Howdy Par­ton

The queen of coun­try mu­sic re­mains wildly pop­u­lar af­ter five decades at the top, writes James Wigney

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Music -

DOLLY Par­ton was rather chuffed when she re­cently gained her mil­lionth fol­lower on Twit­ter.

Af­ter all, it’s not a bad ef­fort for a 65-year-old coun­try star who was born dirt-poor in the Amer­i­can South and raised on the old-fash­ioned mu­si­cal val­ues of writ­ing, record­ing, tour­ing and hard work.

‘‘ You have to roll with the punches or you get left be­hind,’’ says Par­ton over the phone from Nashville in a south­ern drawl that sounds ex­actly like you think it would.

‘‘ It’s not re­ally my kind of thing – I am an old-timer and set in my ways in a lot of ways, but I am also one of those peo­ple who will jump on the band­wagon and if it’s go­ing to go I want to go with it.’’

But more in­struc­tive than the droves of loyal fans who check in for her spo­radic home­spun Dol­lyisms – such as ‘‘ Yeah I flirt, I’m not blind and I’m not dead’’! and ‘‘ My de­sire to do things and know what’s out there has al­ways been greater than my fear’’ – is the fact that Par­ton fol­lows only 19 other peo­ple on the so­cial net­work­ing site.

They in­clude talk­show gi­ants Oprah Win­frey, Ellen DeGeneres and Larry King and coun­try su­per­stars Reba McIn­tyre and LeAnn Rimes, which gives an idea of the cir­cles Par­ton moves in and the place she holds in mu­sic.

Long known as The Queen of Coun­try, from her be­gin­nings as the fourth of 12 chil­dren raised in a one-room cabin in the Smoky Moun­tains, Ten­nessee, Par­ton has be­come a phe­nom­e­non.

{ If I am mad, I can write that in a song, if I am sad I can write that in a song, if I am up­set

or hurt then I can trans­late that into feel­ings and turn it into some kind of po­etic thing}

She has ruled the coun­try charts for five decades, en­joyed suc­cess in the pop world, acted in movies, founded her own theme park, built a for­mi­da­ble busi­ness em­pire and spear­headed many char­i­ta­ble causes through her foun­da­tion.

While the world knows her for her beam­ing smile, volup­tuous fig­ure and tow­er­ing wigs, Par­ton says she is much the same per­son away from the spot­light as she is with her pub­lic­ity-shy hus­band of 45 years, Carl Dean.

‘‘ I have been around so long that peo­ple kind of look at me like a rel­a­tive,’’ she says.

‘‘ They know I am pretty open and pretty hon­est and say what I have to say and say it the way I feel it.

‘‘ Of course I love wear­ing the make-up and hair but I also do it for my hus­band. If I have to go out and look good for my fans I don’t want to go home and look like a slouch. I’m not two dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

‘‘ I don’t open the re­frig­er­a­tor and when the light hits me go into a song – it’s not that bad. I am pretty much the same per­son.’’

Af­ter sev­eral near-misses in the past few years, Par­ton is fi­nally re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia this year.

The last time she graced these shores was 28 years ago on a tour with Kenny Rogers and she loved the place so much she toyed with the idea of buy­ing a prop­erty here.

She blames the long ab­sence on a busy work­load and the tyranny of dis­tance but says some fa­mous Aussie Nashville neigh­bours have been prompt­ing her to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘ Keith Ur­ban and Ni­cole Kid­man have al­ways been say­ing, ‘ When you come to Aus­tralia you gotta do this and that’,’’ she says. ‘‘ I love Keith, he is one of my dear­est and sweet­est bud­dies and we get the chance to sing to­gether ev­ery now and then.’’

Par­ton’s na­tional tour co­in­cides with the re­lease of her new al­bum,

Bet­ter Day, but she prom­ises the fans want­ing to hear her cat­a­logue of coun­try clas­sics such as Jo­lene, Coat of Many Colours, Here You Come Again, 9 to 5,

Is­lands in the Stream and Ten­nessee Moun­tain Home that they will not leave dis­ap­pointed.

‘‘ I still en­joy singing all those songs and they mean a lot to me, but we add a lot of stuff for en­ter­tain­ment value,’’ she says. ‘‘ There are songs that I have recorded by other artists that we think re­ally move the show along.’’

Par­ton be­gan writ­ing and per­form­ing as a child and, even more than 40 years af­ter her de­but al­bum, she says she writes ev­ery day, though never as much as she would like.

‘‘ I have never been to a psy­chi­a­trist or ever had to have help with that kind of stuff be­cause I am able to write my feel­ings down,’’ she says.

‘‘ If I am mad, I can write that in a song, if I am sad I can write that in a song, if I am up­set or hurt then I can trans­late that into feel­ings and turn it into some kind of po­etic thing.’’

Par­ton says the mu­sic in­dus­try has changed im­mea­sur­ably since she re­leased her first al­bum in 1967.

Though she was still putting out gold and plat­inum-sell­ing al­bums well into the ’ 90s, that decade also saw many of the old stars of the genre swept aside for a new wave of younger acts.

Par­ton was busy enough with other ven­tures such as her Dol­lywood theme park, which cel­e­brated its 25th birth­day this year and at­tracts more than 2.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors each year, but even­tu­ally found her­self with­out a record con­tract.

Un­de­terred and ever busi­ness-savvy, she kept writ­ing and record­ing, first leas­ing her al­bums out to la­bels and then even­tu­ally start­ing her own.

Lauded as a trailblazer for women in mu­sic, Par­ton walked a line be­tween sexy, with her out­fits that em­pha­sised her, er, ob­vi­ous as­sets, and smart, with a self­dep­re­cat­ing sense of hu­mour and firm con­trol over her ca­reer.

What then does she make of the overtly sex­u­alised lin­eage of fe­male per­form­ers that be­gan with Madonna and has reached new heights – or depths – with Lady Gaga?

‘‘ I was al­ways like a back­woods Bar­bie and al­ways liked wear­ing my clothes tight and show­ing my fig­ure but not do­ing it naked,’’ she says.

‘‘ We all do what we do and what we think fits our per­son­al­ity and what we want to get out of it. I don’t con­demn the way any­one else does their work – it’s work­ing for them.’’

Par­ton has long been open about her own cos­metic surgery but in­sists that it’s her de­ci­sion as op­posed to re­act­ing to pres­sure to look young.

‘‘ That’s just me do­ing what I need to do,’’ she says. ‘‘ I’m no spring chicken any more but I like to look a cer­tain way and if I need to do a few lit­tle nips and tucks here and there then I am not afraid to do it and if that’s what makes me feel bet­ter then I am go­ing to do it.’’

BLONDE MEM­O­RIES: Dolly Par­ton is mak­ing her first Aus­tralian tour since 1983.

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