Dolly Parton
Songwriters Hall Of Fame Today
May 31, 2007
Songwriting Is Dolly Parton’s True Love
By Jim Bessman

She understands that she’s best known for her extraordinary voice, bubbly personality and voluptuous looks--but Dolly Parton, this year’s recipient of the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s Johnny Mercer Award, is proudest of her songwriting achievements.

“That’s my favorite thing to do,” she says in an interview from Nashville, then notes that it was her songwriting that originally brought her to Music City from East Tennessee. “I first came here in 1962 as a writer and got my first deal with Buddy Killen and Tree Publishing and BMI, and was sending songs back and forth before moving here in 1964.”

But she concedes that her songwriting has been overlooked somewhat under the spotlight of superstardom.

“Years ago probably some people didn’t take me seriously as a writer,” she says, “But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice one thing for the other: I loved looking like a freak of nature and acting like I act! But songwriting was most important to me personally--and being recognized through the years for songs like ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘9 to 5’ and being put into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.”

She offers a funny story from when Whitney Houston hit big with “I Will Always Love You.”

“A big successful businessman said to me, ‘Dolly Parton, you wrote that goddamn song? How hard can it be? It’s just I will always love you!’ And that’s exactly what it was! The simplest song ever written--which is one of the reasons for its success: Everybody could sing it!”

She includes “I Will Always Love You” among her favorite songs “from a singer’s standpoint, because you can sing it as little or as big as you want to.” But she has long cited her autobiographical signature song “Coat of Many Colors” as her favorite “because it’s so personal, about my folks and my mother’s attitude and philosophy.”

It’s a far cry, obviously, from Johnny Mercer.

“His music was so different from what I was doing, but over the last 30 years I’ve learned so much about him,” Parton says. “So this is a great honor—and maybe I’ll look at doing some of his songs.”

But she did record the classic “Me and Bobby McGee” by last year’s Mercer Award winner Kris Kristofferson for her 2005 covers album “Those Were the Days.”

“As a writer you don’t want to sing your own songs all the time,” she explains, recalling how she and Kristofferson were both signed to Combine Music when he wrote the classic. “Who knew what we were all going to become?”

Parton is now preparing her next album and has written all but three of the songs. Among them is “Backwoods Barbie,” which is “kind of my life story,” she says. Also to be included is a remake of her 1966 BMI Song of the Year award-winning “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” featuring Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.

“It’s solid country, and the best thing I’ve done in years,” Parton says of the forthcoming release. She has also penned new songs for a Broadway musical version of “9 to 5.”

"If I had to stop everything else, I’d still be a songwriter,” she concludes. “That’s my true love, and any time I’m acknowledged for it is the greatest compliment."