Tanya Tucker might be an icon in the country music industry — but she’s also known for being a little unlucky in love. Thankfully, after a rocky romantic history, Tucker has found stability at long last with a fellow creative, singer-songwriter boyfriend Craig Dillingham. They’ve been together for four years, but they first met over 50 years ago. In an exclusive interview with Woman’s World, Tucker shares a touching story from the recording of her latest album, Sweet Western Sound. This example of musical kismet proves these two were meant to be together all along.
Tanya Tucker’s Romantic History
Tucker has had a series of relationships with professional entertainers, but never tied the knot with any of them. To be fair, when would she have found the time? She released her first hit song, “Delta Dawn,” at the tender age of 13 in 1972, and from there went on to have numerous top-10 and top-40 hits. Her 2019 album While I’m Livin’ won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album, and she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year. A documentary about her prodigious career and return to the studio to record her first album in 10 years, The Return of Tanya Tucker Featuring Brandi Carlile, was released last fall.
At times, Tucker’s talent has been unfairly overshadowed in the media by her relationships. Most famous is her explosive romance with country singer Glen Campbell; the pair were engaged for a brief time in 1981 and became known for their public arguments and frequent tabloid appearances. Tucker got engaged twice more after that, to a rodeo cowboy and later to producer Jerry Laseter, who fathered her daughter Layla. Tucker called off her wedding with Laseter just days before the ceremony upon discovering she was pregnant; apparently, she didn’t want to walk down the aisle pregnant. She also had daughter Presley and son Grayson with actor Ben Reed.
Meeting ‘The One’
Craig Dillingham and Tucker are both native Texans, and they met at a Fort Worth, Texas, radio station when they were only thirteen. Tucker was rocketing to stardom with her first single “Delta Dawn,” while Dillingham had experience singing in a family group and was working on establishing a solo career. He went on to score a top 40 hit in 1983, and has written several songs for other artists over the years.
“His dad would take him around like my dad would, to sing,” Tucker tells Woman’s World. “He’s a singer and he has a great voice — in fact, we [re]cut “Delta Dawn” and he’s singing on it, the bass part, and my daughters are singing the harmonies.”
Tucker and Dillingham were in and out of each other’s lives for many years after that. They stayed friends, and twice tried to make their connection romantic; but it didn’t work out. Then in 2019, Tucker’s friend and fellow country artist Lee Ann Womack made a move. Womack is married to Frank Liddell, who is best friends with Dillingham — and Womack invited Dillingham to a show that would bring the two face to face. The rest is history. “If it ain’t him,” Tucker told People in a 2020 interview of Craig, “I’m done.” Clearly, the sentiment hasn’t changed three years later.
“Lee Ann is to blame,” Tucker confirms. “We’re all best friends, but it’s been four years. He’s past the three year limit with me. For a guy, it’s usually three years, times up. He’s seemed to have gotten me to stay. In fact, we both said, ‘If this ain’t it, then that’s it for me.’ He’s a good man and he’s got the same kind of values that I have and we come from the same kind of backgrounds.”
The New Album and Musical Kismet
On the night before Tucker was scheduled to record her latest album, Sweet Western Sound, her musical collaborator Brandi Carlile sent her a song called “When the Rodeo Is Over (Where Does the Cowboy Go?).”
“Brandi had sent me a song, which she usually does — she sings all my demos,” Tucker explains. “She sent it and said, ‘If you like this song, we’ll start with it tomorrow.’ And I go, ‘Okay,’ so I listened to it and liked it, but I wanted [my boyfriend] Craig’s opinion. So I said, ‘Craig, get in here.’ He was in another part of the room and I handed him the phone and I said, ‘Go in there and listen to this song and if you like it, I think I’m going to cut it tomorrow.’ About a minute later he came back and said, ‘Hell, I wrote the son-of-a-bitch!’ Can you believe that? He wrote it 20 years ago. That’s God pitching me a song.”
Sweet Western Sound comes out June 2, 2023 and will be Tucker’s twenty-sixth solo record. It was produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, and the beautiful album cover — featuring Tanya standing alone with her horse in front of a sunset — was shot at Craig’s ranch in Texas.
Just because she’s found a forever love doesn’t mean Tanya will be slowing down anytime soon. There’s still plenty left on her bucket list. “I want to travel the world, take my music. I want a big black stallion like I rode downtown in Nashville; I want to call him Cosa Salvaje [“Wild Thing”] and I want to get my tequila [also named Cosa Salvaje] where it needs to be,” Tucker tells Woman’s World. “I would like to get a highway named after my mother and my dad in their honor in Wilcox, Arizona. And I want to meet Jane Goodall. I want to go see the gorillas in the mist and try to help their plight somehow.”
Sounds like a pretty busy schedule! It seems gorillas actually do enjoy “singing” and humming while eating their meals, so perhaps Tanya, Craig, and the great apes can croon together.
Additional reporting by Deborah Evans Price.