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Interview

Dolly Parton 

Dolly Parton interview

added: 10 Jul 2014
interviewed by: Allison Kugel

Dolly Parton - Dolly Parton interview - Printable version
Dolly Partonís Country Music Ride - What Sheís Most Proud of and Who She Loves

A country music superstar with disarming downhome appeal; thatís my impression of Dolly Parton after getting the living legendís humorous and candid take on her own iconic career. As Dolly reflects on the significance of her 42nd, yes 42nd, studio album titled, Blue Smoke, she has much to say about when, how and why she continues to make music. Dolly also shares some personal feelings about with whom she loves to collaborate and how sheís been able to give back to those whose humble beginnings reflect her own storied history in the mountains of rural Tennessee.

Known for southern charm, lyrically rich songs and a larger-than-life blonde bombshell appearance, many people donít know about Dolly Partonís longtime behind-the-scenes work with childrenís literacy, how she equates rock ní roll with gospel andÖ did you know sheís pop star, Miley Cyrusís, godmother?

Now, on her Blue Smoke World Tour, Dolly Parton shows no signs of slowing down as she crisscrosses the globe with stops in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America. Dolly Parton, a living legend who in 2008 referred to herself as ďBackwoods Barbie,Ē a nod to her upbringing on an impoverished farm, is nothing short of a global phenomenon.
Rather than simply give me the rundown on her latest album, Blue Smoke, Dolly was refreshingly willing to offer up thoughts on her famous friendships, her intimate quiet moments of creativity and the one quality she canít live without.

Allison Kugel: Blue Smoke will be your 42nd studio album! Thatís some mind blowing longevity for such a tough and sometimes unforgiving business. And you havenít jumped through hoops to reinvent yourself in the media like some artists do; youíve remained authentically just who you are. To what do you attribute your decades-long success and your loyal fan base?

Dolly Parton: I was born a creative person. We got all the creativity from my motherís side of the family; the biggest part of it. Certainly my dad was gifted in his own way, but my motherís people were very musical from writing and singing to playing instruments. But itís just in me to create stuff, to think new thoughts; I just thinkÖ creative.

Allison Kugel: You took your motherís gifts and put a good dose of ambition and business acumen behind themÖ

Dolly Parton: Well, Iím just always wanting to build something, to grow something and to make something more out of what Iím doing. But thatís a wonderful thought process, and I love to be able to write songs. Then you take it a step further when you get into a position to help, or you know that you should. I think as long as I live Iíll be trying to think of new and different things to do.

Allison Kugel: Your new song ďBlue Smoke,Ē describes the billowing smoke from a train, and how it careens around the tracks, as a metaphor for moving on from heartbreak. Have you always been observant and metaphoric by nature?

Dolly Parton: I donít require a lot of sleep and everybody kind of knows that about me. So I write in the wee hours of the morning, my best times! My favorite time to get up is when everything is quiet and I feel like Iíve kind of got a direct channel, and I say, ďGive me some stuff Lord, just send it on down here.Ē So I just get it out and start writing. ďWee-hour wisdomsĒ is what I call it.

Allison Kugel: If you could only choose one sense: sight, sound, touch, taste or smell, which would you grasp onto for dear life, and why?

Dolly Parton: Of course I need all of my senses, but the one I couldnít do without is my sense of humor!

Allison Kugel: So much of country music deals with matters of the heart. How do you process heartbreak, both as an artist and as a human being?

Dolly Parton:The first thing I do is break it down to figure out why it hurt me. Then, as a writer, I start the process of how to build it back and find out how it can help or heal, not only me, but my friends and the people who will listen to whatever song it eventually becomes. Every heartbreak I ever had has become a song. And the successful ones that made a lot of money, made me heal even better.

Allison Kugel: (Laughs).

Dolly Parton: Ainít it funny how healing money can be!

Allison Kugel: Youíre right about your sense of humor, may you never lose that sense! I love your newest duet with Kenny Rogers ďYou Canít Make Old Friends,Ē which is on this new album. Who wrote those lyrics, and who are the people in your life you thought of while recording it?

That song is one of my favorites on the CD and Kenny [Rogers] is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. We really are old friends. In fact, when they were putting this song together I understand that Kenny was talking to the people that were writing it, and Kenny was in on the writing of [the song]. He said, ďYouíve got to write this for Dolly and for me, so we can have another good duet. Dolly knows me like a book and I know her like a book, so this is a perfect idea for a song for us.Ē I think it really turned out well.
Allison Kugel: And who comes to mind when you listen to the song?

Dolly Parton: I think all of us that have old friends can completely relate to the song because you donít really always have time for new ones anymore, if you get as busy as we are. Itís nice to make a new friend now and then, but you canít make old friends. And of course, Kenny and I have always had that love and that passion. Weíve never been lovers but weíve always been loved by each other. And we really, I think, sing really well together. So I really am proud of this song and this CD.
Allison Kugel: How have your oldest friends impacted the course of your life?

Dolly Parton: They have totally transformed my life. I can honestly say, I would not be here today if it were not for my friends. I have had the same best friend for over sixty years. I have worked with the same people for more years than I can count. And once I have become friends with you, I remain intensely loyal to you forever.

Allison Kugel: Whatís the most beautiful thing about collaborating with Kenny Rogers?

Dolly Parton: I love Kenny. I love his voice. I never ever get tired of hearing Kenny sing. And weíre very kindred spirits. But weíre very much alike. Our sense of humor is warped and we just communicate so naturally. Itís like I know what heís thinking, I know what heís feeling, even if he donít say it. Iíll bust him on something that I know heís thinking. I just love his voice and I just think weíre so compatible.

Allison Kugel: Many people have your careers intertwined in their collective memories. Youíre this iconic duo!

Dolly Parton: People just think that weíve worked together for years and that weíve had one hit record after another, but we really didnít. We just had The Islands and a couple of things, and then the Christmas Album. Then we got to tour a little bit, but people just tag us together like weíve just married, somehow. Thatís a wonderful problem to have; a wonderful husband to have in the business.

Allison Kugel: What are you extremely proud of?

Dolly Parton:Iím proud of a lot of things. There are great highlights. I think Iím proud of the fact that Iíve had an opportunity, now that Iím an older person, to honestly say that I have lived to see my dreams come true. I know that a lot of people donít. A lot of people have the same dreams that I do. A lot of them more talented, write better songs, sing better songs, better performers, and work just as hard and never actually had the success that Iíve had. So every single day Iím just grateful and thankful that Iíve been allowed to see my dreams come true. Iím thankful to the fans out there.

Allison Kugel: And any particular career highlights that stick out in your memory?

Dolly Parton:Things like when I became a member of The Grand Ole Opry back in the late Ď60s; like the Kennedy Awards, and things like that. When I started the Imagination Library, my literacy program, and saw that become such a big successÖ there are many, many things that Iím very proud of and hopefully thereíll be lots and lots more. But the biggest thing isÖ Iím like Minnie Pearl, ďIím just so proud to be here (Laughs)!Ē (Comedienne Minnie Pearlís famous catch-phrase was "How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I'm jes' so proud to be here!")

Allison Kugel: You recently told Dan Rather that you liken yourself to a ďshow horse or a show dog.Ē Do you feel like you always have to be ďon?Ē And are you in your comfort zone being the public Dolly Parton all the time?

Dolly Parton: If Iím in public, I am ďon,Ē and you will see the Dolly Parton you expect to see. If I am in private with my family I am more relaxed, but still made up. And If I am alone, then I put on a little makeup and fix my hair just so I donít scare myself if I walk past a mirror (Laughs). But to answer the bigger question, I am always Dolly Parton!

Allison Kugel: How is the Blue Smoke World Tour going? Iím sure each tour has its own theme and culture to it? What is the theme of this tour?

Dolly Parton: Well itís an amazing feeling because I donít go [out] there enough, and Iíve had fans there all the years that Iíve been in this business. Iíve been at this for so long. Iíve been in the business over 50 years but for over 40 years I have had hit records in other parts of the world; Australia, Europe. So when you go [on tour] they are so glad to see you because you donít come that often so they want to show how much they love you and how much they appreciate you. Itís an electrifying experience between myself and the audience. We just had such success the last few times. I thought, while I still got the band together and Iím still young enough to do it, before I start thinking, ďwell, Iím too old to do this part, Iíll do something else,Ē I thought letís just go on back and do this again because they still want to come back.

Allison Kugel: Many people arenít aware that you are Miley Cyrusís Godmother. What sort of advice have you given Miley regarding how to navigate the music business, and how to stay true to her own vision for her career?

Dolly Parton: Well sheís growing, Iím telling you. I love her to death. She is a talented, special, sweet girl. She is trying her best to grow up and Iím trying my best to let her. Itís not my place to tell her how to live and how to do. I understand what she is trying to do. She is trying to break away from, you know, all the things. We wonít let her grow up. We just donít want her to do it. You still want to go, ďOooohhh, calm down just a little bit.Ē

Allison Kugel: Why did you choose to release this album in Australia and New Zealand first, before releasing it in the states?

Dolly Parton: It was totally logistical. My Blue Smoke World Tour started there, so it made more sense to release the album there first.

Allison Kugel: What made you decide to cover Bon Joviís song, ďLay Your Hands on MeĒ?

Dolly Parton: First time I ever heard the song, ďLay Your Hands on Me,Ē I thought it was a gospel song, or it should have been. And I thought, ďWhat a wonderful idea for a gospel song.Ē So I kind of held that in my head for a long time and as a lot of you follow my career, youíll know Iíll take a lot of rock songs and pop songs and kind of do what they call covers on them. Iíll maybe do bluegrass or kind of country, and I thought this one would really lend itself to a heavy duty rock beat, but with bluegrass instruments and bluegrass harmonies, in addition to having a gospel kind of choir. So I decided to put it together. And I thought itíd be a wonderful song to do on stage.

Allison Kugel: What did Jon Bon Jovi think of your re-imagining of his song?

Dolly Parton:I contacted Jon and Richie Sambora, who wrote the song for Bon Jovi. I said ďWell guys, I would like to do this as a gospel song. Would you help me out on that, and would you mind if we did that?Ē So we kind of all got together and put it together. Theyíre proud of it and Iím proud of it. Itís one of my very favorite songs. I close the first half of my concert with that. And I get a chance to kind of work with the audience, with ďLay Your Hands on Me.Ē Itís really inspirational; itís very uplifting.

Allison Kugel: What is your favorite way to give back to either your home community in the mountains of Tennessee, or throughout the world? Is there a particular charitable cause you would like to talk about?

Dolly Parton: Imagination Library, my literacy program that I started many, many years ago. Itís where we give children books from the time theyíre born, once a month, until they actually start kindergarten so they can learn to love to read. It was a program that started in my home county. And of course, then it went all over Tennessee, then into all of the United States, Canada, and now weíre in the UK and weíre actually going all over Australia. To date, weíve given out about 60 million books and weíre just growing and growing, working with United Way.

Allison Kugel: How do you feel about touring versus doing press when it comes to promoting an album?

Dolly Parton: You really canít do one without the other. The media drives sales, and the concerts drive people. So as a performer you donít look at them separately. You look at them together, like biscuits and gravy.


Dolly Partonís 42nd studio album, ďBlue Smoke,Ē is out now. Visit dollypartonentertainment.com for news and tour dates, and follow her @DollyParton.

Image courtesy of Dolly Records


Allison Kugel is an acclaimed entertainment journalist with more than one hundred and fifty widely read and syndicated newsmaker interviews to her credit. She is also Vice President of Public Relations and Social Media Firm, Full Scale Media. Follow @FullScale_Media.

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