NASHVILLE PREVIEW: DOLLY ROCKS


When Dolly Parton sets her mind to do something, nothing stops her. After being announced as a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee last year, she declared she was going to make a rock & roll record. She wasn’t kidding. Never mind the 25 #1s, 100 million albums and singles certified gold, platinum and multi-platinum, the Academy Award nominations, 11 Grammys out of 50 nominations—Parton had something to prove.

Rockstar, due 11/17 via Butterfly/Big Machine, assembles a who’s-who of rock for a 30-track project that includes “Stairway To Heaven” and “Free Bird,” plus several originals. From Sir Elton John on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” to Heart’s Ann Wilson on a reworked “Magic Man,” Joan Jett & the Blackhearts on “I Hate Myself for Loving You” to P!nk and Brandi Carlile bringing girl power to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” as well as her back-to-back #1 Active Rock hits “World On Fire” and “Bygones” with Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx and John 5, the 77-year old icon manifests some pretty serious mojo.

She may be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Grammy, Gospel Music, Songwriters, Nashville Songwriters, and Happiness Hall of Fames, but Rockstar strikes her claim on rock with vengeance. Parton brings the heat—and the Dolly magic – for an album she made to warrant her place in the Rock Hall.

Here’s just a taste of the full-length interview in HITS’ Nashville 2023 special.

THE ALBUM! You are rocking! What was the most fun session?

The most fun session was Stevie Nicks.

The song we did of hers ["What Has Rock 'n' Roll Ever Done for You"] was really a performance piece, like something we would do onstage or on a television show. It’s a song she wrote back in the ’70s, I think, and had never put on a record but had always wanted to.

When we got in the studio, it was just fun, because we kinda ad-libbed at the front and on the end. We take our music seriously, but that one we could have fun with. I don’t think we had to do everything absolutely perfect. I like those kinda loose songs, because I’ve always been a performer and entertainer, and there’s a lot to be said when you can hear the fun.

I had a great, fun day with Debbie Harry [recording Blondie's "Heart of Glass"]. She came down, and we got to know each other quite a bit. She is just the sweetest people, so good.

John Fogerty, we did ["Long as I Can See the Light"] live with the band, live like we used to do sessions in the old days. Rather than just singing with a track or being somewhere else singing our parts. We were both singing at the same time in the studio with a live band. We were both saying, “God! People don’t do this anymore! Such a thrill to just get in here!”

How’d you find everyone?

A lot of these guests were on the show from the Hall of Fame. I asked them if they would sing, and different ones said, “If you do a rock album, I’d love to do it.”

Danny [Nozell, Parton’s manager] and his crew, our marketing team, have just done an incredible job reaching out to coordinate all this, helping get all the stars together and in the studio, making certain all the things went well.

Does your husband have a favorite?

I’ve always loved Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” I couldn’t get Bob because of our scheduling, but I asked if it was OK if I got Chris Stapleton. That one’s a real favorite because I love Chris and I love Bob Seger and I love that song.

And the song that I always loved was something I wrote when I was just a girl. I was real young when I wrote “My Blue Tears,” and that was with Simon LeBon from Duran Duran. My husband always liked that song. When he’d hear me just humming at it, he’d say, “That’s a really pretty song!” Goldie Hawn recorded it back when she was doing Laugh-In. Linda [Ronstadt] and Emmy[lou Harris] recorded it separate and together. Then we did it as a Trio song. I’ve recorded versions of it, too. I felt like this was the ultimate arrangement, and I loved Simon. So that’s a favorite.

And Miley!

Singing with Miley and doing “Wrecking Ball” was a real highlight of my life.

That’s a circle closing, because you’re her Godmother.

Miley and I are very close. We worked on [Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party] and did a version as a duet. That gave me the idea. I thought, Well, I’ve got to sing that! I love that song, and we can mix; I can do some of the melody and she can do harmonies.” I got the big idea of kind of incorporating “I Will Always Love You” as the backdrops in the vocals, at the end do that little thing because she loved it. We worked it up on the phone. She did it in her studio, and I did my part here, but I’d put down little things I wanted her to do, and she’d duplicate it, then say, “Well, why don’t you do this?” She’d put down a vocal track of something she thought would be cool for us to do. We kinda worked it out like that.

When you, Emmylou and Sheryl Crow do “You’re No Good,” it’s not a bummer, not even really putting the guy down. You’re just kinda “Yep, fuck this!”

That song! I love Linda and Emmy. I wanted to pay tribute to our Trio. Sheryl is just the sweetest girl in the world. I knew Linda wasn’t able to sing anymore, but I wanted something for her because she was―for me―the ultimate rock girl singer back in the day. She had some of the greatest records. [Ronstadt had a #1 hit with Texan Clint Ballard Jr.’s “You’re No Good” in 1975.] I’ve always loved that song. I wanted Emmy on something, even though she’s not considered rock. She’s like Chris Stapleton―everybody loves them no matter what field of music they’re doing. I thought Sheryl would be great; we’d have a great Trio sound.

We got to work together. We had fun putting out our harmonies, figuring out who was going to sing what where. I’ll always remember that. We did our vocals and everything over at Sheryl’s studio. She has a recording studio on a farm with her horses. We had a great day singing our harmony and our vocals. We all thought of Linda and said, “Oh, I hope Linda’s going to be proud of this.”

You could feel the love, and the homage, but you updated it. When Emmy does that talking part!

In all the songs I added little things; I added that little talking part. Actually, Emmylou sang the first part; Sheryl sang the last. Emmy did “I broke a heart honest and true,” then Sheryl says, “I broke a heart over someone like you.” They split those lines but sound just alike; you can’t tell which one’s which. We did that with our harmonies, too; you can’t tell which is which once we get going. And we do flip them around: “You sing high on this, I’ll sing low.”

“Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven,” the biggest songs in rock music.

Those are the two classic songs of rock ’n’ roll. Most everybody said, “Don’t touch them.”

I’d done a country/bluegrass “Stairway to Heaven” years ago, but I wanted to do it again, sing it the real way, true to the way it was done. Then “Free Bird,” Kent actually produced that for Lynyrd Skynyrd; they’re coming out with a Lynyrd Skynyrd album, and he’d worked with the guys and [drummer] Artemis [Pyle]... That song really has a history to it. We lost a couple of the guys right after I recorded it.

Then Ronnie Van Zant's widow allowed us to use his voice on our record. That’s not going to be on the Lynyrd Skynyrd record, only the version we did. She allowed that, and I was so happy we got to use his real voice. They just dropped it in the way they manipulate those things now. It made it so special. I get chills every time I hear it. I’d already sung my version, and I didn’t know his voice enough, but then our phrasing turned out to be almost just exact when we were singing on the song!

That’s such a classic. And it just goes on forever; lord, it’s a 10-minute song! At least five or six minutes is guitar. I remember getting so lost in the music, just singing wherever I felt it. I felt really honored to get to sing “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven,” and I hope people will appreciate my version of them.

With “Stairway,” Lizzo on the flute was so great. That fairy dust really captured Zeppelin’s feminine energy.

She did a beautiful job. And that Sasha Flute, she calls it; she named her flute “Sasha.” When I asked her to be on here, she was so proud to do it. I just thought that was great, to have her playing flute. And man, it’s really featured! She’s just so talented.

Stay tuned for the full-length Dolly-Holly conversation, coming soon.

HITS LIST:
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SONG REVENUE:
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Th epitome of new country (7/11a)
GRAMMY PRE-CHEW:
THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIG 4
On your Marks, get set, go. (7/8a)
TOWARD A FRUITFUL GRAMMY SEASON
Our editurr in chief has something on his mined. (7/10a)
SABRINA TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS WITH TOUR MERCH?
Her table's stacked. (7/10a)
THE GRAMMY SHORT LIST
Who's already a lock?
COUNTRY'S NEWEST DISRUPTOR
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
AI IS ALREADY EATING YOUR LUNCH
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
INDIE DISTRIBUTION'S RISE TO GLORY
The discovery engine is revving higher.
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