DOLLY PARTON may be small but sheís so proud of the big assets that have carried her through life.
Of course, Iím talking about her brilliant songwriting, her astute business sense and her iconic platinum blonde image.
Born one of twelve children to ďdirt poorĒ parents, Dolly came down from the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee to seek her fame and fortune in the home of country music, Nashville.
Today, she owns a theme park, Dollywood, and a new label, Dolly Records. Sheís set up a childrenís reading programme called Imagination Library and she has just turned down the chance to judge American Idol because she doesnít want to be mean to wannabes.
But perhaps her greatest strength lies in her ability to poke fun at herself. It explains the title of her new album, Backwoods Barbie, due out early next year.
When I meet Dolly at Londonís Dorchester hotel, the 61-year-old is in dazzling, if self-deprecating form. Her wide smile could light up the darkest corner of the dingiest room.
Sheís here to talk about the album, to launch her tour of the UK next summer and to visit Rotherham to set up her first Imagination Library in England.
Here, she talks about her life in music and business.
The title of your forthcoming album, Backwoods Barbie, sums you up in such a brilliant way.
Itís actually one of the songs from the Broadway musical, 9 To 5, that Iíve written the music for. Itís the little Doralee character that I play, but itís really my story. It says I grew up poor and ragged, just a simple country girl, and I wanted to be pretty more than anything in the world, like Barbie or the models in the Frederickís (of Hollywood) catalogue. Maybe I am just a Backwoods Barbie ó too much make-up, too much hair, in a push-up bra and heels ó but donít be fooled by thinking that the goods are not up there (points to head). It might look artificial but where it counts, Iím real.
Youíve always written autobiographical themes in your songs.
I love story songs because Iíve always loved books. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with stories and I started noticing that my songs really would take on just telling my whole story, like Coat Of Many Colours.
You sang about your mother sewing you that coat and how it gave you the luck. Do you think the song inspired your career?
Well, I know it didnít hurt. It has certainly been a big part of my career. That song has kind of followed me. Even though I might be known for I Will Always Love You, people have a sweeter feeling in their heart toward me about The Coat. People relate to that one more.
Was it because it came from your heart?
Yeah. I grew up hard but I think people appreciate that you love your parents and you love your family. I do and Iíve been very blessed. So thatís that little song but theyíre all special. I always say theyíre like my children and I expect them to support me when Iím old ó and some of them are.
Does Coat Of Many Colours mean the most to you?
I think it does. Sometimes when I sing it on stage, I actually cry. I know that when my mother was sick before she died, it would spin on what kind of shape she was in. When I thought about her, it would bring it all back and I would realise she wasnít gonna be around forever. I would think about how lucky I was to have good parents. Then after she died, it would nearly kill me to sing that song. Iíd have to talk about it a little bit (to the audience) in case I couldnít get through it. I would always get through it but sometimes I would just sit there with tears coming down.
You have a great attitude to life as your new song Better Get To Liviní suggests.
Lord knows Iíve been through enough stuff in my life and nobodyís ever without feeling. I just try to have a good attitude.
I wake up every day hoping things are good and, if theyíre not, I try to set about making them better. One day Kent Wells, my guitar player, band leader and co-producer of the Backwoods Barbie album, said to me: ďWhy donít you write a song about your attitude. Everyone comes up to me and up to you saying: ďWhatís Dollyís secret?Ē I said, ďWell, thatís a good line.Ē
So we wrote that song together. Itís not like Iím the Dalai Lama. Iím just Dolly and Iíll try to offer up advice but nobody has all the answers.
Tell me more about the album?
I wrote nine of the twelve songs. Some of them are real pure country, kinda like Coat Of Many Colours. The Barbie will remind you, in its melody and its emotion, of Coat. I did a couple of covers ó She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals, with banjos and fiddles, and Smokey Robinsonís Tracks of My Tears.
How come this is your first mainstream country album for a while?
When the new country came out ten to 15 years ago, people my age were almost too old. But it never stopped me. I never stopped writing. I never stopped recording.
I did bluegrass stuff which I was very proud of. With this new album, I have actually hired promotion people, radio people and Iíve been going round to the stations just like the old days.
How are they reacting?
Theyíre more excited to see me now. Itís like thereís a big star in the house but I still donít know how seriously theyíre taking me and my music. I donít know if itís going to help them play my music but theyíre glad that Dollyís there. ďOh, can I get a picture for my daughter?Ē
Do you think your image gets in the way of the music?
Well, it might have. Iíve had people tell me that through the years, but you know what, if it hadnít been for all of it being exactly the way it is, the Backwoods Barbie syndrome, I would probably have had no one paying that much attention to me as a songwriter. I would never have even have got the chance to get my foot in the door if I hadnít been a freak to start with.
Did you get that look to sell yourself?
One of the lines in the Barbie thing says: ďDonít judge me by the cover ícos Iím a real good book. Read into it what you will but see me as I am, the way I look is just a country girlís idea of glam.Ē Itís like I just wanna be pretty and that fitted my style.
It came from a serious place. Then when I saw the attention, the more I enjoyed it and then the more people noticed me. I felt better looking like this than when I tried to dress down. The outside matched the outgoingness I felt on the inside.
How did you make that step in the first place, coming from this poor but loving family?
My motherís people were all musical so we were surrounded by music. Most of my people sang in church or local gatherings, or just on the front porch or back porch, but I was the one with the big personality.
I saw that this was something I could do for business. I started getting attention when I sang on the radio and TV, people were applauding a lot and I know now that much of it was because I was little. Then I thought it was ícos they thought I was good. That gave me confidence and I thought I was like my daddy ó he was a worker and I got my work ethic and business sense from him.
My motherís people were all great fun, creative, but they were lazy too. They would sleep all day, like typical musicians, but I would be up in the morning with my dad. Iím still like him ó up at three oíclock.
Youíve got so much going on in your life, you probably need to be up at that time.
Yeah, I do. I donít require a lot of sleep. I love the early morning so I can get a lot done. I saw early on that I could make a business out of this because I wanted money, I wanted to travel, I wanted clothes, I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be staying in fine hotels.
It wasnít to get away from what I was because I knew that would always be me. Iíve never been ashamed of my people. I love my people and I love my home. You know Iím still like a stupid hillbilly sometimes.
In the Wall Street Journal last year, you were down as one of the 50 women to watch.
I thought: ďWhy do they call it the music business? Whoís taking care of the business part of the music?Ē
And I saw that if I was gonna be making this money or having these songs, Iíd better publish my own stuff. Just now, Iíve got Dolly Records and, of course, Iím making good money with Dollywood and other things.
I read you stopped Elvis from recording I Will Always Love You because you didnít want to give away your song.
That was one of the more heart-breaking things. It wasnít Elvis personally. He was excited he was gonna do the song. He loved the song and I loved the song but Colonel Tom (Parker, his manager) didnít tell me that Elvis had already worked the song up and I had told everybody he was doing it.
Then, on the last day of the session, Colonel Tom lays that one on me, that we take half the publishing rights if we record it. I said: ďWell, thatís just toughĒ ó and, man, it was a heart-breaker. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made but that was my song, it was already out, it was already published and I thought, ďI canít give this away.
I was gonna leave this to my brothers and sisters.Ē Even though people said, ďYeah, yeah, but they had Elvis to do it, they could have made ten times more money than you could have had,Ē something told me I couldnít do it. Then after Whitney (Houston), it was like, oh wow, I was certainly justified.
Do you think you were the one who really gave women a bit more power within that sort of country music framework?
Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and myself were all in it about the same time. They got a little bit of a head start on me, certainly Loretta, but we were all three good friends and actually ended up doing an album together.
But I think I was a little different from them. Loretta had a house full of kids and she wrote those being brought down by men songs. Hers were more about home life and all the women who had children and I totally love and respect her.
Tammy could sing any number of things but she was also singing that Stand By Your Man. I was singing songs like Just Because Iím A Woman . . . my mistakes are no worse than yours just because Iím a woman. I think we all did our little thing. I just filled my spot.
Why do you think your songs from the wilds of Tennessee have become so universal?
Thatís because they have elements that everybody goes through. I know thereís a lot of poor, cold people in London. We were very poor and my mother had to make me a coat and itís the same in England, Scotland or Ireland. How many rich people are there in this world?
What are your future ambitions?
I never want to retire first of all and I want to continue with my music. I still plan to tour. I want to make as good records as I can, writing as good songs as I can.
Source: London Sun