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Fri May 9, 2014
Music Interviews

Dolly Parton's Long Journey Home

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 1:26 pm

Dolly Parton has been thinking a lot about home lately — in fact, "Home" is the name of a track on her latest album, Blue Smoke, out May 13. Speaking with NPR's David Greene from a Nashville studio, Parton says her career has in many ways come full circle.

After crossing over to the screen in 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias, opening her Dollywood theme park, performing on Broadway, working on a childhood literacy campaign and scoring many music awards and Billboard hits, Parton says she wanted to go back to her roots in Sevier County, Tenn. Click the audio link to hear the conversation.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Dolly Parton has been thinking a lot about home. In fact, "Home" is the name of a track on her new album, "Blue Smoke."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) I left home, I was 17. I had a lot of ambitious dreams. Seen a lot of those dreams come true, I had good luck...

INSKEEP: Dolly Parton joined David Greene to talk about the new music and her career.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: There is a reason that Dolly Parton's thoughts have been taking her home. It's because her career has in many ways come full circle. After all the movies - "9 to 5," "Rhinestone," "Steel Magnolias" - after opening the theme park Dollywood, after launching a child literacy program, and multiple music awards and Billboard hits, Dolly Parton wanted to go back to her roots in Sevier County, Tenn. And that's where we began our conversation - the day she left home.

It was a bus that took you to Nashville right after high school. What do you remember from that day?

PARTON: Well, I remember when I was leaving - I had made plans to go for a long, long time but I just remember Mama and Daddy and all the little kids that I was leaving back home, they was - it was like nobody ever left home. But I just remember Mama telling me to be a good girl, and to know that I can always come home. And the little kids was crying because they didn't want me to go.

But that was my dream, and I knew I had to follow it; and I knew I wasn't going to get out if I didn't go.

GREENE: You moved into an apartment in Nashville over a laundromat called the Wishy-Washy?

(LAUGHTER)

PARTON: Yeah. Well, it was right up the street from that.

GREENE: OK.

PARTON: And I had brought some dingy, dirty little clothes from home. And so I was just down there doing my laundry and walking around on the sidewalk. And Carl Dean came riding by. And he pulled over and said something to me, and I said something to him and 50 years later, we're still talking.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: And you're still married, we should say. Married and talking.

PARTON: We send our clothes out to be cleaned now. We don't go to the laundromat too often.

(LAUGHTER)

PARTON: Although he does like to do the laundry. He's always in the basement. He loves to do laundry. So he's not...

GREENE: Well, that's good.

PARTON: He's still wishy-washy.

GREENE: Well, you say you're not going to the laundromat anymore- and it reminds me of a comment you made about 10 years ago. You said: I had to get rich in order to afford to sing like I was poor again.

(LAUGHTER)

PARTON: Well, that's a good statement because I wish I could've made a living doing just pure country, doing those mountain songs, doing bluegrass. But you can't, really. You know, as the years went by, I saw that I was going to have to expand, get into movies, do some more business things. Because I knew I had the desire to sing and had the ability to sing and to write.

But I thought, well, I know a lot of people that do that. And they starve to death, or they never get anywhere. So I started trying to focus on all the ways to make it more of a business, and to accomplish all that one can. You know, I've got to do a whole lot of things, and I'm grateful. But when I'm at my best, I think my voice is best suited, you know, for the old mountain style and the bluegrass. I guess it's just because I feel that so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE SMOKE")

PARTON: (Singing) Blue smoke climbing up the mountain. Blue smoke winding around the bend. Blue smoke is the name of the heartbreak train that I am riding in. I left a note. I wrote, I'm leaving and I won't be coming back. Blue smoke rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling down the track...

GREENE: You have made a joke when people have asked you who does your hair.

PARTON: I don't know because I'm never there - because I wear wigs.

GREENE: Right.

PARTON: All the time. But I have hair. I keep my own hair the same color, about the same length as my wigs. But I don't have time for all that. I'm a busy girl. I never have a bad hair day.

(LAUGHTER)

PARTON: If I don't like the one I put on, I get another one.

GREENE: Well, and it strikes me because your voice is among the most beautiful and the most authentic - I mean, not just in country but in all of American song.

PARTON: Well, thank you.

GREENE: And you have this persona and this appearance, with the wigs and everything that you're talking about, that's sort of, you know, a little more artificial; manufactured, in a way. Was it a feeling that your voice alone wouldn't carry you? Or how did you create this persona? What was driving that?

PARTON: Well, actually, I always took my music really serious; and I always sing and write from my heart, from my gut. And it's true - I look totally artificial. But I like to think I'm totally real where it really counts. But my look came from a very sincere place. It's just a country girl's idea of glamour, just like the song I wrote - "Backwoods Barbie."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKWOODS BARBIE")

PARTON: (Singing) I grew up poor and ragged, just a simple country girl. I wanted to be pretty more than anything in the world...

You know, I just wanted to be pretty. I wasn't pretty. I'm not a natural beauty. But I just tried to...

GREENE: I think some might disagree with you.

PARTON: Well, you don't know. You ain't seen me.

(LAUGHTER)

PARTON: That's easy for you to say. I'm telling you, I am not a natural beauty. So I need all the help I can get. And I just - early on, I just felt like so much more outgoing than what my look was. So I just started looking, you know, the way I did. And I always tell this story, and it's the truth; that I patterned my look after the town tramp in our hometown because she wore all that - you know, bleached hair, teased hair, lipstick, short skirts - tight, high heels.

Since we didn't go to movies at that time, we didn't have movie magazines and all that, but she was the one I thought was so beautiful. And I kind of patterned myself after that, and that's just where it comes from. But I'm real sincere about my work. But I don't take myself all that serious.

GREENE: Well, a Dolly Parton album would not be complete without a duet with Kenny Rogers, and I want to play a little of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MAKE OLD FRIENDS")

PARTON WITH KENNY ROGERS: (Singing) You can't make old friends. Can't make old friends. It was you and me since way back when. You can't make old friends...

GREENE: What are you thinking about, Dolly Parton, when you listen to this?

PARTON: Well, I was thinking when you was playing that how much I love Kenny Rogers; how you don't know in your lifetime, when you're young, who you're going to meet up with and what people are going to mean to you. You don't know if you're going to see your dreams come true, or what people are going to think about you. And we're still hanging in there after all these years.

And Kenny and I not only sing great together and have had wonderful success, we really, really are good friends. Kenny and I are both old-timers and knew the music when it first started out. It is completely different now than it was back in our day. But the fact that we're just still at it and still being able to sing and still do concerts, it makes you feel good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MAKE OLD FRIENDS")

PARTON, ROGERS: (Singing) You can't make old friends...

INSKEEP: That's Dolly Parton with David Greene. The new album, "Blue Smoke," is out on Tuesday. You can hear it now at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MAKE OLD FRIENDS")

PARTON, ROGERS: (Singing) You and me, you and me...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MAKE OLD FRIENDS")

PARTON, ROGERS: (Singing) On the other hand, you can't make old friends. You and me, we'll be together again 'cause we both know we'll still be old friends... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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