Tammy Wynette has a serious competitor for Nashville's Queen of Heartbreak crown: Lorrie Morgan, who at 36 is already twice divorced and once widowed in 1989, when doomed country star Keith Whitley died of alcohol poisoning. That translates into instant credibility for the hundreds of thousands of mostly female fans who are currently keeping Morgan's Greatest Hits package squarely in the middle of country's top 10. The album is also a reminder that Morgan is capable of delivering the kind of feisty songwriting that harkens back to Wynette's halcyon days in the '70s.
''The thing that Tammy had made you think: 'Well, hell, if she lived through it, I can live through this, too,''' says Morgan, who welcomes comparisons to Wynette. ''Women need a lot of understanding, and they need songs to help them express themselves. I want to make today's women feel what I felt years ago when I listened to Tammy.''
That philosophy has paid off with Morgan's blue-collar fan base but winning her peers' affection has proved harder to come by. ''There's just a few women in the business who'll even talk to me,'' says the plainspoken singer, whose 1992 hit single, ''What Part of No,'' showcases her pull-no-punches style. ''When I've refused to record a certain song, or said, 'I don't feel like doin' a show with a particular person,' people go, 'Lorrie's hard to get along with. She's just a bitch.' It may have cost me a few votes at awards time, but I'm not good at playing politics.''
Underneath it all, Morgan says, she's not so tough. The events of her life losing her father, Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan, at 16, and trying to rehabilitate the reckless Whitley (she used to tie his leg to hers in bed so he wouldn't sneak out to drink) also nurtured a tender side. ''People often portray me as Miss Hard Stuff,'' admits the single mom of daughter Morgan Whitley, 14, and son Jessie Keith Whitley, 8. ''It hurts my feelings a lot.''
But things are looking up. Her seven-month relationship with U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee is going strong, and this fall, Morgan makes her network debut in the ABC TV movie The Stranger Beside Me, playing the friend of a terrorized wife. ''I feel like I'm just beginning my life,'' says Morgan. ''I'm happier than ever. Maybe it's finally time for me to enjoy things.''