Born in Seminole, Texas, much of Tucker's childhood was spent moving throughout the Southwest as her father pursued construction jobs. At the age of six, she began taking saxophone lessons; two years later, she decided she wanted to sing, and made an auspicious debut with Mel Tillis, who was so impressed by her talents that he invited her onstage to perform. In 1969, Tucker and her family moved to Las Vegas, where she regularly performed. Eventually, she recorded a demo tape that gained the attention of songwriter Dolores Fuller, who sent it to producer Billy Sherrill. At the time, Sherrill was the head of A&R at CBS Records, and he was so impressed with the demo tape that he signed the teenaged vocalist to Columbia Records. Sherrill initially planned to have Tucker record "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA," but she passed on the tune, choosing "Delta Dawn" -- a song she heard Bette Midler sing on The Tonight Show -- instead. Released in the spring of 1972, the song became an instant hit, peaking at number six on the country charts and scraping the bottom of the pop charts.
At first, Columbia Records tried to downplay Tucker's age, but soon word leaked out and she became a sensation -- her second single, "Love's the Answer," also became a Top Ten hit later in 1972. Tucker's third single, "What's Your Mama's Name," became her first number one hit in the spring of 1973. Two other number ones -- "Blood Red and Goin' Down" and "Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)" -- followed, establishing Tucker as a major star. In 1975, she signed with MCA Records, where she had a string of hit singles that ran into the late '70s. In 1978, she decided to radically change her image and cross over to rock with her T.N.T. album. Despite the controversy over the record and its sexy cover, it went gold the following year.