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Step Back Nonbelievers: The Realness of Tanya Tucker

September 3, 2012

For a brief period growing up in northern Utah in the early 1980s I fancied myself a cowboy.  I tooled around with old-truck-driving, Skoal-chewing, John-Deere-hat-wearing types; when it ran, I drove a 1956 Chevrolet 3600 3/4 ton long-bed pickup.  I wasn’t the genuine article – as evidenced by the fact that I wore Levis 501s while my real-deal buddies wore Wranglers – but I sure tried.  Boots, jeans, and plaid shirts were my normal attire, everything held together by a leather belt with my name embossed on it (a relic I still have somewhere although damned if it doesn’t fit anymore).  Our hangouts included the parking lot of the Golden Spike Arena in West Ogden after the weekend high school rodeos, where we’d angle for girls wearing belts with their names on them, and the Tamarack truck stop out on 21st Street, where we’d drink coffee and play pool ‘til the early morning hours.

While I was mainly a headbanger in high school, with my cowboy buds I listened to a lot of country and western, with Chris LeDoux, Charly McClain, Sylvia, and Tanya Tucker being some of our favorites.  Our appreciation for Chris LeDoux rested on his being, in our view, the most authentic rodeo singer of all time, an opinion bolstered by his having won the World Champion Bareback Rider title at the 1976 National Finals Rodeo.  As for the other three cited artists, well, they were hot chicks who sang with sexy southern drawls and we were teenage boys.

A major music-related regret from those years was showing up for a Charly McClain concert only to learn she’d been snowed in at Denver and then deciding to get our money back rather than stay for an extended show by opening act Chris LeDoux.  Chris was always putting on shows in Utah and I figured there’d be a million future opportunities to see him on the cheap.  Unfortunately, I never did get around to seeing him live and, with his death from cancer in 2005, now I never will.

Despite her celebrity, fame and hotness, I always thought of Tanya Tucker as a “real girl,” the type that you might see sitting in the stands at a high school football game or shopping for clothes at the mall.  This was surely due in part to the fact that my stepdad told a story of having sold her a puppy sired by his purebred shepherd Herman; the details of how or when this would have come about are no longer clear to me but the idea that Tanya Tucker was a person who would get a dog from some regular dude in Utah made her seem pretty girl-next-doorish.  When someone I knew and believed to be exceptionally cool then claimed to have “been with” Tanya (even if not in a field of stone), her “realness” was cemented in my mind for the long haul.  The story went something like this:

Jeff was one of my buddy Matt’s older brothers.  He earned our teen awe for being the one person we knew who had actually been on the professional rodeo circuit for a time, thus living the true cowboy life we all aspired to, and for having lost a thumb in a hunting accident.  (I’m not sure why having had part of his hand shot off made him more awesome, but it somehow did; we were teenagers remember.)  While always cool when we’d happen to overlap with him at the Tamarack, Jeff didn’t usually have much to do with us high school punks.

One night however, Jeff surprised us by sidling up to our table and buying us all a round of coffees and baked potatoes.  Being an off night at the truck stop with few lonely ladies around for him to scheme on, I guess Jeff figured we were as good company as anybody to pass a few late night hours with.  We took advantage of Jeff’s deigning to sit with us for the first time to bombard him with demands for details about his rodeo days, thumblessness, and other adventures, which he satisfied generously.  We were rapt as he regaled us with tales of buckin’ broncos, but it was when he started in with the rodeo groupie stories that Jeff had us in the palm of his hand.  We leaned in for more like bell-rung Pavlov’s dogs as each new yarn was spun.

The biggest highlight came when Jeff mentioned somewhat nonchalantly that Tanya Tucker would occasionally show up at a rodeo and then hang out with the cowboys afterwards at whatever local haunt they invaded.  Jeff proceeded to confirm Tanya’s wild child reputation, describing how she could put away the booze and raise hell with the best of ‘em.  He then went on to note having enjoyed a private audience with Tanya one night after cozying up to her in a bar.  Despite our prodding he refused to provide more than a (relatively) gentlemanly review of the intimate performance.

Each of us created our own mental pictures to accompany Jeff’s narration – or at least I know I did – and truth be told, his decision to provide only a summarized overview probably contributed to higher quality imaginings than an actual blow-by-blow telling would have.  Between the gifted potatoes, the brief attention to a few punk kids, and the tales of bad brahma bulls, that time with Jeff reinforced what we had already known; that he was super badass cool.  In the end though, it was his firsthand confirmation of Tanya Tucker’s “realness” that elevated him to mythical status and served to sear his legend into our collective long-term memories.

I continue to regularly spin my Tanya Tucker and Chris LeDoux discs (although Charly and Sylvia have slipped away from me).  While her countrified songs appeal to me the most nowadays, my vinyl copy of Tanya’s more rocking 1978 “TNT” album remains a prized possession (see the LP’s gatefold picture above), likely manifesting leftover traces of my teenage self.  It’s funny but even now when listening to her uniquely moving voice, I still think of Tanya as a real girl.  Although I’m unlikely to run into her out and about here in Bolivia, I wouldn’t be surprised at all were I to hear that she’d shown up at some relative’s garage sale back in the States.

From → Music

3 Comments
  1. Baked potatoes! Do they come with a range of optional toppings in Utah? I used to enjoy the addition of coleslaw, sour cream and grated cheddar now and then at music festivals, outdoor events and the like, with the earth-apple and its accoutrements served in a polystyrene box affair whose lid constantly flopped closed, while trying to eat the mess with a plastic fork without piercing the bottom of the foam container or smashing the insubstantial cutlery on the second or third bite was a constant challenge. If the spud was really hot, some of the melted cheese would fuse to the box in a way that made you wonder about both the cheddar and the cancerous properties of the receptacle; there was never ever enough sour cream…

    Oh, the potatoes were not central to this story? Sorry, they were the only bit I recognised (smile), other than the neat storytelling (additional smile).

    • Not at the Tamarack, they only offered butter and sour cream; turns out those are still my potato-topping go-to’s. Coleslaw on a potato, eh? What foreign place are you from again? (smile back at ya)

      • As they say ’round these here parts, ‘One man’s coleslaw is another man’s cactus’. No idea what it means, but that’s what they say.

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