Dolly Parton – The smartest working woman in show business
In this era of celebrity, Dolly Parton could be one if she never sang a note. A sign in her Dollywood museum exhorts, “You’re only as big as your biggest dream,” and Parton has always dreamed of being somewhat larger than life.
Yet the heart of Parton’s identity remains her music. If the raging flame of fame begins to flicker — and eventually, invariably, it does — she’ll still have her singing, her writing, her natural inclination toward a good country song. It’s home, sweet home, and she’ll always find her way back to that place.
Her place in the tabloids will inevitably be assured by her challenge to gravity alone, both metaphorical and physical. A 5-foot-1 bundle of giggly fun, Parton devastates with her exuberant, impossibly energetic stage presence and her Minnie Pearl-meets-Mae West wisecracks. (Once asked why her waist is so small, she answered that it was the same reason her feet are so small: “Nothing grows in the shade.”) Her acrophobia-inducing spike heels, eight-inch-high hair and monstrous breasts scoff at the demands of physics, not to mention aging, and she revels in being the global equivalent of her childhood idol, the town tramp. As writer Frank Decaro said of her in Out magazine, Dolly “was RuPaul before RuPaul was even born.”
Then there’s the TV/movie-star aspect. Parton’s had her own network television show, plus roles in six TV movies and as many feature length films. She’s also written music for several movies, including 9 To 5, in which she co-starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and for which her theme song was nominated for an Oscar in 1980.
Finally, there’s the tycoon thing. Parton owns her own record label, Blue Eye; her own film production company, Southern Lights; and her own theme park, Dollywood, in which her partners are the developers of Branson, Missouri, the Midwest’s wildly successful answer to Las Vegas. She also oversees the Dollywood Foundation, which promotes reading by mailing a book a month to 2,500 children under age 5 in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she was born. (At her behest, the program starts with The Little Engine That Could, given at birth.)
Parton’s current projects include a made-for-TV movie, Blue Valley Songbird, airing on the Lifetime cable network starting November 1; a gospel musical, Heavens To Betsy, scheduled for release on CBS sometime next year; a children’s TV series still in the planning stages; and development of a catalog sales company, Parton’s Dailies and Nighties, selling a full line of cosmetics, undies, nightclothes, day wear, and books and other resources for building confidence and success.
She’ll be the first to tell you, though, that what drives all of this is her music. It’s been just over a year since her last release, the return-to-roots, all-originals album Hungry Again, climbed onto the country and pop charts without a net, as its label crumbled right out from under it. February saw the release of Trio II, her second collaborative album with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. In August, she rebounded with Walking On Sunshine, a disc featuring dance remixes of that mid-’80s Katrina & the Waves hit, plus Cat Stevens’ early-’70s staple “Peace Train” and her own late-’70s crossover smash “Two Doors Down”. There’s also a new dance remix of her 1974 country megahit “Jolene”, and even a dance-single duet with Boy George titled “Your Kisses Are Charity”.
But the real news here is The Grass Is Blue, Parton’s first all-bluegrass album, which came out Oct. 26 on Sugar Hill Records and features an all-star band of the genre, including Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas, plus harmony vocals from the likes of Alison Krauss and Patty Loveless.
From poverty that has crushed many a mortal, Parton hustled herself into the hearts of millions worldwide, many of whom probably couldn’t name more than two or three of her songs. Shania Twain made it clear, in her acceptance speech for CMA Entertainer of the Year, that meeting Parton was the first thing on her mind.
Did she? Parton answers with a laugh that opens the windows. “Oh no! I left as soon as I finished the song with Vince [Gill] because I wasn’t one of the last ones. I was tryin’ to get out of the traffic so as soon as I finished the song we just got right in the car and left and so it was only when I got home I was watchin’ the news coverage — my husband [of 33 years, Carl Dean] had the TV on — and they had her on and her speech where she’d won Entertainer of the Year and I saw her say that and I thought AWWW!
“Cuz I could kill myself because if I’d have know she wanted to meet me I would have definitely [stayed behind], but I did send her a telegram the next day and congratulate her and I told her I was so sorry and flattered that she had mentioned my name and not only did I hope that we’d meet but we’d get a chance to visit and be friends and maybe even write or sing something together. I just think she’s precious and I think she’s just absolutely beautiful and I was so honored. I watched it here on the local news here and I thought, ‘Wow!’ I couldn’t believe she’s talkin’ about me at a time when she’s just won her big award. I thought, ‘Wow!’ What a nice compliment!”
Parton — a 1999 Country Music Association Hall of Fame inductee and past winner of ten CMA awards herself, including Entertainer of the Year in 1978, talks, well chirps, actually, a mile a minute, a chapter a sentence, italicizing every other word and ending fully half her sentences with an exclamation point. She means every word, every inflection; by her own admission, she can’t act.
With a nod to the 1999 Vocal Group of the Year, she laughs, “I thought, ‘We had all those Dixie Chicks and one old southern hen!'” Well, hardly. Parton was arguably the most sensational-looking woman on the 1999 CMA Awards show — glamorous, bespangled in blue wherever just-barely-respectable flesh didn’t do a better job of eye-catching, glittering from the inside out with energy and showmanship. Ever the professional, she picked the shortest song from The Grass Is Blue, “Train, Train”, to perform for her induction segment. “They needed the shortest song I could get and they wanted an uptempo one and so that was the one we picked, because it moved and you know they wanted to keep the show moving.” In fact the song nearly ran off with it.
“Train, Train” was an inspired choice for the CMA show, but no more so than for the album. Parton had picked the song from one of her husband’s old records, the Southern rock band Blackfoot’s platinum Strikes, released in 1979. The band coalesced in the early ’70s around singer and guitarist Rickey Medlocke, who had recently left Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Parton remembered having thought Blackfoot’s hit single, “Train, Train”, would make a great bluegrass number. It was one of several Parton picks that threw a curve to her producer, Steve Buckingham, and later the copyright birddogs charged with hunting down a credit. As of a week before the CMA awards show, Buckingham said they’d found not a single Blackfoot member, let alone the song’s author, Shorty Medlock (grandfather of Blackfoot leader Rickey), to give them the name of their publishing company.
A modicum of internet savvy might have solved that problem, but the CMA performance did the trick. “I just thought Shorty Medlock was just somebody from the Blackfoot group or something,” says Parton, “but I got a letter from this boy named Michael Herring and he’s the grandson of Shorty Medlock and he proceeded to tell me that he and his family were so excited, they had been so thrilled when they were watching CMAs the other night and I did his grandpa’s song. His grandpa’s been dead for years and he was telling me all the history about Shorty Medlock and he was evidently a famous old bluegrasser….Until that moment I didn’t even know that it was written by a true bluegrasser. So ain’t that cool!”
Serendipity struck another seemingly offbeat selection when Parton learned that in recording her bluegrass version of Billy Joel’s minor 1973 hit “Travellin’ Prayer”, she had inadvertently followed the lead of the Earl Scruggs Revue, which had included the song on their 1974 album Rockin’ Cross The Country. (It turned up again last year on the Scruggs Revue collection Artist’s Choice: The Best Tracks 1970-1980.)
“I think Billy Joel is one of the greatest writers of all time and I just love his records,” Parton says. “I have always loved that song. When I sent some of these songs over to Steve Buckingham, I think he just about had a heart attack. ‘We’re gonna do this? Blah blah blah blah blah’ — but he loved them!”
Parton can perhaps be forgiven if her understanding of bluegrass is less than academic. Born January 19, 1946, the fourth of twelve children, in a sharecropper’s shack in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Parton grew up surrounded by the traditional music from which Bill Monroe built the genre. Her mother’s family, the Owenses, all have music talent, she says, and it was her Uncle Bill Owens who gave her her first guitar.
If Parton knows a good bluegrass song when she hears it, regardless of the context, it’s likely because she’s heard them, sung them and recorded them all her life. Many of the tracks on The Grass Is Blue are songs she remembers from growing up, including the traditional “Silver Dagger”, for which she says she sought family consensus on the lyrics. Among other tracks are fellow Tennessee hillbilly Hazel Dickens’ “A Few Old Memories”; The Louvin Brothers’ “Cash On The Barrelhead” (“Girls can get picked up for loitering on the streets and girls get locked up,” she says, so she changed “son” to “hon”); and Lester Flatt’s “I’m Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open”.
Parton remembers fondly how Flatt, Scruggs and Monroe looked out for her when she began performing on the Grand Ole Opry at age 13. A Monroe signature song was her second top ten hit as a solo artist. Her first, in 1967, was her own “Dumb Blonde”, which attracted the attention of Porter Wagoner and inspired him to include her on his weekly television show. The pairing yielded ten years of top-selling, award-winning duets and, ultimately, an acrimonious split and lawsuit, but in 1970 he produced her recording of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Muleskinner Blues”, also known as “Blue Yodel #8”. The song had been among those Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys had played on their first radio show in 1939. About the only thing Parton’s instrumentation had in common with Monroe’s was a banjo, but that was a crucial instrument to have on hand, as she tells it.
“That one, we were just kiddin’ around in the studio one day when we were recordin’ and you know how musicians will just sit around and jam and they always do that inbetween and then I started just singin’ on it because I knew the song and it started sounding good and [Wagoner] said ‘Hell let’s just record that!’ Buck Trent, who was an electric banjo player, was in the Wagonmasters and was recordin’ [with us], and Buck was sayin’, ‘Man this is good! Ain’t no girl ever sung this song! You should sing that, you should!’
“So right from the studio Porter had somebody go out and get a whip, so we turned out spending like four hours recordin’ this song [because] we were trying to figure out who could crack the whip the best and who could whistle the best and I wound up doin’ the best whistle, because I was the country girl, you know, I had that whistle thing!” Parton says she believed for years that Monroe had written the song. Her version reached #8 on the country charts.
Parton’s fluency in bluegrass and traditional music idioms is apparent throughout The Grass Is Blue — in her treatment of tunes by fellow 1999 CMA Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Bond (“I Wonder Where You Are Tonight”) and the Johnny Cash standard “I Still Miss Someone”, as well as in her own compositions, including “Steady As The Rain”, which she wrote on banjo. Her command of the form is made obvious by the fact she wrote the title track on a movie-set lunch break. It’s a song made for pretty mandolin and fiddle breaks.
“When I was doing Blue Valley Songbird, I had a 30-minute lunch break cuz we don’t have an hour because it’s a Movie of the Week and we only had three weeks so breaks are short, so I went in on one of my lunch breaks and wrote ‘The Grass Is Blue’ and it just came so inspired and I wrote it and put it down on a tape and when lunch break was over I had [someone] come down from my office and pick up the tape and take it to Steve and I said, ‘Here’s our title song.'” She giggles.
The album was made quickly. Parton launched the project in June over dinner with Buckingham, her producer of nine years and original partner in Blue Eye Records. Still a friend and collaborator, Buckingham now works for Vanguard, which is owned by the Welk Music Group. He mentioned to Parton that the Welk Group had recently acquired the bluegrass-heavy label Sugar Hill and, by the way, there was considerable interest on the part of the label and fans in having Parton make a bluegrass record.
“We just went, ‘Hahahahaha, really?!’ I sez, ‘Well ain’t that something!’,” Parton laughs, “and I sez, ‘Well why don’t we just do one,’ and he said, ‘Are you serious?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah! I got a movie that I’m doing…for the next month or three weeks. After that I’ve got a couple of weeks, if you think we can get something prepared, we’ll just do it!’…And he said, ‘I’ll put together the best band that we can get,’ and he did.”
Buckingham says he put Sugar Hill honcho Barry Poss and his staff in charge of that commitment. Practically every band member on the record is an accomplished solo artist. There’s Sam Bush, founder of New Grass Revival and generally considered one of the top three bluegrass mandolin players in the world. Fiddler Stuart Duncan, who used a 100-year-old instrument for the sessions, has recorded bluegrass tracks with nearly every major Nashville artist since 1981. Dobro player Jerry Douglas, currently with Alison Krauss’ band, is “acknowleged to be the best in the world,” Buckingham says. Bassist Barry Bales, also of Krauss’ band, counts the Cox Family among his credits as well.
Guitarist Bryan Sutton is well-known in gospel circles and left Ricky Skaggs’ band to pursue a solo career. Banjo player Jim Mills, who used a vintage 1934 instrument for the sessions, played on Ricky Skaggs’ 1999 release Soldier Of The Cross and released his first solo record last year, backed by Bales on bass.
“They all knew each other and all have played together, and they all knew this idiom so well, Buckingham says. “The contracts and paperwork were done in two weeks. That’s unheard of. I told everyone I had two days to cut 12 tracks, August 3 and 4. We couldn’t do that much in two days if it weren’t the cream of the crop. Every cut would be one or two takes.”
Says Parton, “I just think they’re all great. I’m just proud and honored to be part of their group. I just felt like the girl singer in this wonderful band!”
The feeling was apparently mutual. “These days,” Buckingham explains, “most artists record their vocals with the band knowing they’ll come back and re-record. Dolly does her vocals with the musicians. She sings them like, ‘This is it.’ The musicians respond differently. When you hear a vocalist like her singing the tracks with the players, nailin’ it, she inspires them. They raise their playing to another level and they inspire her.
“Most producers will tell you a singer may spend hours and days on a vocal for one song. There are so many things you can do now to fix vocals. You can tune them electronically, you can comp a vocal from all the different times they sing the song. It’s so easy with Dolly because she really does it. Can you imagine what it’s like playing in there and hearing her voice coming through the headphones?”
Four of the “scratch” vocals she recorded with the musicians went straight to the disc: “The Grass Is Blue”, “A Few Old Memories”, “Cash On The Barrelhead”, and “Sleep With One Eye Open”.
Parton says, “There was like this perfect magic between these great musicians and me singin’ and they seemed to be really enjoying what I was doin’; I was certainly enjoyin’ what they were doin’. It sort of created this very magical moment at times that I think that this brought us all sometimes to tears, and my booth was right near the engineering booth where Steve was and I would often look in there and Steve would have tears on his face, and he’d be liftin’ his glasses up and wipin’ his eyes. We did this album together and that’s why there’s so much magic on these tracks I think.”
After their two days of sessions, the musicians left and the harmony singers recorded their parts. Given her choice of songs, Alison Krauss picked “Travellin’ Prayer”, “I Still Miss Someone” and “The Grass Is Blue” to sing with her bandmate Dan Tyminski. Country star Patty Loveless and bluegrass songbird Rhonda Vincent sang background on “A Few Old Memories”; Vincent’s husband Darrin sang with her on “Endless Stream Of Tears”. Nashville session stalwart and former Jordanaire Louis Nunley joined the pair for the bass part on the record’s closing gospel tune, the a cappella “I Am Ready,” written by Parton’s sister Rachel Parton Dennison. Claire Lynch and Keith Little added harmony on other songs; Dolly re-recorded all 12 vocals, just in case, in six hours; and recording was complete in seven days.
Richie Owens sighs bemusedly when he hears about Parton and Buckingham being captivated by the energy and excitement of the live sessions. Owens helped Parton, his cousin, produce her 1998 Hungry Again album, recording it in the basement studio of his Nashville home and using musicians from his roots-rock band, then named Shinola, and his acoustic band, Richie Owens & the Farm Bureau.
In the liner notes for Hungry Again, Parton says she retreated to where she came from, her Smoky Mountain home, to fast and pray for guidance about her life and her music career. The 12 songs on Hungry Again were among 37 that resulted from Parton’s sabbatical. In recording them, Owens felt she responded to the fact that the musicians “had the vibe of a band. There was a spirit there. She just wanted to be a bit more grass-roots about some stuff.”
Owens thinks that in some ways Hungry Again may have laid conceptual groundwork for The Grass Is Blue. (Parton says she didn’t intend for that record to lead up to the new one, but she agrees the latter is “a nice follow-up to that one.”) Says Owens: “Because of my dad running her publishing company for years, I grew up listening to all these great Dolly Parton songs, sittin’ there watching her write songs. She’s at her greatest just singing her songs and just ripping heartstings out because…there’s such sincerity in what she’s singing. You know? She’s real.
“A lot of records she’s done have been great records with great production, but that’s the thing — it’s all great production instead of Dolly Parton. It was so much it overwhelmed this beautiful Appalachian voice and this really sweet, strong song. I’m glad if maybe the different mindset [of Hungry Again] maybe helped pave the way for the bluegrass record, because that is the best way to record her. It’s not to overkill it. Back off. Let her do her thing.”
Hungry Again wound up getting caught in the undertow of record industry reorganization. No sooner had Sony launched Parton’s Blue Eye label than it was moved to Universal, which linked its distribution to another new Universal affiliate in Nashville, Rising Tide. Parton’s 1996 tribute to songwriters of the ’70s, Treasures, inaugurated that relationship. But before Hungry Again was released, Universal suddenly sunk Rising Tide. Parton, Blue Eye, and what was originally called Blue Valley Songbird moved to Decca, which had its own ideas about the project.
Owens says that even though she had recorded three dozen songs of her own, Decca tried to persuade her to include new material from other writers. Additional production, red tape and a name change later, the record was finally released, in August 1998. Shortly thereafter, Universal shut down Decca and left more than 200 artists without a label, including Parton. Hungry Again became an orphan adrift, owned by a record company that wouldn’t lift a finger to keep it afloat, let alone put wind in its sails.
Regardless of whether or not it could have been a hit record, or even had a hit song, Hungry Again is one of the best records of Parton’s career. The consistency of quality songwriting surpasses every Parton studio recording since 1980’s 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs. Of the last decade, Parton admits, “I did, like all people I think in business, try to keep up with what was current and tried to stay in the flow of things and did commercialize myself — I’d rather use the word commercialize rather than prostitute myself! — you know, to try to stay in the mainstream. So somewhere inbetween there, at different times, by being willing and having the guts to try different things, I would fall somewhere in the cracks of it not being country, not being pop, and not gettin’ played.
“There are a lot of wonderful new country acts and those of us that are older, we don’t begrudge the success of the new country artists. Some of us just wish we could get our records played ourselves. It’s changed! It’s called progress! I understand progress…me of all people because I’m always out hustlin’…tryin’ to always stay up with the times.” This is, after all, the girl who, taking stock of her life and career at age 10, decided she could topple Brenda Lee by mustering her sisters to sing backup vocals in pig latin.
Parton wasn’t much older than 10 when she met Bobby Denton. In fact, he volunteers, he dated her in high school. Now he’s vice president and general manager at WIVK in Knoxville, the station on which at age 10, it so happens, Parton began appearing regularly on Cas Walker’s weekly bluegrass show.
Denton points out that WIVK and many other country stations do play Dolly Parton classics such as “Coat Of Many Colors” and “I Will Always Love You”. “When an older artist says they’re not getting played on country radio, what they’re saying is every release that they release is not getting played. If the song is there, then people are gonna request it, people are gonna buy it and we’re gonna play it. That’s true for everyone.”
Denton says the Hungry Again single “Salt Of My Tears” did not research high in the local market, a predictable result of lack of promotion, but he also says, “I don’t think people are tired of Dolly Parton. I think when people say she’s too pop — her new record [The Grass Is Blue] is as country as anything she’s done. If country stations want to play Dolly then they can surely find something off that CD to play.” But he adds, “Your new country fan, 90 percent of them don’t like bluegrass. Some people have tried to go back and do country. The demographics are much older in that, like 45 plus and even 55 plus.
“Face it, the country radio stations have had available to them what the major labels and producers are sending to them out of L.A. or Nashville. A lot of stuff they’re putting out is not what you classify as country music. They’re just in hopes that country music stations will play it, but they’re aiming a lot of those songs at the pop market where they can sell more records. I call it the Garth Brooks syndrome. Everybody’s trying to find…somebody that can sell records like Garth Brooks. The closest to that right now is Shania Twain.
“Okay listen, I’ll give you a good example: the Dixie Chicks. Country stations were playing those records. They’re not country, they’re not pop. It’s obvious the reason the Dixie Chicks are so big is that they’re very talented. They’re a lot like Dolly if you think about it — their mannerisms onstage and what they say. They shoot from the hip like Dolly does. But they’re gettin’ a lot of airplay because country stations are looking for something different to play and not so much pop stuff.
“I think Dolly is so creative that sometimes she hurts herself. She writes pretty deep. As you know, you have to listen to the lyrics. I think you’ll see her getting some extended airplay off [The Grass Is Blue] because it’s more bluegrass/country like the Dixie Chicks in a way, because they’re using dobros, banjos and everything in their music, and people are playing them.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. What Parton calls “progress” may be the most constant element of country music. The current “Garth Brooks syndrome,” and its backlash, are merely the latest incarnation of an almost perpetual tension between traditionalists and crossover advocates in the genre.
Bill Malone’s Country Music USA, an essential resource on country music history, revisits the theme repeatedly, beginning in the 1920s, when, Malone says, “The social context…encouraged both the exploitation and the rejection of rural culture.” Ironically, much of that context was driven, as it were, by the invention of the automobile by a traditional country music fan, Henry Ford.
Malone refers to songwriters who “began moving country music away from its traditional moorings in the twenties,” a natural response to an environment that increasingly included phonographs and radios. The latter technology afforded the world the WLS National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry, of which Malone says: “Barn dance shows presaged country music’s coming commercial success — and its incorporation into the American popular cultural mainstream.” Later, in the ’50s and ’60s, producer and promoter Owen Bradley ushered in an era of silken-voiced country singers routinely recording pop songs that crossed over to become mainstream hits.
George McCormick, who played guitar with Grandpa Jones for the last 22 years of Jones’ career, spent most of the previous decade in Porter Wagoner’s Wagonmasters. He was playing guitar and singing baritone harmonies with them when Parton joined the show.
McCormick confirms stories that Parton was not well received at first by Wagoner fans, who were devoted to her predecessor, Norma Jean. She won them over quickly, he says, but, “At that time everybody kinda thought maybe she was ahead of her time….She added a lot of stuff. That’s when I think things started changing.” McCormick left Wagoner’s band to escape “pressure” he declined to specify, then played for a time with Charlie Louvin and the house band at the Opry before joining Grandpa Jones’ band.
As for country music in general, he says, “It’s done. It’s not real country music, now.” Asked for specifics, he responds, “It’s all become mechanic! When we recorded back in those days, you probably wouldn’t have but one or two microphones. Even guitar players, they don’t tune by their ear like they did back in those days…they got a machine. And another thing is it all sounds alike to me. When you hear one singer, he may have one hit record and you never hear of him again. They’re not established like an Ernest Tubb or a Porter Wagoner.
“I live in the country, but you talk to these people here and they’ll say they won’t even listen to this music now. But yet they can’t hear the music that they loved, you know, because these disc jockeys won’t play it, just except certain times.
“They’re losing everything, I think. Even the Opry’s goin’ under. They sold out Opryland. You go to the Opry, it’s not a full house any more. They’ve lost all the older fans, and the new fans are not gonna come in there. You see what’s happened? They took it all away from the old people. I go back to visit to the Opry now and it’s sad [his voice breaks slightly], since Mr. Acuff died.”
Parton makes the point that even after she crossed over with her 1977 blockbuster “Here You Come Again”, she continued to have country hits. At the time, she declared: “I’m not leaving country music. I’m taking it with me!” She survived the slings and arrows of the naysayers, and, characteristically, she talks sometimes as if the other side of the coin is just as bright. She believes her label-free status is resulting in some of the best work she’s ever done.
“I don’t have to answer to record labels, heads of companies,” she says. “I don’t have to discuss it with a bunch of managers that head the record labels. I manage myself, I have my own record label, I have total freedom to do exactly what I want to do.”
But, she also says, “I still have not given up. I will do more things, different things, and I will keep pumpin’ it out and if I can get a record that’s worthy of bein’ played, I bet they’ll play it. I hope the bluegrass album does good and I’m ready to do another one if it does and who knows, I’ll be out there humpin’ and a-doin’ business, doin’ somethin’.”
Parton’s new made-for-TV movie, Blue Valley Songbird, is based on a song she recorded for Hungry Again. It’s the story of a young mountain girl who “sings like a bird and writes like a poet.” Abused by her father, she’s urged by her mother to run away at age 15. She packs up her guitar and heads for the city, where she forms a band that tours tirelessly in quest of a big break. She never finds it.
“I have seen so many people with twice the talent that I’ll ever have work just as hard, been in this town just as long and still have never made it,” Parton says. “One never knows why one gets singled out and another doesn’t. I’ve thought a lot about that through the years….I often think that so much of my good luck, I owe to just freedom to be there. I had no children of my own so I was able to go and be where I needed to be, and I’ve had a husband that was just as independent in his own way and didn’t resent or try to stop me.
“And I have a great work ethic…I’m like my dad. I get up; I work. I’m up early every day thinkin’ what I’d like to do. I organize my stuff, get my things in order, and I do more work between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. than most people do in a day. So I’m ready and prepared, so I think there’s a whole lot to be said just about bein’ willin’ to work.
“This [movie] is about a girl who’d been abused by her father and all that. Certainly that was not my father. He didn’t whup our ass nearly as much as he should’ve. When I got into the song, though, I just remembered how it probably would have been for me had I not made it. Because I used to travel around in these cars, pullin’ the trailer and that’s what’s in this movie about this girl with a small band. I did that for years before I made it, singin’ around in little honky-tonks and stuff, and I used to think about, ‘Well, what would happen if I don’t make it?’ I’d think, ‘You know what? I’d be singin’ anyway.’ I’d sing. If I just made enough money to take me from one gig to another, had enough money for groceries and to keep an old car on the road, I’m sure that had I not made it, I’d still be singin’ somewhere.
“I’m very humbled by the fact that I have been able to do so many other things,” Parton says, “and it’s because of stickin’ my neck out that I’ve got good businesses to fall back on….So it’s not about the money, but I love the music and want to record.
“The music is still my first love. What brought me out of the Smoky Mountains was the fact that I loved to write songs and wanted to sing, and it was because of that that all this other stuff has really happened….That’s why I will always have an outlet for it, I will always find an outlet for it. I will always sing, I will always write.
“But — I already know, now, that country music does not want me anymore, as far as an artist. Because I’ve tried very very hard for several years now to be true to what I thought people thought I should be true to, and that didn’t work either. So I’ve found that as always in my own life, I’d best to do what I feel right about at the time. That always works best for me. At least I will find true personal happiness and true personal and creative fulfillment if I just do what I do and have the freedom to do it.”
No Depression contributing editor Linda Ray thanks Louis and Bill Owens, Gary Roach and Fred McMahon for their time and suspects they will understand that, in the end, Dolly spoke for herself.