Dolly Parton
Country Music
Winter 2000
Hurricane Dolly
Thirty-five years after moving to Nashville, Dolly Parton remains as refreshing and innovative as most acts half her age.
By Robert K. Oermann

As usual, Dolly Parton is a whirlwind of creative activity.  At the age of 54, Parton is reinventing herself again with a sparkling new bluegrass album.  The Grass Is Blue finds Parton drawing on her Appalachian heritage in a fresh, yet staunchly traditional, manner.  This move follows 1998's Hungry Again, a similarly gusty gamble she recorded with young alternative-country musicians.
      Parton's lovely Trio II album with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt became a surprise sales success of 1999, even without radio airplay.  She starred in Blue Valley Songbird, a Lifetime network movie based on a song she recorded for the Hungry Again album.  And, as Parton became a 1999 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, she continued to push beyond artistic borders by joining outrageous pop star Boy George on a disco recording.  She's also developing a gospel musical, Heavens to Betsy, and keeps a guiding hand over her Dollywood theme park, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the United States.
      And, as always, she greets each interview with fresh quips and a ready wit.

Country Music:  There is a line in "Blue Valley Songbird" that goes, "She's a little bit crazy."  Are you?
DP:  I think that all creative people are a little bit nuts.  There's a great line that Waylon Jennings sings:  "I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane."  That is one of the greatest lines, and so true.  I'm totally nuts, but in a good way, because I have fun.
      And I think I'm a strange person in that I enjoy my own company.  I'm so crazy I'm entertained by it, if that makes any sense.  I think, Oh my Lord, I can't believe you did that.  Sometimes I'll walk away from an interview and go, "I didn't say that, did I?"

CM:  Tell me about going into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
DP:  When I got the call, it was June.  Two of my sisters, Cassie and Rachel, and two of their kids, Hannah and Rebecca, who are like 11 and 13, had come out to L.A.  They were in the kitchen and I was in my office, which is off the kitchen, when I got this call.  I started screaming.  They thought somebody was dead or something.  They all came running in.  So I got to share the moment with my family.  My heart was just overjoyed and overwhelmed.
      My first joke was, "I thought I'd have to be as ugly as Porter and as old as Willie Nelson before I'd be put in."  I did think, I'm not old enough to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I guess I am.  It's like being inducted into sainthood or something.  I am in the Hall of Fame with the saints.  Me, little Dolly Parton from the Smoky Mountains in there with Hank Williams and all those people who have done so much, it's chillings.  It's humbling.
      And I'm glad to go in while I'm still young enough, active enough and alive enough that I can enjoy it.  I get to see it happen, feel it happen, be part of it while it's happening.

CM:  Your bluegrass performance was one of the best moments of the telecast.
DP:  It's cool to be going into the Hall of Fame and at the same time doing new music.  If you think this means I'm done and that this is putting me in a rocking char, you can forget it.  If it does, you can just put wheels on my rockin' chair, 'cause I am gonna rock 'n' roll.  With the bluegrass album, I feel like I'm just starting my career.

CM:  How did The Grass Is Blue come about?
DP:  All of my people played fiddles, mandolins, banjos and guitars.  We defined our music as "mountain music."  The emotion is the same for mountain music and bluegrass.  That "high lonesome sound" is just the mourning of the soul, like being part of a high lonesome wind, going deep into the soul and expressing it.
      Steve Buckingham, who has produced so many of my records, invited me to dinner.  He said, "They ran a survey of some sort asking people who they would most like to do a bluegrass album.  Do you know what the results were?  Dolly Parton, 10 to one."  I said, "Well, why don't we just do one then?"  Six weeks later we were done with it.

CM:  Are you in a good place in your life?
DP:  They say wisdom comes with age, and I think peace does as well.  I don't have to do anything, so I will not do anything if it doesn't feel right to me.  I am willing to work until I fall over, but I don't have to.
      I have freedom now.  I'm not tied up to a record label.  I am managing myself, so I don't have to ask managers.  Since I have gotten older and not been played on the radio, I don't have to write to please a disc jockey.  I'm not writing to please anybody but myself.  If I want to do a bluegrass album, I have the freedom.  I've lived long enough to earn it, and I guess deserve it.  I'm gonna claim it whether I deserve it or not!
      I feel good and I don't look bad for my age.  I look like a cartoon anyway, so what difference does it make?  I'm always gonna look like Dolly, like a freak.  But I'm the best freak I've ever been.  At this time in my life, I'm happy.

CM:  Whose plastic surgery is better, yours or Cher's?
DP:  What is this for, the National Enquirer?