Dolly Parton
Next Magazine
February 16, 2001
Dolly Goes Back To Her Roots
Ross Bleckner Interviews Dolly Parton
By Ross Bleckner

      Dolly Parton has the bead on rags-to-riches.  She was born in 1946 on a farm in Locust Ridge, part of eastern Tennessee's Smoky Mountains.  Dolly's parents often used cornmeal to pay the doctor who delivered their 12 children.  Since then, Dolly has become one of entertainment's biggest crossover country successes.  Anyone with a radio knows "Two Doors Down" and "Here You Come Again."  Her film work gave us characters as indelible as Truvy and Dora Lee.  She's even given us the 1979's disco classic "Baby I'm Burning," helped hustle the word "whorehouse" into the popular lexicon and moved us on the dance floor with her re-mixes of "Peace Train."  With all that Dolly's done for us, we thought it would be nice to get her together with her old friend Ross Bleckner for a chat.  They sat down when Dolly was in New York to promote her new album Little Sparrow.  By the time they were through, Dolly dropped a Carnegie Hall announcement and Ross was booking spring travel to Dollywood.

DOLLY:  Hi, Ross!
ROSS:  Dolly, hi, how are you?
DOLLY:  Well, I couldn't believe it when they said you was going to be doing an interview.  I said, "Well, I just have to see what that's about."
ROSS:  You're so sweet!  A friend of mine runs a magazine here called Next and it's very cool.  What brings you to New York?
DOLLY:  I have a new CD out that's all acoustic.  I had an album last year called The Grass Is Blue and it won the bluegrass album of the year.  People were really getting into me going back to my roots and doing a lot of the acoustic things so we thought we'd follow it up with a new one.  The title of this one is called Little Sparrow, and don't go writin' that it's for the birds [laughs].
ROSS:  I love that image, Dolly.  I know it's always very important for you to get back to those country roots.
DOLLY:  Well, it is and this is the kind of music that I actually sing the best, but I never could make a living at it.  I had to get out and make some money so I could afford to go back and sing like I was poor again [laughs].
ROSS:  So what's on your New York schedule?
DOLLY:  I'm doing Conan [O'Brien] tonight, in the morning I have a series of interviews and then I'm heading back to Nashville tomorrow at noon.
ROSS:  On your bus?
DOLLY:  Bust or bus?
ROSS:  Bus!  [Laughs.]  How is your bus?
DOLLY:  Well, they're fine, all three of them, the bus and the bust.  But actually, I enjoy the bus.  I use it for my dressing room when I travel.  I get a lot of work done.  I write a lot when I'm on the bus and so it's wonderful to use it when I'm out on location like this.  It gives me a good dressing room.  I can always depend on my bus.
ROSS:  You covered some pretty non-traditional songs on this album.
DOLLY:  I did, but I did them all in this traditional sound that we're doing.  I call the music I'm making now "blue mountain music" because it's a combination of bluegrass and mountain music.  That just seemed like a good phrase for it, but yes, I took the old Cole Porter song, "I Get A Kick Out Of You," and did it up-tempo.  I blue-grassed it up with fiddles, banjos, and mandolins.  And it turns out that it's gettin' so much response just because of the difference of it.  I did another one called "Shine" from the rock group Collective Soul.  It's a song I've always loved.  I thought it would be fun to just take two or three things like that and then add the seven songs I wrote on the album.
ROSS:  I love the songs that you write.
DOLLY:  Good, well I like to write.  That's my favorite thing that I do.
ROSS:  I mean, "I Will Always Love You," is such a wonderful song.  And you were so smart to keep the rights.  You're a great business person on top of everything else, Dolly.
DOLLY:  Well, I don't know about that, I've been lucky too.  But I do like the business end of the business.  I've always enjoyed seeing how things work and making them work and I've always tried to make sure I kept my own publishing with my songs.  I have about three thousand copyrights, I've been writing since I was seven-years-old.  I have a pretty good little publishing company going, but you don't need but a few.  If you have one or two like, "I Will Always Love You," you can make a good living.
ROSS:  I'll bet you can, I wish I had an, "I Will Always Love You," I wouldn't have to paint all the time.
DOLLY:  Yeah, but you're great.  I'd like to think I could write like you paint, but we both look at our paintings and our songs like our children.  We hope they'll support us when we're old.
ROSS:  That is so true, but since that's so far away, we don't have to worry about things like that yet.  So now, how is everything in Nashville?
DOLLY:  Well, I live in Nashville, but I also have a home in L.A.  I spend about half my time in Nashville, half my time in L.A.  Now and then I get up to New York to do some business, but I'm having a good time at Dollywood, as you know, that's the theme park.  We're going into our sixteenth season.  We open on April 7th and 8th.  That's our big grand opening.  We're having a Festival of Nations; the whole world is coming to Dollywood and they're going to be there for a month, bringing all their customs, their clothing, their food.  We also have our $20 million dollar water park that we're opening on May 19th.  It's called Dolly's Splash Country.  It covers several acres.  It's our biggest expansion since we started.  We tried to keep the environment looking beautiful, so we built all these beautiful waterfalls and slides and pools.  It's in the mountains there, in the Smokies.
ROSS:  Dolly, you know it's been one of my big objectives in the last few years to get to Dollywood.  I haven't done it, and I know I've said it to you lots of times, I'm dying to go to Dollywood.
DOLLY:  This would be a good year for you to come, you should get Sandy Gallin, he's been there before.
ROSS:  I know, I'm going to get all my gay friends that love you so much, Dolly.
DOLLY:  Some of the best friends I have in this whole world are gay, and I just have some wonderful friends.  I've always said if I hadn't been a woman, I'd definitely been a drag queen and you know that to be a fact.  I love all people.  I just have a great rapport with gay people because somehow they're sort of like me.  They just have a freer spirit.  They accept themselves easier than most people.
ROSS:  I know, that's true.  Like I said before, you're great.  You like to stay with your roots and you really, really have kept your humility and that's what's been so beautiful about you and your performances and your writing for all these years.  And I know how close you are with your family.
DOLLY:  Yes, you know I have a bunch.  There's 12 kids in our family.  I just lost my father a few weeks ago and I'm still really having a lot of trouble with that.
ROSS:  I'm sorry to hear that.
DOLLY:  He went unexpected.
ROSS:  How old was he?
DOLLY:  He was 79, but he had never been sick.  He had a stroke and he died within two weeks, so at least we felt like we had him all those good years.  But he had a good life.  I was happy that if he had to go, that he didn't really suffer that much, but we miss him a lot.  You're right, I'm very close to my family and I stay very true to my roots.  And talking about our gay friends, too, I think it's great when people accept themselves for exactly who they are and accept other people.  I think that's the key to happiness and success.  It doesn't matter who you are, as long as you do that really good.  We're all God's children.  He loves us all the same.  We have to learn to love each other and ourselves a little better.
ROSS:  I can't figure out why more people don't have your attitude, Dolly.  I really mean it.  Now that we have this Republican administration, I don't understand why people don't adopt your philosophy.  Then everybody really would be bi-partisan.
DOLLY:  Well, I think a lot of people are not comfortable with who they are, so they have to kind of take the attention off of themselves and try to judge and criticize other people.  Then you don't get a chance to see who they are.  I'm very comfortable with who I am, so I accept all people as if that's who I am as well.
ROSS:  I mean, just from the fact that you come from Tennessee-that's not an area that is known for its hospitality to gay people.
DOLLY:  Well, no.  There's a lot of prejudice in the South and there's prejudice everywhere.  But I just always had a very open heart.  I think God had a plan for me.  I always try and find out all the things he might have had in mind.  I didn't want to let God down.  I feel like for me to judge other people and to not accept people as they are, that would be a sin against my spirit, my talent and my human decency.
ROSS:  That honesty comes through in your work and I really think that's why gay people respond to you and why they're such a devoted audience and you're such an icon.
DOLLY:  Well, I do have a lot of fun, in fact, just changing the subject ever so slight, I had a good time when I did Bette Midler's show.  I know she also is another one that the gay community really accepts.  We had such a good time doing her show, that we talked about doing a dance record together.  Some of my records are made into dance records, especially in the gay clubs, you know.
ROSS:  I know, I love them!  "Peace Train" was one of my favorite songs of all time, the way you did it.
DOLLY:  But wouldn't it be fun for me and Bette to do a dance album?
ROSS:  You wouldn't be able to turn the crowds away.
DOLLY:  I know, so I'm thinking we might do that at some point in time.
ROSS:  When are you going to perform again in New York?
DOLLY:  I plan to do a few concerts.  I'm going to do Carnegie Hall.  We tried to do that on Valentine's Day, but we couldn't pull it together.  Sometime in the next few months we're going to try and do that big show.  In the meantime, we're going to do a few concerts scattered around this coming year.  I'm going to be doing some TV movies of the week.  We've got the Dollywood opening, got the Little Sparrow album and I believe that's going to pretty much keep me busy.
ROSS:  Well, listen, everything sounds wonderful in your life.
DOLLY:  Well, I'm thrilled to death that I got to talk to you.
ROSS:  Well, please, next time you're here I want to come hear you.
DOLLY:  Oh, you will, but If you're up tonight, you can watch me on Conan.
ROSS:  I will, I'll stay up.
DOLLY:  Well, I love you!
ROSS:  Thank you, Dolly, and I love you too.
DOLLY:  Getting off my interview, what are you painting, what's your show, what are you doing?
ROSS:  Well, I'm actually having a show in May at Mary Boone's gallery in Chelsea.  I'm making new big paintings, they're like flower petals kind of falling down.  I'm working slowly.  I've been in the city and I've been out in the country.
DOLLY:  Let me know when the show is, because I'd love to come.
ROSS:  Well, for sure, I'll make sure I send you an invitation.
DOLLY:  Well, alright, now I'm going to go practice with Conan.
ROSS:  Okay Dolly, thank you, you're so very wonderful and generous as always.