Dolly Parton
Country Music
November/December 1998
5 · 4 · 3 · 2 · 1
Me And Dolly
Our own Hazel Smith got to spend some time with Dolly Parton.  They connected immediately.  They were just a couple of hillbilly chicks shooting the breeze.
By Hazel Smith


      Tony Brown, Prez MCA Records, and Mark Wright, VP A&R Decca, were hovering over Dolly when I arrived at the conference room of Decca Records, Dolly's label.  "Those two dudes are lucky to have a real woman on the premises," I said to the p.r. person in charge of Dolly happenings.  Seated at a conference table, Dolly counted, "5-4-3-2-1, me and Hazel." We giggled and giggled all through our too-short allotted time.

Graduate cum laude from the school of hard knocks, the lady of many "wigs" is as honest and genuine as daybreak in the Smokies.  She's not changed one iota.  Course, Dolly's been there, done that...from the Smokies to the world...she's worth several million dollars...and she gives "back" all the time.  She is country music's most successful female entertainer — probably the best-known country entertainer worldwide.  In my opinion, Dolly Parton is the smartest person ever born in the State of Tennessee and Tennessee's best export.  Come, look through the hillbilly spy glass.
      Dolly's self-penned songs carry a message of hope, truth, faith and strength.  She's not afraid to say she believes in the Heavenly Father, nor ashamed to admit she fasts and prays to receive spiritual guidance from Him.  We're not talking religion here.  We're talking spiritual.  Naturally a witty person, if Dolly half tried, she could be a stand-up comic.  Her red lips are always smiling or talking, keeping you on your toes.  She's a velvet-tongued cynic who'll laugh at herself but would never poke fun at someone else.  And she's a marketing dream that once slept nightly in a pee-soaked bed with five brothers and sisters right down the road from the amusement park that bears her name.  Let's not forget the Number 2 washtub where 12 kids bathed in the same bath water, once a week, one at a time, on Saturday night, whether they needed it or not.  She built Dollywood, providing employment for the entire Parton/Owens clan, which is half of Sevier County.  Anybody who can sing or sweep got a gig.  You can't do better than that for your family.
      It all started with a song.  Probably her song.  But now, with her back against the wall, her mind tired of thinking and her heart o.d.'d from the trappings of the West Coast, East Coast, Third Coast stardom, and her 30-year recording career in neutral, Dolly was holed in.  She'd been holed in before, and she knew in order to get out she had to resurrect herself.  In order to get back to where she's know what was in the stars for her, Dolly knew she had to get hungry again.  Thus, she had a possible song title.
      She cut off her long signature nails, took all her favorite musical instruments, and retired to the cabin she'd purchased outside Sevierville.  Between there and her place on Center Hill Lake, she prayed and fasted, seeking spiritual guidance, knowing the Lord would reveal an answer.  After all, this wasn't Dolly's first trip down on her knees.  It was painful.  Three months and 37 songs later, she emerged.  Keeping it in the family, she got her first cousin, Richie Owens, to co-produce the project in his basement studio at his home.  The results, Hungry Again, a CD of 12 songs with a semblance of "early Dolly."  God, is it good!  As we talked, Dolly explained the "birthing" of each tune.  It was a mother describing her 12 children and why each one was special to her.

      Herewith a selection.  "Hungry Again" — "People have to work so hard to get where they are, and romance gets lost along the way.  The thrill and excitement is gone.  'Let's love like we're hungry again' is the hook line for the song," Dolly explained.
      "The Salt In My Tears" — in her head and heart, Dolly knew "The Salt In My Tears" was a commercial song.
      "Honky Tonk Songs" — While composing the songs for the album, the thought crossed her mind, "Why don't more women sing honky tonk songs?"  Great song idea!  Dolly thinks women should get to go out to the bars like the men where they can drink or get drunk if they want to and pick up somebody.  "Men do it.  Why can't we?" she allowed.
      "Blue Valley Songbird" — Dolly says she is in this song; however, her daddy never abused her.  "Daddy didn't bust my ass half as much as he should have," she said with blue eyes twinkling.  Dolly has plans to make "Blue Valley Songbird" into a TV movie.
      "I Wanna Go Back There" — "Can we?" I asked.  "Wouldn't it be nice if we could," remarked Dolly.  "Then again, I don't know if we'd want to go back if we could," she added.  "Remember that old song, 'In The Good Old Day When Times Were Bad,' that I wrote?"  I remembered.  She quoted: "No amount of money could pay me for all the memories I had back then/No amount of money could pay me to go back and live through it again."
      "When Jesus Comes Calling For Me" reminds Dolly of both her granddads.  "You know I love old men," she said.  She told me her Grandpa Parton would be plowing in the field, and he'd say, "When Jesus comes calling."  "He was always looking for Jesus," Dolly whispered and acknowledged she'd long ago got this song idea.
      "I'll Never Say Goodbye" — "It just came rolling out," Dolly said.  "What the song is saying is, if you ever want to try and make it right, you can.  But I'm never gonna forget you whether you make it right or you don't.  I'll never say goodbye to you."
      "The Camel's Heart" — The song's title has such a cute turn-around and is one of my favorites.  I told Dolly as I listened to the song, I thought, "Now that's Dolly wearing her silk underwear a-carrying her pistol."  "And I had it up there, too," she admitted.  "If my prayers don't protect me, my pistol would.  I knew the Lord would understand," she offered... as we both fell over laughing our heads off.
      "Paradise Road" — The story of Dolly's life is in this song, and it's used daily at Dollywood.  When she's in town, she can step into the role as herself.
      "Shine On" — This is the song Dolly sang at Tammy Wynette's funeral.  She recorded it at her Grandpa Owen's church, with family and friends singing along with her on the chorus.  Dolly told me that she and Tammy had started a song several years ago, and that night, after the funeral, Dolly finished it.  She misses Tammy and feels bad that she'd been so sick.  "But look what she left," said Dolly.  "What a legacy."

      "How are the folks back home?"  Fans like me want to know, so I asked.  Her parents are fine.  They had a little scare with her mama her a while back.  Her mama used to dip snuff, but she quit and took up smoking.  She had problems with her throat, and they were worried it might be cancer, but it wasn't.  It scared her mama enough to quit smoking.
      I mentioned it never bothered my that my relatives talk country, and I've never tried to change the way I talk.  Dolly said she felt the same about her relatives.  She's never been ashamed of the way she talks or they talk.  Sometimes she says she worries for them being so uncomfortable with TV or something.  But "it's like you said, Hazel, they're precious and sacred to me."
      When she's in the area, Dolly attends the little church where her Grandpa Jake Owens used to preach.  Nobody knows when she's coming, she just shows up.  Everybody there is kin to her, and she can stay in touch with cousins and aunts and uncles and such that she doesn't otherwise get to see often.
      The family matriarch with no kids, Dolly takes care of her family's "needs," but says she can't take care of everybody's "wants."  She uses her own discretion as to what a kid wants, or somebody wants, if they should have it.  Learning to say no to family was the hardest thing she ever had to do.  But she learned.  And, she says, she thanks God she's always been able to give what anybody needs.
      In closing, Dolly said, "I've been very lucky.  Very fortunate.  Living life, you don't think about stuff, but turning 50, you do think of it.  It's been amazing.  What a blessing.  What a joy.  What a journey."