Written on July 4, 2011 – 3:22 pm | by Jaxon Hallahan
Dolly Parton is on the phone from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and the 65-year-old music legend is laughing at Twitter.
“It’s funny to hear those words coming out of my mouth — to be talking about tweeting or mentioning dolly-partonmusic.net — but if you’re smart, you roll with the punches,” says Parton, who released her 41st album, Better Day, last week. “Today, they think you’re really an older artist if you’re 35, and me, I’m a little older than that. But I still take the music as seriously as I ever have, and so you adapt to the technology and hope to keep up.”
On her new record, Parton does more than keep up with the new country artists she’s inspired, such as Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, who’ve put country music at the top of the pop charts. The new album — which Parton wrote all the songs for, including a few numbers for the theatre production of 9 to 5, which is currently enjoying a run in Toronto — is designed to lift spirits. Better Day was inspired in part, Parton says, by such disparate world problems as the Japanese tsunami, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and America’s economic crisis.
“I don’t write just to relieve my own anxieties, I write for the people who can’t express themselves,” says Parton, who was encouraged to pursue a career in music after a chance meeting at the Grand Ole Opry with Johnny Cash. “I can’t save the world, but I might be able to save someone today if I can put them in a better mood. The music’s designed to be like a ray of sunshine for all those folks in the dark.”
The new album is being released on Parton’s own label, Dolly Records, which she launched in 2008 to distribute Backwoods Barbie, which no major label wanted to produce. After a lifelong career in music, it was Parton’s highest debut on the Billboard album chart.
“You can’t get a record deal today if you’re over 35, but I knew that I still had plenty to say,” says Parton, who’s been nominated for two Oscars and a Tony, and won eight Grammys. “All you can really do is hope for the best with this business. I try to write songs that they might play on the radio, but the most important thing is making music for my fans.”
“Dumb Blonde” was the first country song Parton recorded, and it was a smash hit for the already flamboyant singer in 1967. Throughout the years that followed, she recorded 25 No. 1 singles, including such classic staples as “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Islands in the Stream” and “I Will Always Love You,” which Whitney Houston also made into a smash for The Bodyguard soundtrack.
Parton, one of 11 children, has gone from a childhood spent in poverty to a Grammy lifetime achievement award, and still continues to work as hard as she did when she was a brighteyed up-and-comer. In addition to her label and the new album, Parton has summer tour dates in the United States, Australia and Europe, and says she hopes to visit Canada around Christmastime. For Parton, the label might change and she might have to join Twitter, but the job of a musician is always the same.
“I write a little something every day — half a song or a melody or else two or three songs — writing’s the easy part,” she says. “The only difficult part of the matter is seeing everything that you start all the way through. I take my music very seriously, but I’ve never looked at myself that way. I’m only out here to try and make people feel good.”
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