Lorrie Morgan knows how to accentuate the drama of the moment at hand. It probably didn’t hurt that she got a standing ovation on the Grand Ole Opry the very first time she performed at age 13, following an introduction by her country crooner dad, George Morgan.
A couple of decades later, in the video for her regal ballad “Something In Red,” she’d play the part of a blond bombshell fantasizing about what she could wear to showcase her sensuality and seduce her husband.
Then there was the video for “My Favorite Things,” the Sound of Music selection she included on her 1992 Christmas album. It showed her transformed into a waltzing beauty in a gleaming white ball gown.
There’s also the campy cover of Dos Divas, her 2013 duets album with Pam Tillis, which has Morgan posing like a model in the back of a Jeep with platinum curls against the sky, dangly diamond earrings and retro, golden-framed shades.
Not that she’s show-ready every moment of the day. Witness the veteran singer’s explanation for why she suddenly sounds so much further from her phone midinterview: “I was getting dressed. Kinda needed my hands to pull my pants up. I’m getting ready to go out joggin’.”
Soon enough she’ll be going out on her Christmas tour, bringing her love of both grand sentimentality and down-to-earth expression, along with tinsel, to fans in several cities.
CMT Edge: You’re taking your Christmas show on the road after staging it in a dinner theater setting at Opryland Hotel. What elements of that show are you able to bring with you?
Morgan: Well, there’s not many. We’re gonna have a few of the videos that we were lucky enough to have at Opryland. But it’s gonna be more of a laid-back kind of situation. It’s gonna be more like everybody kinda sittin’ around and, “Let’s sing some Christmas songs and talk about [memories].” It’s not gonna be so much staged, if you know what I mean.
I gather that the title of your holiday album Merry Christmas From London is actually kind of a misnomer. Your producer flew to London to record the philharmonic, but you’d fallen ill and couldn’t make the trip yourself, right?
That’s correct. I was so sick. I had pleurisy. He would be in there with the symphony, and he’d call me for keys [to record the songs in] over the phone from London. It was crazy.
Was that public knowledge when you released it?
Yeah, it was actually. People just assumed I was there. If they asked what the story was, we told ‘em. If they didn’t ask, we just were like, “Eh, whatever.”
How did you arrive at that particular way of approaching a Christmas album, in the tradition of classic pop vocalists?
That’s what I love. Those were the Christmas songs that meant a lot to me. They made me feel Christmasy and homey and warm. I wanted to recreate that for my kids and my grandkids.
Who gets more Christmasy than that, unless it’s Perry Como? And I couldn’t get him. To me, that’s what Christmas was, waitin’ for the Andy Williams Christmas show and Johnny Mathis’ album, listening to Bing Crosby. … I just wanted to see if I could recreate some of that magic that I think has gotten lost over the years.
In addition to Christmas carols, you also did Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night,” the sort of thing you might sing at a Christmas Eve church service. To you, what’s the difference between singing Christmas hymns and gospel songs?
Well, I’m not sure. Growing up Catholic, I learned mostly hymns, you know? So I’ve never really done a lot of gospel singing. But one day I am gonna do a gospel album because my mom wants me to do a gospel album. If mom wants it, mom gets it.
That often seems to be the reason country artists end up recording gospel albums. When Alan Jackson made a hymns album some years ago, he did it for his mom.
Yeah. My dad was a Baptist. … He knew a lot of gospel songs — a lot. But when they got married, he became a Catholic. Now don’t get me wrong. We sang “Amazing Grace,” too. But it’s just different. It’s just a more lush style, I guess, versus a rawness of gospel. And I love gospel music. I do. But I’ve just never sang it before.
I hear a similar contrast throughout your body of work: orchestral pop balladry alongside harder-edged honky-tonk stuff. How do those disparate sensibilities fit together in your mind?
Well, I’m a pretty complicated person. I’m pretty complex and I think that shows in my music. I love all kinds of music. I have everything in my CD player from Astrud Gilberto to Andrea Bocelli to Tammy Wynette. I mean, I’m very diversified. I don’t ever want to be, I guess the word is, stifled, to just sing a certain way or a certain category.
Country music, it is the love of my life. But do I love other music? Oh, my God. I love all kinds of music. I love it all. And I don’t ever want to be categorized [as] just being a country singer or a pop singer. I want to be it all.
You’ve made room for all of it in your catalog.
I wanna credit a lot of that freedom to do that [to record exec] Joe Galante years ago when I was on RCA. I mean, he was the one who allowed me to step out and do the Merry Christmas From London album and Secret Love album. He knew that there was something in me that had to come out.
You’re no longer chasing radio success. Over the past several years, you’ve made an album of country and pop standards, teamed up with Pam Tillis to tour and record and spent the holiday season playing Christmas shows. What guides your creative and professional decision-making these days? How do you choose what you want to do?
That’s just it. I do get to choose what I want to do. I guess I just do what I feel I’m needing to do, whether it’s tour with Pam or go overseas. You’re right — I’m not radio-driven now. So I can be more creative. I can do things that I want to do. I’m very blessed that I’m still selling out crowds. A couple old broads like me and Pam, we’re still selling out. I mean, come on. That’s pretty cool shit.
There’s a song on Dos Divas called “What Was I Thinkin’,” and you joke in the lyrics about events from your past. You’ve got a line in there about marrying Sammy Kershaw twice and another about money troubles. Has it always been easy for you to turn rough patches into punch lines?
Let’s make one thing clear: That line says I almost married him twice. Almost. (laughs) My dad used to say, “You have to look at yourself with humor sometimes.” If I sat back and thought about all the sad things that have happened in my life and dwelled on it minutely, I would be in a nuthouse. I’d be in a home somewhere. I have to look at my life with a sense of humor. … Really, there’s a lot of sad. There’s a lot of mistakes.
Part of what you’re doing in your collaboration with Pam Tillis is playing with femininity in solidarity. The Dos Divas album cover has a very Thelma & Louise quality to it, and you co-write a title track featuring two colorful female leads. What connotations does the idea of a diva have for you?
Our vision of diva is a lot different than other people’s. We envision it as you don’t take yourself too seriously, first of all. We envisioned it as strong, not afraid to talk about our mistakes and still strong enough to stand up next to the 20-year-olds. Just a lot of strength and not so much about bitchy. We see something, and we go after it and we get it.