By 13, she’d managed to sell Billy Sherrill, one of Nashville’s most sophisticated musical minds, on her interpretive abilities. “Delta Dawn” was the first in a string of tragic story songs that landed Tucker on the country charts. She already possessed a husky rasp and applied a shrewd sense of rhythm to her phrasing. She stood out, too, for the way she incorporated her body into performing, which was far more indebted to the hot hip-thrusting of her idol Elvis Presley than the Appalachian flat-footing of country women before her.
In the late ’70s, she chased her ambition to incorporate rock spectacle into her music to Los Angeles and released an album, “TNT,” that was mistaken as a cold shoulder to the country world. Her twenties in California were marked by Hollywood partying, drug use and a volatile dalliance with Glen Campbell, a musician more than two decades her senior. Tabloid scrutiny of her extracurricular activities threatened to overshadow her music.
Tucker insisted that she “got a good laugh out of” the celebrity coverage, but she took note that attitudes toward male stars were more permissive. “They were discussing what I was doing when Johnny Cash was sitting the next table over, and they didn’t say a damn thing about him,” she said, in a teasing tone.
She mounted one of country’s great comebacks with the producer Jerry Crutchfield in the mid-80s. Her albums were thoroughly modern, collecting polished country-pop pining and rocking roadhouse boogies, and so was her unfettered version of womanhood. She rode motorcycles, competed in rodeos and rejected country’s code of feminine virtue by becoming a never-married mother.
“My kids were born in love and made in love,” she said. “So that’s my truth.”
Tucker was in the hospital delivering her son on the 1991 night when she won her first female vocalist of the year award from the Country Music Association. “When her name was announced — I’ve never seen this happen — the entire press corps stood up and applauded,” said the veteran country journalist Robert Oermann. He described the sentiment as, “She’s a bad girl, but she’s our bad girl and we love her.”
Ms. Tucker’s hits trailed off in the mid-90s, and she receded from the spotlight through the following decade, contending with health issues and mourning the losses of both parents. “I really didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said. “I just got my horse trailer and took my youngest daughter and we lived and hung out and did our little Gypsy thing.”