Dolly Parton: The Interview
All you young country singers who are looking to expand from country music into pop, movies, television and even book publishing, keep one thing in mind: Dolly did it first. Name any aspect of the entertainment industry, and Dolly Parton has probably been successful at it. Her latest venture is a CD/DVD live concert performance, Dolly: Live From London.
So, for this interview, I had two goals. One, to talk about the new album. And two, to get her laugh recorded for posterity. You know the one–that high-pitched, infectious squeal that can melt the coldest of hearts and brighten up the grayest of days. The Dolly laugh.
SAM GAZDZIAK: You’ve had a couple of live albums out before, but this is the first one that’s got the DVD with it. Why did you decide to put out a concert video?
DOLLY: We thought it was about time. We were really inspired after we did our European tour last year. In London, we worked at the O2 Arena, and the audience was just so great and the place was just so wonderful, and we had such good footage when we got home, we thought this was just too good to put in the archives and hold for another time. We edited it down, and we thought it would be a great idea, as you mentioned, to put the CD and the DVD in one package. That’s what we did, and we’re very excited about it, and we hope the fans are going to love it. We think they will.
SG: From a logistics standpoint, did having all these cameras around you pretty much everywhere you went cause any problems or issues?
DOLLY: No, we knew they were going to be documenting the whole tour as we usually do if we’re doing something really special. I think the audience was told up front they were going to be filmed, in case somebody was sitting next to somebody they weren’t supposed to. So we kind of told them that.
I’m used to cameras around me. I live my live in a fishbowl and in the spotlight, so that was all okay. We just had a great time doing it, and I think it shows. We got a lot of footage from the fans, so they didn’t mind it at all, they liked being part of something special. And we have a lot of interviews from a lot of my band and the crew, and I did a lot of talking within the body of the show. We kind of cut away so the fans have a little more insight as to what we think and how we live. We (taped) the rehearsals, that sort of thing. All in all, I think it’s a wonderful and enlightening, and entertaining look for the fans.
SG: How receptive are European audiences to country music?
DOLLY: They love country music, and they’ve been very loyal and very devoted to me for 40 years. Even in the very early days of my career, I used to go there, and my career just grew from there. They’ve followed me along and supported me. That’s why the reaction is so wonderful, because they want to let you know that they love you and they’re glad you came, and they want to let you know they hope you come back. They show a lot of love and excitement.
Our American audiences are great as well, but they know that they can come see us anywhere we are. Those faraway places like that, you get a wilder crowd lots of times. It was all fun, and we love the fact that they love country music, and especially the fact that they seem to love me. I’m very touched by that.
SG: It must have been neat to look in the audience and see 18,000 pink sparkly cowboy hats.
DOLLY: [Dolly laugh] I tell you what’s so funny, they sell all the merchandise out front, so they usually buy it when they come to the show, during intermission or after the show. Those pink cowboy hats that you see all through the video and especially in Europe and London, [the fans] all want to feel like they’re a part of Nashville and a part of that cowboy country-western kind of look. We sold a ton of those pink hats, and it was kind of funny looking out and seeing all that.
SG: You played a whole bunch of different instruments all throughout the show. That seems like it’s always been an overlooked part of your stage presence. Why do you think that’s been the case?
DOLLY: I’ve always played different instruments in my shows throughout the years, but I guess a lot of people don’t realize that I do play, and I do enjoy playing. It’s part of the entertainment that I do. I’m not great at it, but I’m good enough to make it entertaining and good enough for the show. The guitar’s my favorite and best instrument, but I do play some of a lot of things, and I’m glad the fans get a chance to see it.
SG: When did you learn to play the tin whistle?
DOLLY: Well, I’ve played that for a long time. That’s part of our Appalachian DNA, playing all those old songs from Ireland, Scotland and all that. The penny whistle is something they often play a lot in the mountains, singing those old-timey songs.
We play Ireland a lot. I wrote a song for them at one time called “We Irish,” ’cause I have a wee bit of Irish blood meself, so when I play the penny whistle there, they do love it.
SG: In the interviews that you mentioned, it seems like your band and crew has been with you for a long time, and that seems like a rarity in the music industry. What do you think accounts for that kind of long relationships?
DOLLY: Well, first of all, we love each other. We’re like family, and we are very respectful of one another. They’re wonderful friends, wonderful musicians, and so many of them have been with me for over 20 years. Richard Dennison, who’s the lead of the vocal group, he’s been with me ever since I went off on my own back in the mid-’70s, when I left Porter Wagoner’s show. We’ve been together so long, it’s just like family. I think [there's] a mutual respect and mutual love.
SG: I was looking at the songwriter credits, and some of them go back to the 1960s and ’70s… I guess when you were five or six years old.
DOLLY: [Big Dolly laugh] Yeah, I was real little!
SG: How do you resist the urge to phone it in when you’ve sung these songs thousands of times?
DOLLY: First of all, it’s kind of like when people do interviews. They usually ask the same questions, but they’ll ask them different, so you respond to that person differently, because you know they’ve never asked you that question. They want to hear you say it yourself. It’s the same way with singing a song. I’ve never done it necessarily for that group of people, so you want to give them everything they’re paying for, and I would never slight a fan.
Plus, I love to sing, and every night they mean something a little bit different to me. It’s for me easy to sing with my heart and soul, because I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to sing.
SG: What would you like to do with your career that you haven’t done yet?
DOLLY: Well, I want to continue to do what I’m doing now, but do a variation of it and spin off and do other things. At the moment, I’m working on a musical of my life’s story, and I want to do a movie and for Broadway.
I’d love to do a children’s show some day, kind of like Pee Wee’s Playhouse–over-exaggerated and fun and would be attractive and entertaining to adults as well as kids. I’d love to have a cosmetic line one of these days. There’s lots of dreams I have still in the works.
SG: Of all the actresses out there, who do you think should play you–besides yourself?
DOLLY: On Broadway, I would love to have Kristen Chenoweth, who’s a wonderful Broadway star. She’s short, and she’s blonde, and she’s got boobs. We could make them even bigger, I’m sure, and she’s got a great voice.
As far as the movie, I would love to be able to sing and have someone lip-synch to my voice. There’s been different talks about people. Scarlett Johansson is one of the names that’s come up now and then. We’re not that far along to have made any final decisions on that at all. Reese Witherspoon, if I got her a big ol’ boob job, she would do a great job. And the little girl, Megan Hilty, who played Doralee, my part, in “9 to 5” on Broadway, she’s an absolutely wonderful singer, a beautiful little thing, and she looks so much like the Doralee character, that people were very impressed with that. She could be in Broadway or in the movie because she’s a great little actress as well.
SG: If you could take all of the country singers that are out there now, stick them in a classroom, and teach them Country Music 101, what would you teach them?
DOLLY: I would teach them to be genuine. I would teach them to write and sing like you mean it, and if you ain’t lived it, act like you have. Find that place inside yourself. Try to keep it honest, try to keep it pure, and just do it with gusto, and with feeling, and with heart, and with soul.
SG: What is country music?
DOLLY: Country music, I believe, are ordinary stories told in an extraordinary way, certainly by extraordinary people in most cases. I think it’s just real life, and it’s almost like life’s soap opera, with all the pain, all the joy, all the heartache, all the emotions that a human being has. Country music has a way of doing that in the best way possible.
- Applejack: It's not just you, Andrew L. I just listened to the clips on Amazon, and the autotune effect is terrible.
- Andrew L.: Is it just me or does Strait sound horribly autotuned on the clips for the new live album? I can't …
- Juli Thanki: You'll get to hear it pretty soon: The Wall Street Journal is going to stream the album on their website …
- Leeann Ward: Way to go to David Cantwell for getting a name drop! Great interview, Juli! Womack's new album is awesome! I've not always …
- Jonathan Pappalardo: Great interview as always, Juli! The new album is fantastic. "Same Kind of Different" is my favorite cut although "Fly" is …
- Dave D.: Good interview. Looking forward to the new record, and particularly interested in hearing her version of Brennen Leigh's "Sleeping with …
- nm: I guess it's not surprising that a singer who gets her songs all over the place, the way Womack does, …
- SunsetPark: As a Pennsylvanian to this day, thanks for the list. I haven't heard the Quecreek song and so can't …
- Paul W Dennis: I would urge readers to check out the Billy Edd Wheeler salute on October 18, 2014. Billy Edd Wheeler is …
- Leeann Ward: I'm really liking Pink's folk duo song! I'm looking forward to the album!