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Dolly Parton

| November 3, 2010 | 1 Comment

“I never stopped writing, even when they stopped playing me on the radio,” says Dolly Parton. “I write something every day, and I take myself more seriously as a songwriter than anything else.”

Over the past decade, Dolly has followed the passion of her songwriting right into a major career renaissance. Embracing her Smokey Mountain roots—Dolly jokingly calls the style “Hick-Hop”—she has released a handful of indie records that crackle with the fire and conviction you might expect from a new artist with something to prove.

While many of her contemporaries have headed for easy money meccas like Branson or ended up in an E! “Whatever-Happened-To” segment, Dolly has kept moving forward. She says, “Just because the times are changing, you can’t stop. You have to find a way to change with them. It’s inevitable that things are going to change. The nature of the business changes, but the songs and the talent don’t ever change.”

Dolly should know. In a career that’s spanned  five decades, she has written over 3,000 songs, including stone country classics such as “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Touch Your Woman,” “Just Because I’m a Woman,” “Yellow Roses” and the most successful crossover single of the past 25 years, “I Will Always Love You.”

Of course, Dolly is much more than an accomplished singer-songwriter. Also on her resume: country music hall of famer, multi-platinum recording artist, wisecracking comedienne, star of movies and television, tabloid queen, savvy entrepreneur, multi-millionairess, philanthropist and cultural icon.

These far-reaching accomplishments are more incredible when you consider her beginnings. Dolly Rebecca Parton made her debut on January 19, 1946, in a one room cabin in East Tennessee, the fourth of 12 children born to poor sharecropper parents. While Dolly grew up without electricity, running water, a telephone or indoor plumbing, she was surrounded by a loving family who instilled in her a sense of humor, a good dose of common sense and a passion for music.

After singing for “my brothers and sisters and chickens and the dogs with a tin can as a make believe microphone,” Dolly got her first break at 10 years old when she landed a job singing on a radio/TV program called Farm and Home Hour, broadcast from Knoxville. “It’s funny, I was on TV before we owned one,” she says.

This led to her first recording at 14, a rockabilly number called “Puppy Love,” a one-shot appearance on the Grand Ole Opry where she brought the house down and a songwriting deal with Tree Publishing. On the day after she graduated high school, Dolly packed a suitcase full of clothes, boarded a bus and headed for her new home—Nashville. She arrived in the early ’60s, a time when women had an uphill climb in the country music business.

“I never thought about whether I was a girl or a boy,” she recalls. “I was a songwriter, I was a singer, and I think you get treated pretty much with the respect that you have for yourself. Being stupid, as I probably was, and country, I always took when men would flirt with me as kind of a compliment. I also had all these brothers and all these uncles, so I had a great communication with men in general. I would walk right in with my songs or with my business ideas, and I never felt the effects of being a woman, or that I was kept down.

“Then again, the certain type of woman I am,” she adds with a laugh, “I guess they all thought I was a whore, ’cause I looked like it, and I was a good old girl.”

As Dolly worked her way up the Music City ladder, first as a solo artist, then as a duet partner with Porter Wagoner, she held fast to her own ideas about songwriting. “They’d say, ‘You have to have this, you have to have that, you’ve got to have two verses and a chorus.’ That’s what I was taught when I started in Nashville. But I never could get everything I wanted to say in two verses and a chorus. Some of the best songs I write just ramble on and on. They’re more like stories. So I don’t know if I really learned anything that I should’ve, but I think I wrote better and better because I lived more and more.”

Darker story songs such as “Daddy Come and Get Me,” “Down From Dover” and “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” might surprise listeners who only know Dolly as the glitzy guest on talk shows.

“They go against my image, but they don’t go against who I am,” she says. “There are many sides to me. I was that girl in ‘Down From Dover.’ I didn’t get pregnant, but I had numerous nieces and relatives who had gotten pregnant and their daddies wanted to kill the boy who done it. I was just trying to find a way to make it as sad and pitiful as I could. It’s not against my nature at all. In fact, when I hurt, I hurt all over and I’ve been through some major sad things in my life. But I also have that other cheerful side and I try to show my best. This is my image. I’m a very positive person. In fact, I’ve often said that you have to work at being happy, just like you have to work at being miserable. And when I’m working on those sad songs, I’m working at being miserable.”

From cheerful to miserable, from raunchy to tender, from heartblissed to heartbroken, Dolly’s songs cover the waterfront of emotions. “I think to be a true songwriter, you have to really allow yourself to feel and allow yourself the freedom to write it the way you want to,” she says.

“If somebody said to me, ‘You can only do one thing in show business for the rest of your whole life. What will it be?’ I would say, ‘I’ll write songs.’ To me, it’s like putting something in the world today that wasn’t there yesterday that will still be there tomorrow. That’s my favorite thing I do.”

Category: Legends of Song

Comments (1)

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  1. ” I wrote better because I lived more and more.”

    Love that. As a 50-year-old songwriter penning country tunes in this Taylor Swift era, I appreciate that wisdom.

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