Dolly Parton
Mojo Magazine
January 2002
Good golly Miss Dolly!
After 35 years in showbusiness, Dolly Parton has a lot to celebrate.  Jon Bennett was touched.
By Jon Bennett

      Dolly Parton has just violated me.  Inviting your correspondent to pose for a picture, she attacks from the blindside and sinks her red nails deep into my derrière.  I threaten to sue.  "Well, I won't pay honey," she playfully drawls.  Indeed, "working out what pays" has repeatedly defined Dolly Parton's life and career.
      In the Country Music Hall Of Fame a quote summarizes Dolly as having "the heart of an artist, the brain of a computer and the spirit of a preacher".  And, one might add, the drive of an entrepreneur.  In the next months she will be appearing in Graham Norton's Christmas Special in Dollywood (which just celebrated its 30 millionth visitor), releasing a dance mix of Jolene and working on TV and film projects.
      Thankfully, in the midst of her multibranding, the 57-year-old has also made two of the finest records in her 71-album history — 1999's The Grass Is Blue and 2001's Little Sparrow.  Her first all acoustic albums, Parton calls their blend of bluegrass and folk "genuine blue mountain music".
      "That's the real Dolly Parton that came out of the Smoky Mountains as a little girl," she says.  "This is the music I would have been doing all along if I could have made a living at it.  It's like I had to get rich in order to sing like I was poor."
      For a genre obsessed with notions of down-home tradition, country has always had an unhealthy preoccupation with aspirational glamour.  Early on in her career Dolly figured that people wouldn't pay to see something that they could already hear for free at home or in church.
      "I realized," she says, "that you're not going to make any money doing it.  And I needed to be in the music business.  I needed a band, I needed buses, costumes and clothes for the band.  So I started trying to be commercial and look at the business end of the music business.  And so that's basically what I did to try to become everything that I could possibly be.  No matter what kind of records I recorded, they were always half-assed compared to what my real stuff is.  Even when I had top records, I wasn't as comfortable doing those songs but my personality was comfortable pulling it off and getting it done."
      So Jolene and Here You Go Again were pragmatic compromises?  "Well, that's the art and the challenge of making great pop.  Yes, I was thinking of hits, but it's not like they weren't personal or special.  You think, Oh Lord, just big tits and big hair and all this make-up and all this gob, but still that don't matter.  My look is still country girl's idea of what glamour is.  My heart is as real as those songs I sing.  My heart and my gut and my soul is what you hear in the voice and in this music.  That's why I don't get a lot of modern pop music, it don't have feeling."
      Ah, new country.  From the late '80s, its slick, neutered sound brought huge sales, left purists despairing and ousted the likes of Parton, Cash and Haggard from the commercial airwaves.  Initially frustrated, Parton now feels it left the old guard free to record unadorned albums like Little Sparrow, Solitary Man, and Roots Volume 1.
      "I didn't have a record deal," says Parton.  "I couldn't get on the radio if I tried.  But my life was good and my business was good.  I was certainly not having to do it for money, but I still loved the work.  I realized, You are a writer and a singer so why don't you just do it?  So I paid for the sessions myself.  I thought, I'm gonna go in and sing what I want.  I don't care if the song is seven minutes long.  I don't have to cut it down for radio.  I'm gonna record what I want to.  I pay for this stuff myself and lease it to the company."
      A Grammy and critical praise won, a third installment of "blue mountain music" is planned.  "I want to ride this train as far as it can go," she says, "'cos I love this music and it's true to my heart and soul.  Although I would still love to have some great hit records — I have no kids but I have about 100 nephews and nieces, all of whom need a car when they graduate.  I still gotta be as successful as I can."