's no doubt you're old enough
To satisfy

But I know they'd call me guilty
If I loved you all the way
Why has heaven let
Forbidden angels out to play

Forbidden angel

TUCKER: Lastly on this collection, Rosie Flores takes what might be called the Monica Lewinsky position in her cover of "Even If I Have To Steal" -- positing the argument that when the mistress' love exceeds that of the wife's, loving the man is somehow justified. But with the crucial caveat that, as she puts it in singing to her lover: "my heart is in your hands" -- which is to say: it takes two to tango, pal.


Even if I have to steal your love
I want you
Heaven help me
My heart is in your hands

When you look at me
With your eyes so inviting
Something makes me
Cross over the line

That's when I lose the (unintelligible)
I'd give anything
To make you mine

Even if I have to steal your love

TUCKER: The tunes on "Songs of Forbidden Love" are so hardcore country they'd never get played on today's country radio stations. And few new songs on this subject are being written in today's tightly moralistic country world. More power to Dale Watson, therefore, who wrote and sings this new contribution to the genre, one about unrequited, but no less passionate illicit love.


I feel the need to hold you
Burning deep inside
But my feelings for you
I try to hide

'Cause the ring that's on your finger
And the one on mine
Belongs to your husband and my wife

Unaware I even care
Tell you it ain't right
So my love for you
Is the unspoken kind

TUCKER: Every country fan will know a few songs from this area of honky-tonk pathos that are missing on "Songs of Forbidden Love." I, for example, regret the omission of Loretta Lynn's typically feminist song of emotionally vengeance, "Cheatin' on a Cheater." But that's a minor quibble.

While I'm bound to commend you all to remain on the straight and narrow, I also encourage you to take a vicarious walk on the wild side with this admirably immoral CD.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for "Entertainment Weekly."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Ken Tucker
High: Music Critic Ken Tucker reviews the new collection of songs about infidelity by a group called "The Wandering Eyes." It's titled "The Wandering Eyes Sing Songs of Forbidden Love."
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Sexuality
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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