There are plenty of fans who are thanking God that Dolly Parton’s a country girl — again.
The famously buxom singer’s latest album, “Backwoods Barbie,” is her first of straightforward country music in nearly a decade, and absence certainly made hearts grown fonder. It bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard country charts and was also her highest debut ever (No. 17) on the survey’s top overall albums chart. And, Parton notes, “we’ve got a lot of good response and it’s selling pretty good.”
So what brought her back to the country fold after a series of bluegrass and Americana-styled roots music albums?
“I purposely did this particular album trying to cater to the country market to see if I could still get some play,” explains the 62-yearold Tennessee native, who got her start in the mid-’60s with the late Porter Wagoner before breaking off as a solo artist in 1974 following the chart-topping success of her single “Jolene.” But despite a record 26 No. 1 singles and 42 Top 10 country albums, she found herself frustrated that country radio had consigned her to the oldies bin by the turn of the century.
“It’s still really hard to get played on country radio after a certain age, but thank God for the new technology and all the different ways you can market the music on the Internet, the Web sites and the iTunes and all of those things. It’s been a wonderful outlet for me to draw attention to my record. “And because it’s getting so much attention in other areas, the DJs are beginning to pay more attention, too, so I’m actually getting played on the radio now, more so than I was.” Parton says her return to country was sparked by the new album’s title track, which she first wrote for the stage adaptation of her hit 1980 film “9 to 5” that opens this fall. “I thought it was such a perfect song for me,” Parton explains, “because it’s really my life in a way. So it made a good title for a real good country thing, and I wanted to have a good country album — not straight country but something ... that would please, certainly the older country fans, the ones that have been with me a long time but also something that would appeal to some of the newer people, too.”
Of course, those who have followed her for a while know — and those new to Parton’s world will soon learn — that she’s a moving target. In 1977 she spread her musical wings into the pop market thanks to the Top 10 hit “Here You Come Again” and subsequent collaborations with hitmakers such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Carole Bayer Sager and Rupert Holmes. She had three No. 1 hits in a row in 1980, one of them the title track of “9 to 5,” in which she co-starred with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
Parton and Kenny Rogers struck gold and more with their Bee Gees-written 1983 duet “Islands in the Stream,” and her “Trio” project with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt remains a musical landmark.
Outside of music, meanwhile, Parton flexed some business acumen with her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., her multi-city Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede dinner theater, her Sandollar Productions TV and film company, which produced “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and even a wig company.
“You know, shortly after I left Porter, I sat down and had a good meeting with myself ... and I felt, well y’know, I’m in the music business so I’ve got to concentrate more on the business, not just being a singer or a writer,” Parton explains. “I’ve got to look at it from all angles.
“I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to just be a singer. I don’t want to just make enough money to afford a bus and costumes. I want to make some real money. I want to be able to be a universal star and have an all-overthe-world fan base.’ I just decided I wanted a bigger picture, a bigger piece of the pie.”
“So I set out to do that ... and I got lucky right off the bat.”
Parton is hoping that luck holds out when the “9 to 5” stage musical opens Sept. 3 in Los Angeles for a seven-week run before moving to Broadway on March 24. “It’s a big thrill and it was a challenge, but I loved it,” says Parton, whose music comprises the score for the production — including an expanded version of the “9 to 5” song with “lots of new verses and choruses.”
“They’re not your typical Broadway songs,” Parton says of the arrangements for the musical. “You can tell they’re kind of Dolly-ized, but they’re not hard country, either. The only country song that we purposely tailored to really sound country was ‘Backwoods Barbie’; the rest are more mainstream Broadway, but they’ve got a little Dolly flavor.”
Parton is planning for “Backwoods Barbie” to be released as a single next year, in time for the Broadway opening. She’s also starting to think about her next album, with no promises that she’ll stay in the country realm.
“You know me; I’m never gonna be just any one thing. I’m just Dolly,” she says with a laugh. “I may do a gospel album next. I know I’m gonna do some children’s CDs and some DVDs for children. I wake up with new dreams every day, and I just kind of follow my gut and follow my heart. It may be a country album next, or it may be something completely different.
“I may wind up doing a dance record. You just never know ...”
Dolly Parton performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 13) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $95 and $55 pavilion, $10 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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