May 31, 2008
There are many second generation country stars that build on the legacy of the famous parent that came before them. Lorrie Morgan is one of the few that actually eclipsed her famous parent, becoming one of the most popular female country artists during the nineties gold rush.
Of course, she’d been chasing the dream long before that. She was born the daughter of George Morgan, an Opry member who had his biggest hit in 1949 with “Candy Kisses.” Morgan has described herself as an “Opry brat,” a kid who grew up backstage of the venerable institution. She was 13 when she made her own Opry debut, garnering a huge ovation for her rendition of Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses.” Three short years later, her father died suddenly. Still a teen in high school, she dedicated herself fully to pursuing her own singing career, both to carry on her father’s legacy and help pay the bills he left behind.
To say things went slowly would be an understatement. She was nineteen when she released her first single, the Eddy Raven-penned “Two People in Love” on ABC Records. After that stopped at #75, she put out the Liz Anderson-penned “Tell me I’m Only Dreaming” on MCA, which also failed to capture an audience. A third single in 1979, “I’m Completely Satisfied With You,” was a studio-spliced posthumous duet with her late father. It stopped at No. 93.
Morgan went back to the drawing board, playing clubs in the early eighties and touring briefly with George Jones. She appeared on the Opry whenever she could. The familial atmosphere there connected her to her history, and despite the fact that she had not had any hits by 1984, she was invited to join the cast. She spent the eighties appearing regularly on the Opry while seeking a new recording contract. She ended up signing with RCA in 1988, the label home of her husband Keith Whitley.
This time, she found the audience she’d been looking for. Her debut album Leave the Light On connected with the new country fans that were flooding the market. Big hits like “Five Minutes,” “Out of Your Shoes” and “Dear Me” had a sophisticated pop-country sound that recalled the Nashville Sound stylings of her fellow Opry mate Jeannie Seely. The tragic death of Whitley led to their studio-created duet “‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose,” which won the CMA Vocal Event award in 1989.
For her second album, Morgan explored her country roots further, making George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You)” a hit again. But it was the title track of Something in Red that made her a superstar. The sweeping Broadway-style ballad wasn’t a huge radio hit, but it connected so deeply with listeners that it pushed both of her albums to platinum sales. It also earned her a Grammy nomination.
Morgan’s winning ways continued with her third set, Watch Me, which featured big hits like the title cut and “What Part of No.” Morgan’s biggest heroine was Tammy Wynette, and she received a proud endorsement from the legend for the album’s hit “I Guess You Had to Be There”, which Wynette said was one of the first real country thing she’d heard on the radio in a long time.
Morgan revealed her songwriting gifts for the first time on her fourth album War Paint, which featured her heartbreaking tribute to Whitley, “If You Came Back From Heaven.” The album went gold. A Greatest Hits collection in 1995 produced the No. 1 hit “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” and again showed her penchant for classic country with its cover of the Billie Jo Spears hit “Standing Tall.”
Morgan collaborated with the Beach Boys on a rousing rendition of their hit “Don’t Worry Baby,” while finishing out the nineties with two more gold albums, the stellar Greater Need and its solid follow-up Shakin’ Things Up. After that, radio favor faded, despite smart covers of Kim Richey (“Here I Go Again”) and Bobbie Cryner (“You’d Think He’d Know Me Better”). Morgan followed her muse, covering pop standards on Secret Love and releasing a duet album with Sammy Kershaw.
In 2004, Morgan released her most personal album to date, Show Me How, which scored a minor hit with the single mom anthem “Do You Still Want To Buy Me That Drink (Frank).” Morgan has continued to perform on the Opry, and is currently prepping the release of her first album of self-penned material this summer. She is also preparing an album of country classics to follow that set. This promising pair of future releases indicate that she’ll continue to build on the impressive legacy she’s already established.
- “Out of Your Shoes,” 1989
- “Five Minutes,” 1990
- “Something in Red,” 1992
- “What Part of No,” 1992
- “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” 1995
- “Good as I Was to You,” 1997
- Something in Red, 1991
- Watch Me, 1992
- Greater Need, 1996
- Show Me How, 2004
- CMA Vocal Event (“‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose”), 1989
- CMA Album (Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles), 1994