Dolly Parton for Malibu Magazine
All Dolled Down
To drive her multi-decade career forward, Parton is taking a hard look at her stripped-
(this article originally appeared in Malibu magazine)
Dolly Parton once said, “You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave
enough to try.” With 46 Grammy nominations, over 100 million albums sold, and a
heap of endeavors that go beyond music—TV, film, charity, etc.—the country icon’s
bravery and work ethic is uncontested. To some, reaching the level of success that
justifies an entire theme park based on your life, i.e. Dollywood, would also warrant
retiring. Parton, on the other hand, remains a force to be dealt with. After sixty years
of performing, the living legend just released her 43 rd solo studio album, Pure &
Simple. As the name implies, Parton’s latest effort is sonically modest and
understated, underlining the raw talent that made her one of our country’s most
beloved treasures without all the added bells and whistles.
“Actually, as all things, everything kind of presented itself,” Parton says when
asked about how the new album came to be. “Last year, I was asked to do some
charity shows in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium for a music school there, and
for the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund, where we raise money to take care of a lot of the
older folk.” Without her typical backup, The Mighty Fine Band, Parton performed
stripped down music that was more intimate and bare than her better-know
material. “I just called it & Simple because it was,” she explains. “It wasn’t really
planned. It just happened.”
Even fifteen years ago, Parton was quoted saying she’d written at least 3,000
songs. Remarkably, her prolific nature hasn’t resulted in the type of creative
stalemate that occurs once someone has said everything they have to say. The
album, which is full of love songs, indicates that Parton’s creative well is infinite. “I
always make jokes that I’ve written three thousand songs, but only three good ones.
That’s just life. There’s always something new, even though it’s the same basic stuff.
There’s only so many chords to be played on a musical instrument. You just kind of
rework them all around.”
Reworking old material and creating a new product is a feat Parton has
mastered within her live shows as well. How can someone with such an expansive
catalog, and one that contains a bounty of songs that are not simply “hits” but key
pieces of rural American culture, possibly choose a set list that will please all?
“That’s really the hard part. Because when you’ve been in the business as long as I
have, there’s so much of it.” But what you try to do is think of the dynamics of the
show…you have to do the songs that people would kill you if you don’t.” She beings
listing of tracks like “Jolene” and “9 to 5”. The list starts getting expansive, which
Parton realizes before cutting herself off.
For someone who has both unfathomable success and apparent restlessness,
one can’t help but wonder what makes Parton feel satisfied at the end of the day.
“Well, I’m proud of all of it. You never know when you’re young, when you’re
starting out, how you’re going to be remembered and though of when you’re older.”
Born to a Tennessee family with twelve children, all living with a single-room cabin;
it’s true that a young Dolly had no reason to think she’d amount to superstardom. “I
look back and think that I’ve been an inspiration, seems like, to be a lot of people,
that makes me very humble and it makes me really proud. Makes me feel very old
[laughs]. But I’m not done yet. I just got a lot of stuff to do and I’m running out of
time! I ain’t getting no younger.” Thankfully, youth seems to have absolutely nothing
to do with it.