Dolly Parton
The Grass Is Blue Interview

Question 1:  Are you at a point in your career where you feel like you have a lot more freedom and can follow your own path creatively?

Dolly:  I think that havin' the freedom now—see, I don't have, I'm not on a record label.  I'm not tied up to a record label.  I don't have to do anything and that has given me so much freedom to be more creative, to write more.  I don't have to try to be commercial.  I'm not having to try to write to please a record label.  I'm not having to write to please a disc-jockey.  I'm not trying to write to please anybody but myself and I have since I have got older and not been played on the radio and not having the kinda hits and not having a label—which I could find a label, but I don't want to.  It's just like when I did this bluegrass record.  Now I can do project by project just like I said to Steve, "If you wanna do a bluegrass record, well put it on Sugar Hill."  I mean, I just did it as that thing.  I don't have a contract with them except for this...this particular thing and the same with—I have a record coming out with Boy George from Culture Club.  It's a spectacular song and I have the freedom.  I don't have to ask a label.  I don't have to ask managers.  I'm managing myself with no label and I'm doin' the best work I've ever done—running my own production companies.  It's like, "Yes!  This is freedom.  I've lived long enough to earn it and deserve it."  I'm gonna claim it whether I deserve it or not.  I'm gonna make the most of it, but you're right, it's like, such a freedom.  It's a freedom for me and I just—I'm just lovin' my life.

Question 2:  Do you remember seeing your first bluegrass band as a child?

Dolly:  As a child, I...I was always around music and all of my people played fiddles, mandolins, banjos, guitars and like I say, we pretty much defined our music as just mountain-country music or just mountain music, but when I started singing on radio and television...uh, in Knoxville on the Cas Walker Show and the Midday Merry-Go-Round and different shows that I would do, they really had self-contained bluegrass people like Jim & Jesse and like, uh, the Breuster Brothers where they really had like—and they sang that bluegrass high lonesome harmonies and they were really considered bluegrass people so—like I say—and then what I was doing was playing my own little Martin guitar which was really just a mix of just the country and the mountains and the bluegrass so...but yes, I was always around it and I always knew the difference in that—you know, there was always that...a definite thing in the groups that considered themselves bluegrass as opposed to just, you know, the country bands, but it was a purity.  There was a purity and they would not...they did not like any electric instruments even when the guitars and the electric basses and stuff.  They...they were just not going to have that and so that was really what defined the bluegrass, I think and made it stay pure—is the purity of it and I think that the...their harmonies, bluegrass harmonies are so's different than country harmonies unless I say you do grow up where you are influenced by both like in mine, like when I did this bluegrass album, there's so much of Dolly in it—Dolly's way of singin', just the way that I phrase and all, but yet, when I sing these songs, that part in my high lonesome soul would remember how the bluegrass people would sing that so it would just naturally come out that way so...uh, I just think that, you know, like I say, I've always admired, respected and been around true bluegrass musicians and groups and singers and so this was such a natural thing for me to do.

Question 3:  What is your definition of bluegrass' "high lonesome sound," and being a mountain girl, how can you relate to that?

Dolly:  I think that high lonesome sound is just that mourning of the soul that I think people feel into the depths of their souls.  It's almost like being part of the wind—that lonesome—it's like that high lonesome wind, it's like part of.  It's just like going deep into the soul of something and it's a way of expressing each other, how you have the mournful sounds of like sometimes like when you do sigh or when you scream or holler when pain is so great—like you've seen—and I think that it's just a way of havin'...being able to condense that or contain it somehow into how it can come out and make it musical, but there's just the mournfulness of it so I just think it's just the way of expressin' it and I just think it's country depth and soul—mountain depth and soul.

Question 4:  One of your first hits was a bluegrass tune, Muleskinner Blues, can you tell us a bit about the history of that?

Dolly:  One of my first big country records was considered country, but it was a bluegrass song and Bill Monroe had had a big record of "Muleskinner Blues" and once when we were in the studio, I was working with Porter and we had a whole group in and Buck Trent, I think, said, "Won't you do 'Muleskinner Blues' and Porter said, 'Yeah, it's a great idea.'"  So we started, you know, we were just foolin' around playin' in the recording studio before you record.  You have musicians get together and they start jammin' and that one just—somebody just started playing that and I just started singing it and Porter thought it was a great idea and then he started puttin' whips and we just had such fun in the studio.  He even sent out on the lunch break and got...had somebody pick up a whip, you know where we can get the crackin' whip sound like the...and so—and we were whistlin' and so it, it just was really kinda of a fun thing that we did and we didn't really know what we had.  We weren't really planning it for a single or anything, but after it was done, everybody said, "Man!  That is fantastic!  You should do that," cause I was yodelin' and I was doing my—my best Bill Monroe.  'Course, nobody can be Bill Monroe, but I was doing, you know, my version of it, but it turned out to be a huge record and you know, I still get requests for that song and I even pondered redoing that for this bluegrass album, but I thought, na—it's, uh—it's kinda what it is.  It was a little standard of its own at that time so no point in rehashing it.  I even did some...the bluegrass yodels in a lot of the songs off of this album.  I purposely tried to do, you know, the "Muleskinner Blues" yodel on the "Train, Train" and uh, I tried to slip it in everywhere I could to get a, you know, a little bit of yodeling.

Question 5:  You used to play banjo in your live concerts — can you talk about your experience with that instrument?

Dolly:  Well, as I had mentioned in several interviews people always played every kind of instrument and every kid in every family was used to somebody's banjo laying around, somebody's fiddle laying around, somebody's mandolin, so you, I was always, I just loved it—the sound of every instrument and I especially loved the banjo because I had an uncle that played the banjo and then an old man that used to live up the road from us that I wrote my song "Applejack" off of and about him, he taught, he gave...showed me how to play so...and I actually, if I don't have these long, artificial acrylic fingernails on, I can play the banjo that old claw-hammer style cause that, when I was little, when my fingers were just short and stubby and no big fingernails, I could really get a move on that cause I really, it was a big thing for me to learn how to do the claw-hammer banjo so when I was young, I could really play it good and then I got all sissy and, but I can still play it, but I have to figure out how to...a way around it, but I did used to play a lot on stage when "Applejack"—when my song "Applejack" was out on an album, it was..."Applejack" was a great performance tune.  I even did it once on the CMA Awards.

Question 6:  How did you meet Alison Krauss — wasn't it your husband who introduced you to her?

Dolly:  Carl saw Alison Krauss of the country shows.  I don't know if it was...might have been Grand Ole Opry.  He said, "You know, there's this little girl that she sounds a lot like you and she's got a voice like a dove," and he says, "it's just the sweetest little voice and she's just got the sweetest little face.  You ought ' ought 'a try to find her.  I think her name is Alison Krauss or something."  So anyway, he had mentioned her name and then different people got to saying that she was a big fan of mine.  I should meet her cause she'd been wanting to meet me and it was the sweetest meeting cause when we met, she started crying.  It was so sweet and I just clinged her.  It was like she was like my little soul mate somehow like if I'd of had a child, it would have been Alison probably because, you know, we had our little voices just blended so well.  It just seemed like what came out of us...our emotions seem to come out in song the same way...and it was just a magical thing and so Alison sang on several of the songs on this album as she has on the last several of my albums and I've—I sang on her last record.  I would do anything Alison asked me to do and she's always been nice to do this so...she's just mine.  I just love her.  She's definitely got to be part of my family.  If there's such thing as livin' in other lives, knowing people from other times, we definitely had to have been together in another life cause we're just too close in this one not to have had some sort of history somewhere else.

Question 7:  How was your experience recording this album?

Dolly:  This was really, sincerely, was a charmed and blessed project first of all.  It was almost like a spiritual experience to me.  The way that it all happened, like from the time Steve and I said, "Well, why don't we just do a bluegrass album."  And then the musicians that he put together, as you well know, are the very best of the best and the nicest people and they loved each other.  They had a great respect for each other.  It was such a thrill to hear them all playin' together.  It was such a thrill for them to be able to have this, this particular group of people.  I'm sure they've all played with different ones at different times, but this particular group, doin' an album which...which they seemed to have cared about me and respect what I do cause a lot of them go way back in my career and a lot of them remembered a lot of stuff so they seemed to be very honored, or they seemed to be and said they were honored to work with me and I was so honored that I couldn't—it was like I, when I would go to the studio in the day and just hearin' them play.  It was like I was going to the world's greatest concert and I got to be the girl singer, it's like, and seriously, it would move me so much that I would just be in, I would be emotional just from hearin' them in my headphones like when Jerry Douglas would like take a turn or Sam Bush or, you know, or Stuart, on the fiddle, it's like, "God!  And it's was moved my soul and everybody got along so great and they loved Steve.  He's such a wonderful person to communicate and of course, Gary Paczosa who engineered.  We were just all overwhelmed with one another.  We were just all gettin' off on this thing that it was just a magical thing.  It was really like going on some sort of a spiritual journey with great music.  It's like God's bluegrass band is what it was.

Cut by Cut Description:

8.  "Cash On The Barrelhead"
Dolly:  That..."Cash On The Barrelhead" I have always loved.  That happens to be one of Carl Dean's favorite songs.  He said, "Boy, it's too bad you can't sing 'Cash On The Barrelhead' cause that's such a boyish man's song."  And so I took it out and of course, I loved Ira and Charlie Louvin and I just loved that turn-around...the music that they play.  I just think that's one of the most unusual turn-arounds I've ever heard in a song.  It makes me laugh and, so anyway, Carl said, "Too bad you can't sing that one cause I really like 'Cash On The Barrelhead,'" so I thought, well, what's about that that I couldn't sing and it just says that'll be cash on the barrelhead, son, and, you know, you can take your choice.  You're twenty-one.  I thought, well, it's a girl.  The girls can get picked up loitering on the street or where it talked about from loafing on the street and girls get locked up, you know, there's lots of hookers or lots of just runaways or strays or somebody, so I thought, well, I can sing it.  I'll just say, "That'll be cash on the barrelhead, hun," and, you know, that'll make it a girl thing and, you know, whatever, and so I just loved it cause I just think it's fun and it's one of my favorite ones in the whole album for the fun value and because Carl is so happy with it.

9.  "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open"
Dolly:  I always loved Flatt & Scruggs and I knew them very well, and of course, Lester Flatt wrote one of my favorite songs, "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open," which, I just think that song is so funny and I can picture myself doin' it onstage.  I thought, if I ever do a video, I could just, you know, close one eye.  I'm gonna sleep with one eye open, but I just—I just think that is just the funniest soundin', you put that in a song.  It's just so country and so corny that it's great and I think...I think "Cash On The Barrelhead" and "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open" I did, for the fun value of those just because they're fun to sing and, like you say, they'll be fun to do onstage when I do, you know, some bluegrass shows.

10.  "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight"
Dolly:  I did a Johnny Bond song called "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" and I had, I've always loved it.  I used to sing it when I was a kid on, back on the radio shows back in Knoxville and, of course, this year, I am being honored with being put into the Country Music Hall of Fame which is truly, a great honor and Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond are also goin' in and I didn't realize when I was recording, I just loved, you know, the I thought, well, I'm gonna sing this and, you know, "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight," so, and I didn't tag it to Johnny Bond.  I didn't realize that that's who wrote it and so, we were doing, fixing to do some vocals, like I say, even though we kept most of my lead vocals, I would always still do tracks for Steve to pick words from.  So we were over at the studio...recording and somebody just said, "Oh, by the way, congratulations on being inducted into the Hall Of Fame.  Who else is in?"  I said, "Well, they're putting Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond in."  And somebody said, "Oh."  So that conversation ended and Steve said, "Ok, we gotta get to work.  Which song do you wanna start with?"  I said, "Well, let's start with something easy on my throat.  Let's start with 'I Wonder Where You Are Tonight.'"  And Steve said, "Well, how ironic is that?  Johnny Bond wrote that song," and I had just said his name and he was going into the Hall of Fame this year and off all the years I've been singing this song, for thirty, forty years, you know, then it's like all of a sudden, here...I just thought kinda one of those unusual things so I felt like that was Johnny Bond sayin' to me, "Hey, I'm glad to be going into the Hall of Fame with ya and thank you for singing my song."

11.  "Steady As The Rain"
Dolly:  I had written "Steady As The Rain," my sister, Stella, used to record quite a bit and I tried always to always write songs if they wanted them so I had written that song for her and she did a great record on it and I had always thought of it though as a bluegrass thing in my mind when I wrote cause I actually wrote it on the banjo and I was playin' the banjo.  See, when I write songs, I'll, you know, I'll either take the banjo or a mandolin...or the autoharp or something cause I try to get different sounds or the electric guitar and this one, it just kinda had that rollin' kinda sound so when I wrote it, I would just kinda do it with the rolling banjo and I start picking different songs of mine.  This one just jumped right out.  I thought, well, do "Steady As The Rain."  That's a perfect bluegrass song so, it did lend itself real well.  I thought, I thought it fit real well with the other bluegrass things on the album.

12.  "I Still Miss Someone"
Dolly:  "I Still Miss Someone" has always been one of my favorite songs and I was so impressed cause Johnny used to sing all those bizarre songs like "Folks In Prison" and "Ring Of Fire," but he wrote so many beautiful, beautiful love songs and every time I hear, you know, this...these slow songs, I always get so emotional and so I just thought, well, I'm singing this one and I'm just puttin' it on this album and Flatt & Scruggs did that years ago, too, and I loved their version of it so I thought, well it will definitely be accepted as a bluegrass song if Flatt & Scruggs did it and if Johnny Cash wrote it and if Dolly Parton sings it, they'll just have to accept it.

13.  "Travellin' Prayer"
Dolly:  "Travellin' Prayer" was my idea.  I always loved Billy Joel.  I think he is one of the greatest writers in the world.  "The Entertainer" was one of my favorite songs.  I tried to figure out a way to do it, too and, but "Travellin' Prayer" is just, to me, it is a bluegrass song without the piano and, as a matter of fact, I think Randy Skruggs or the Earl Skruggs Review, years ago, I think they might have done that and I think Billy Joel might've played the piano on that, but I, I just heard it off...I just was playing it off of Billy Joel's record cause it was one of my, you know, favorite songs and when that, you know, that record had come out, I had it there at the house and I thought, well, now that will lend itself really well.  I think I scared Steve Buckingham with sendin' all these weird kinda songs over there.  He kept sending me tapes and I was pickin' songs that he was sendin' that were my favorites off of songs he sent and then I kept sendin' things over, you know, to him like "Travellin' Prayer" and I guess he was "taken aback" as they say, a little bit, but then when he got into it, he just loved it.  So, it did turn out, I think, as one of the very best songs on the, on the album.

14.  "Will He Be Waiting For Me"
Dolly:  I always loved "Will He Be Waiting For Me" and it's sorta like "Steady As The Rain."  When I wrote it, all of my songs basically along those lines could be done bluegrass or country.  That's what I was talking about before.  There's a very fine line in my music between bluegrass and country—that mountain country.  Anyway, I just always liked it I just thought I'd do it.

15.  "A Few Old Memories"
Dolly:  Patty Loveless was little Patty Remey when I met her.  She and her brother, Roger, used to come to all the Porter and Dolly shows.  In fact, I'm not sure that it was at the Grand Ole Opry backstage that I first met her.  Maybe it was, but I know I used to see her.  She used to come to the shows and come on Porter's bus and—but anyway, Porter thought she was great.  I thought she was great and I just loved 'em.  I kinda claimed them as a little family like I did Rhonda and Darrin Vincent, too.  They were kind of like an extension of my own family.  They reminded me of my younger brothers and sisters, but Patty, I just watched her grow and I watched become all that she's become and she's this wonderful lady in addition to being, you know, such a great singer.  She's so kind and so sweet and I love her singing and so, I just love the sound she gets in her voice and when I did "A Few Old Memories," I thought Patty would be perfect on this song so we called her to see if she'd sing and she was actually going out of the country.  She made a special, special effort to come down late at night on Friday night and she was trying to pack and get out of the country and everything cause she wanted to sing on it, too, cause we've been looking for something that we could do together cause she's another one.  I'd do anything for Patty and so I was so honored and thrilled that she got to sing on this and she did good, too.

16.  "Silver Dagger"
Dolly:  When I wanted to do "Silver Dagger" for the album, it's another one of those that I shocked Steve Buckingham with.  I sent it over.  I had only the instrumental version that someone had done that I had there at the house and I said, "I'm sending this instrumental version of a song called 'Silver Dagger' that I grew up singing, but I'll have to send the words later cause I wanna call Mama and make sure I've got 'em all right," cause this was definitely one of those songs.  So, anyway, he thought, well, this is very strange.  Is this gonna lend itself to bluegrass?  Because the song's very unusual and it was more like a folk song than a bluegrass song, but I said, "It'll work, it'll work, it'll be great."  So, in the meantime, I got words from Mama and gathered up from different aunts and uncles, different words and in the meantime, he also had found a version that uh, Joan Baez, had, had done.  So we all kinda put all the words together that we, you know, had and it happens to be one of my very favorite ones on the whole album if not my personal, personal favorite and maybe that's because it was one of Mama's, one that Mama taught me, but it's just got an unusual haunting sound and it's unusual for this album, but I think it works.

17.  "Train, Train"
Dolly:  Well, "Train, Train" is another one of those songs that I shocked the fire out of Steve Buckingham when I sent it to him because I had a Blackfoot album, the group Blackfoot.  And it was just on an album of theirs and I, I think that was probably one of—in fact it was one of Carl's albums.  You know, he's got all this weird assortment of people that he liked and it was really a hard-rock sound.  When I sent it over to Steve, I know he just thought, Oh my Lord, she's lost her mind.  But I knew that it would lend itself perfect for like an "Orange Blossom Special," bluegrass type thing, or you know, one of those.  So anyway, it was off a Blackfoot record and I changed the words around a lot because they had some very strange words in it like "Good-bye grandma" anyway so I changed it and kinda rewrote like I did on Billy Joel's song, "Travelin' Prayer," just enough to kinda make some of the lines fit me better or fit a girl better or just make more sense for what I was doin'.  But "Train, Train" is just one of my favorite songs.

18.  "I Am Ready"
Dolly:  My sister, Rachel, is one of the most beautiful girls in the world.  She's the baby of our family.  She is one of the greatest songwriters and her voice is so beautiful.  She wrote this beautiful song about my mother, you know, the "I Am Ready."  She was out in Los Angeles and she was working with my brother and they had a group that they had put together that they were gonna be singin' as these four people and Mike Post, who's Mike Post of television fame.  He's a great musician, great person.  He produced a record on them and I guess they were out there and he said, "Well, we need a gospel song.  Something a capella maybe."  So, Mama was sick at the time and Rachel was feelin' bad about that cause they were out in L.A. and Mama was home sick and so she said, "So I was just thinkin' about Mama and they said we needed a gospel so I just went into the bathroom cause everybody was there in the motel room."  And she said, "And they were all talkin' about everything else."  And she said, "I just locked myself in the bathroom and I sit there on the sink and I wrote this song thinkin' about Mama," and she said, "and I came out, in whatever amount of time...thirty minutes or so."  She said it was so inspired, "that I knew it was right and I just went over and said, OK, I have our song."  And so they just, they just loved it and so they worked up the harmonies and did it on a record that never came out and I just—and she used to sing with my brother up at Dollywood.  My brother, Randy, has a show there and so they sang with that group, Honey Creek, that they had for awhile and this was a song they featured and everytime I'd hear it, it'd make me cry and I'd get chills and I thought, Well, I'm gonna record this as a surprise to Rachel.

19.  "Endless Stream Of Tears"
Dolly:  Actually, I wrote "Endless Stream Of Tears".  That's a new song for me.  When I did Hungry Again, the last album I did with my cousin, Richie Owens, producing with me.  We did some wonderful things and it was just one of the songs that didn't make it on the Hungry Again album cause we had another bluegrass song we used instead and um, Rhonda and Darrin Vincent had sung the harmony on it.  We did complete it, it just didn't make the album.  But I, when I started to do this bluegrass thing, I thought, Wow, you know, I've got "Endless Stream Of Tears."  Rhonda and Darrin already know their parts so they, they just came in and we just did a new track on it with these different musicians and just cut it again, but it's—I wrote that song when I was, when I did Hungry Again, when I went back up to East Tennessee that time and fasted for three weeks and wrote all those songs and it was one of the bats that I wrote while I was up there a few years back, 'bout what, about three years ago I guess, so it's not old, old, old.  I lot of people think it's old cause it sounds old, but it's not.  The "Endless Stream Of Tears."

20.  "The Grass Is Blue"
Dolly:  When we talked about doin' a bluegrass album, I thought, Well, I need to have the title be somethin' to where people will know it's a bluegrass album and I didn't want to call it "Dolly's Bluegrass Album," you know, which would be so typical, you know, or that's probably how people will refer to it, but I thought, Well, it needs to have a title, but it needs to have a song to go with the title.  So, I was right in the middle of the movie, and uh, when I was doin' Blue Valley Songbird movie and we were, I was still puttin' thoughts into doin' the album and I thought, Well what if I called the album The Grass Is Blue and what if I write a song, you know, some beautiful song that will be like, you know, the grass is blue, but just opposite of everything.  So, on my lunch break, we only had a thirty minute lunch break during the movie cause, you know, when you're doing a movie, it's not like feature films.  You have three weeks instead of three months and so you have thirty minute lunch breaks instead of an hour.  So on my thirty minute lunch break, I went into the back of my bus that I was using for my dressing room for the movie, and I told Judy, I said, "Don't let anybody come back here cause I'm gonna write the theme song for my bluegrass album."  I said, "If anybody wants me, I'm asleep."  So I went back to the back and it just came so natural.  I could, just got my guitar and these words just started coming and I have a phone on the bus and I called Steve Buckingham.  I said, "I've got our song."  I said, "I wrote it on our lunch break and I know it's good cause it came too natural, too easy and I know it's good so just plan it in, you know.  Just put the title down and I'm sending you over a tape.  So Judy came in the room and I uh, I said, "Get me a tape recorder."  And so I just put it down and we sent it over to Steve that very afternoon so that, it was so perfect.  You know how I just love it when, when I feel like God intervenes when I'm really needin' something really bad cause I always—any gifts I have, I always give God the glory and like I say, some songs are better than others.  God does better sometimes than he does on others, but anyway, this time, I was so tired.  I just wanted it to be so good and he just pretty much wrote this one on His own.  I just sat back there and just, you know, in this little amount of time, so I thought, Well God wrote a really good song today, so I'm gonna send this over, but I didn't put his name on it, but at least I'll give Him the glory.