Dolly Parton
Country Weekly
October 15, 1996
Dolly:  Do My Country Fans Still Love Me?
By Bruce Honick


For years, Dolly Parton's been one of the most beloved stars in country music — but these days she's not so sure.

      Dolly's determined to find out by releasing a new album of mostly country classics called Treasures, which is a return to her deep country roots.
      It's her way to get back on top, but the big-haired beauty — who hasn't had a No. 1 hit since 1991 — says, "I think after this record, if I don't see some sort of interest, I'll just assume that I'm not wanted in country music anymore."
      Even so, Dolly vows she'll never give up on country music or its fans.
      "I'll probably go back to doing more pop things, which radio played, or I'll do my country things.  I'll put 'em out and if they work, they work.
      "It's not like I'm having to do this for the money;  I'm doing it for the art.  It would just be nice to be accepted," she said.
      Dolly remains optimistic:  "I do feel like country music, as always, will be changing.  Hopefully, whatever new changes it makes, then I will be trying to find a new niche there.
      "Even if I had to sing in a nightclub to do it for $50 a night, I would do it, or $50 a week if I had to."
      Despite her still-stunning good looks and trim physique, Dolly, now a half-century old, suspects her age has been held against her in an industry that worships youth.
      "If I ever was any good, I feel like I'm as good as I ever was, if that makes any sense," she told us.  "And hopefully I'd like to think better, because I'm always working on it.  I'm 50, but I still feel like 30."
      As Dolly likes to point out, she has plenty of other irons in the fire, including:

  • A one-hour CBS-TV special Nov. 30 centered on Treasures, a tasty collection of mostly country classics and other personal favorites;
  • A starring role in a CBS-TV movie Unlikely Angel, airing Christmas week;
  • A CBS sitcom, Minding My Own Business, which is scheduled to debut in January with Dolly as the star.  "It's about a working girl . . . fish out of water . . . country girl living in L.A. . . . running my business there . . . catering to all the stars," she related.  The pilot will be shot in December;
  • A Gospel musical she just sold to ABC-TV, High and Mighty, named after a song she wrote.  She'll star in the production, set to air within a year;
  • And "lots of movies-of-the-week in development" by her Sanddollar Production company, which is based in Los Angeles.

      Treasures, on the new Rising Tide/Blue Eye label, is nearest and dearest to her heart, however.  It's an 11-track album that, uncharacteristically for Dolly, contains not one song she wrote herself.

      "These are songs I've always loved, and for years I've wanted to do a great country album of some of my favorite country songs," she explained.
      "I got to see a dream of mine come true a couple of years ago when I did Heartsongs live at Dollywood.  It was the old mountain folk songs, the songs my mama taught me.  That was one dream, so this was the other dream.
      "In fact, if Treasures does well, I want to do a Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.  Like every five years or so, I'd like to do a classic album of my favorite country songs.
      "These were just some that I thought were real special.  They all had some very personal meaning to me, and they touched my life in one way or another.
      "With the exception of 'Peace Train,' 'Walking On Sunshine,' and 'After The Goldrush,' they're very rooted in country music.  Those others just happened to be favorite songs of mine."  Treasures contains such country standards as Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again," Freddy Fender's "Before The Next Teardrop Falls," Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," Jeanne Pruett's "Satin Sheets" and Ray Price's "For The Good Times."
      The first single, however, is a cover of the beautiful Randy Vanwarmer pop hit "Just When I Needed You Most."
      "It actually played on pop radio stations, but to me, it always had a very country feeling and a very country story," Dolly told us.  "It seemed to fit in the country vein."
      Among the guest stars providing harmony vocals on the album are Alison Krauss, The Mavericks' Raul Malo, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Suzanne Cox, John Popper of Blues Traveler and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

      Dolly's last No. 1 single came in 1991 with "Rockin' Years," a duet with Ricky Van Shelton.  She had 22 other No. 1s, starting in 1971 with "Joshua," and with Porter Wagoner racked up 14 Top 10 hits between 1967 and 1980.  Dolly's "PMS Blues" peaked at No. 70 in 1994, but in 1995 she and Vince Gill reached No. 15 in Billboard with her oft-recorded "I Will Always Love You."
      "It's really hard to say" what it will take to return to the top, she said.  "I'm very, very proud of the new country people.  I don't begrudge them one bit of their success.  I just wish there was room for some of us older folks who are still very serious about our music and still hopefully can make good records.
      "With me being in the business as long as I have been, being very serious as a writer and a singer, I figure I'm better off just to try to go back to doing what comes from my gut, from my heart and from my soul.
      "Because I've tried to cater a little bit to the new country when I did 'Romeo' with Billy Ray Cyrus and some of them; I rode along on the coattails of some of my young friends.  That didn't help me, either," she said, laughing.
      "I'm a very serious artist; my music means more to me than anything, even though I'm lucky enough to get to do many other things.  I still have a yearning and a desire to have hit records and to be a successful recording artist.
      "I do it because music is my gut, my heart and my soul.  To me, it's about the music.  It's about the gift God gave me.  It's something I have to do.  It was my songs and the music that brought me out of the Smoky Mountains that put me in all the other areas that I am in today.  It's still my music that burns at me more than any other thing."
      Hindsight is always 20/20, but we wondered aloud if perhaps Dolly's various entertainment endeavors spread her too thin, that this was why she's had such a long drought in country music.
      "No, sir," she replied sharply.  "I think if I hadn't done exactly what I did, I would have starved to death and died out by now.
      "If I hadn't made the moves that I made, I would not be successful today in all the ways I am successful.
      "What is good about the things I do — like I'm starting a TV series after the first of the year, and there will be music in that; I will write the theme song — everything that I do, there's still an outlet for my music.
      "Even Dollywood, the themepark, still has to do with music.  We have so much music all over the park, and when I do home we do our concerts every year.

      "So everything is still an outlet for my work," says Dolly, who shudders at the thought of anything else.  "I look at a lot of my older friends that have gone by the wayside, that are starving to death, that live in houses they can't afford, and are still longing for that dream they once had and can't afford today.
      "I'm just thankful that I used my good sense — my business sense — and did exactly what I did.  So I have no regrets there.  My only regret is that I'm not being able to be a consistent recording artist and have one hit after another.
      "It's not like something that eats at me," she added.  "It's just something I wish was natural.  I wish it was as natural for me to have hit records as it is for me to sing and to write.
      "I do think people relate to me.  I think they know I came from the salt of the earth, so to speak, from a big family.  All the things people relate to: home, family, church.  I grew up in all those ways.
      "Of course, I'm a little bizarre and a little squirrelly.  But that's OK; I think people can relate to that, too.  I think people know that they can relate to me.  They have lived the songs I write.  I think I touch them in some way because they are me and I am them, and it's not that different."
      She partly attributes her long absence from the higher chart positions to lack of label support.  "First of all, the last few years I've been with labels that thought I was over the hill as a recording artist.  If you're over 30 in this business, in this day and time, usually you're not accepted."
      She's been accepted with open arms — and open pocketbooks — by her new label.  And with that support, she says: "I just hope that I can continue to do great work.  I hope fans'll like some of the new stuff I'm doing and just know that I'm going to be working as hard as I ever have.  I'm still as convinced as I ever was that this is my life's work and that I'm always going to try to do something to please the fans.
      "If I don't, it's certainly not because I've not been trying."