Dolly Parton
Associated Press
July 6, 2002
Dolly Parton launches first tour in a decade
By Jim Patterson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. AP Slivers of doubt and defiance ran through Dolly Parton as she prepared for her first tour in a decade.

The defiance was directed at radio programmers who ignore her new music.  The doubt concerned how concert audiences might respond to her recent musical experimentation, including "Stairway to Heaven," the Led Zeppelin anthem she recorded with an acoustic arrangement for her new album "Halos and Horns."

"I don't want to be hit with tomatoes and eggs," she said, joking but with a tinge of seriousness.  "We're not going to put it in the show right away.  We thought we'd wait and see what the people think.

"I don't want it to be a joke.  I don't want it to be like 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.'"

Parton, 56, need not worry.  As a cultural icon dating back to the 1970s, she is certain to be warmly received when the 13-city theater tour begins Wednesday (July 10) at the Irving Plaza in New York.  She also will play Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta and the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  She may play England and Ireland in the fall.

Looking just like Dolly Parton should in a tight skirt and blouse accentuating her famous figure, blond wig and makeup ("I can look phony, but I'm not phony, and that's the difference," is one of her pet one-liners), Parton made a relatively casual entrance for an interview at her Nashville office.  She says she won't even let her nieces and nephews see her looking anything other than like "a country girl's idea of what glamour is."

"You made me have to get dressed and fixed up this morning, because all the other interviews were phoners," she teased.

She hasn't toured for so long because she's been busy elsewhere, including an acting career and her theme park, Dollywood, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

"The people pretty much got me back on tour," Parton said.  "With the last two albums and the success we had, we just got hundreds of calls every week trying to book us.

"I wasn't really doing much, because I'm not getting any big offers for movies and I've got my business things all in order.

"So I thought, 'Maybe I'll go out and see if they really do want to see me...I will be curious to see if the people like it.  If they do, I'll probably continue with it."

Radio programmers cooled on new music of veteran artists like Parton in the 1990s, another reason she was less active musically.

Before that, she had a remarkable streak of hits, stretching back to duets with mentor Porter Wagoner in the 1960s.  On her own, she ranged from the very country "Jolene" to ballads like "I Will Always Love You" and pop hits like "Here You Come Again."

By 1999, Parton concluded she may as well do as she pleased with her music.  So she released "The Grass is Blue," which was named best album by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2000.

Its success put Parton on a creative roll.  She followed with "Little Sparrow" in 2001, and now "Halos & Horns."  All three albums are on the roots-Americana Sugar Hill Records label.

Parton's sound has evolved from bluegrass to acoustic country, the kind of music she sang growing up in rural Tennessee.  She's also made a habit of interpreting unlikely songs like "Stairway to Heaven" and Collective Soul's "Shine" in that style.

Parton's own songwriting is inspired on "Halos & Horns," many times exploring the conflict between spirit and flesh.  On "Hello God," she questions the existence of God in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and on "These Old Bones" she sings two parts, that of a narrator and a clairvoyant old mountain woman.

"These Old Bones" runs nearly six minutes, something she'd be discouraged from doing if radio play were a factor.

"Now, I don't even think about the radio," she said.  "It's wonderful if they would play it, and if I got lucky I wouldn't mind editing something down if it made sense...But I will not whack anything all to pieces to try and be commercial again.

"They've been doing nothing for me for a long time, and I feel I've done as much for country music as it's done for me."