When you mention Dolly Parton’s name, images of her blond bouffant, her hourglass figure and her glitzy wardrobe leap to the minds of most people. Some might also think of Dolly’s blue grass voice, her movie and television roles, even Dollywood, her theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains. Few people, though, will give much thought to what is perhaps Dolly’s greatest gift – her songwriting, a legacy that’s long been obscured by her flashier attributes.
Dolly acknowledges that she has brought some of this confusion on herself. ”I’ve created this and played it up – the makeup, the whole persona,” said Dolly ”I’ve over-exaggerated and made things worse. But I’ve had a good time doing it, and it all came from a serious place: a country girl’s idea of what glamour is.”
”But this isn’t all I am,” Dolly adds ”It’s not even most of what I am. Hopefully people can see beneath the hair to know there’s a brain, and behind all the other stuff to know there’s some talent.”
Dolly has been writing about her experiences since she was a small girl. ”Writing’s just as natural to me as getting up and cooking breakfast,” said Dolly, who lives on a farm outside Nashville with her husband of 50 years, Carl Dean, a contractor. ”I ain’t never far away from a pencil and paper or a tape recorder. I write every day, even when I’m on a plane, in the tub or on the bus. It burns in me. Songwriting is my way of channeling my feelings and my thoughts. Not just mine, but the things I see, the people I care about. My head would explode if I didn’t get some of that stuff out. Not everything I write is good, but it’s all good for me – like therapy.”
”I was born with a joyful heart, but I’m extremely sensitive,” she went on. ”I hurt deep, and I’ve hurt a lot in my life. I feel deep for everything I see.” Dolly’s longing for a world in which peace and justice coexist. Just as prophetic is her ”Hello God,” an update of Bob Dylan’s ”With God on Our Side.”
Since moving to Nashville in 1964, Dolly, now 70, has published more than 3,000 of her compositions. Dozens have become hits, not only for her but for singers ranging from Emmylou Harris to Whitney Houston. Dolly has written vivid odes to her hardscrabble childhood in Appalachia (”Coat of Many Colors”); gripping studies in Southern gothic (”Jolene”); feminist anthems (”9 to 5”); and tender ballads (”I Will Always Love You”). Her catalog of original material isn’t just one of the deepest and best in country music; last year, the National Academy of Popular Music deemed it impressive enough to elect Dolly to its Songwriters Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Dylan.
Some of her songs have become standards:
“I Will Always Love You” – This is not a love song in the conventional sense; Dolly wrote it for a close friend. In 1967, she was invited by the country star Porter Wagoner to co-host his TV show, where they became famous for their duets. In time though, her enormous talent eclipsed that of her mentor, and she moved on to greener pastures. She wrote the song for him in 1973 to show her appreciation for the time they had worked together.
Leaving Wagoner wasn’t easy – he thought Dolly was making a mistake and felt she was being disloyal. Dolly played the song to Wagoner the morning after she wrote it in 1973 as her way of letting him know that her mind was made up and to express how she felt about him. Apparently, it got the message across: Dolly said that Wagoner was in tears when she finished, and he called it “the prettiest song I ever heard.” This all went down in 1973, and the following year Parton and Wagoner formally announced their split after a 7-year partnership.
“I will always love you” was covered by many artists like Linda Ronstadt.
Islands in the Stream.” – This song is often mistakenly credited to Dolly as the songwriter, but it was written by the BeeGees for Kenny Rogers. The tune was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name and was meant to have a very different, more R&B sound. Co-writer Robin Gibb once told ABC News that he and his brothers originally wrote the song with Marvin Gaye in mind.
When Rogers got a shot at “Islands,” he went in to record it solo — with the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb producing — and just didn’t click with it, he has admitted in several interviews over the years. Dolly just happened to be at the same recording studio, so the two musicians tracked her down and approached her about turning the song into a duet.
On October 29 1983, Dolly and Kenny Rogers reached the top of the Billboard 100 chart with their now-iconic duet Thus was born an award-winning musical partnership (and very special friendship) of more than three decades.
DOLLY PARTON PURE & SIMPLE TOUR DATES:
June 03 Greensboro Coliseum – Greensboro, N.C.
June 04 Infinite Energy Center – Duluth, Ga.
June 07 Charleston Civic Center – Charleston, W.Va.
June 08 Wolf Trap – Vienna, Va.
June 10 Hard Rock – Northfield, Ohio
June 11 Horseshoe Casino – Cincinnati, Ohio
June 12 Artpark – Lewiston, N.Y.
June 15 Mann Center – Philadelphia, Penn.
June 17 Tanglewood – Lenox, Mass.
June 18 Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion – Bangor, Maine
June 22 Mohegan Sun Arena – Wilkes Barre, Penn.
June 25 Forest Hills Stadium – Forest Hills, N.Y.
June 26 PNC Bank Arts Center – Holmdel, N.J.
June 28 Consol Energy Center – Pittsburgh, Penn.