MusicRow Chats With Country Legend Dolly Parton (Part 2)

MusicRow recently sat down with country legend Dolly Parton to discuss her latest project, An Evening with… Dolly, how Whitney Houston affected her life, the new Water and Snow Park venture in Nashville, her future plans and more. For Part 1 of this interview, click here.

With Whitney’s passing, could you talk through the amazing history of “I Will Always Love you?”

“I Will Always Love You” is just another one of those songs like “9 to 5.” It just keeps going and going. I’ll probably be remembered for that more than anything. As most know that have followed my career, I wrote it about leaving the Porter Wagoner Show. When I started with Porter, I already had three chart records and I said I’d stay for five years. When the five years ended, we were really hot and Porter didn’t want me to go. I said “you said I could.” He said “well, you’re not,” and I said “I am.” This went on and on and we fought a lot over it. I finally thought he’s so stubborn and he’s never going to listen to me. This is going to be nothing but heartache and we’re going to go through this every day. I went home that night and wrote out what I was feeling in my heart and took it back the next day and said, “Porter, sit down. There’s something I need you to hear.” I started singing the song and I was emotional, he got emotional and we’re both crying by the time I finished the song. He said “Okay, that’s the best thing you ever wrote and you can go if I can produce a record on that song.” “Okay, it’s a deal,” I said. So that’s how it came to be.

And then as everyone knows, the song went on to become a huge hit for you.

Yes, I had a No. 1 record on it. And again when I did the Best Little “Chickenhouse” in Texas. Vince and I had a Top 10 duet with it. But it was only when Whitney Houston took it and took it all over the world with The Bodyguard that it really became what it is today. I always think of that as our song and it just killed me when they lifted her coffin up at the funeral and they started playing that song. It was like you could have stabbed me in the heart with a dagger! And that’s when I broke down. I bet that won’t be the only coffin lifted up for that song to play. I figured when I’m dead, it’ll probably be the same thing and it was just overwhelming to me. I will always be grateful and thankful to her for making that song all the things that it is.

When you start to write a song, is it the same now compared to when you were first starting out?

Well, the process has not changed. As a songwriter, you always long for that time and that space, when you can go on what I call a writing binge. I’m addicted to my songwriting. That’s my favorite thing I do. I long for those days. I write something almost every day. Everything rhymes to me and everything is a song. There is nothing more sacred and more precious to me when I can really get into that zone where it’s just God and me. I really let those juices flow, and I still get the same feeling from it as I did when I was young, hoping I made money for it. But I never did it for the money and I would still do it if I wasn’t making money. It’s a sacred place for me.

Have you always had so much confidence on stage?

Well, I haven’t always had the confidence but hopefully you build it through the years since you’re always growing. I do get those butterflies. People say, “Do you get nervous?” I don’t get scared, but I do kinda get a little nervous sometimes. I remember the first time I ever went on stage. My uncle Bill Owens, who’s my mother’s brother, had so much confidence in me and thought I was going to be star. He used to take me around to all these places and the first time I sang in front of an audience, it was on The Cas Walker Show in Knoxville. It was a radio show but it was done in a little theater and there were people in the audience. I went out to sing my song and it tore the house down. I didn’t have another song so I kept singing that same song over and over. When we were walking through the parking lot, I said to my uncle, and I was 10, “Well, they like me, didn’t they? I guess I’m gonna be a star.” It was years later that I realized I wasn’t that good. They liked me cause I was little, not ’cause I was good. That built my confidence ’cause I got that great response and I fell in love with the crowd. I always try to remember that and still do.

Dolly with former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who recently visited Nashville to interview the superstar for his show on Fox News.

What is your favorite cut that somebody else made of one your songs?

I love the way people interpret my songs. I love it. They did that tribute album a few years back, all those girls, and I was surprised at all the different ways they did my songs. I think probably one my favorite things outside of Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” is Emmylou’s song of mine called “To Daddy.” She had a number one song on that. A lot of people don’t know that I wrote the song. I had written it in one of the biggest fights that Porter and I ever had. He had produced the song and this goes to show you how songwriters are. We had recorded it and he thought that we should put it out as a single. Well, Emmylou, being a friend was down at the studio when we were recording and said, “Dolly, I have to have that song.” Porter said, “Well, you can’t have that song ’cause we’re going to put that out with Dolly.” I said, “She can have that song!” And he said, “She can’t have that song!” Emmy said, “I don’t mean to start no trouble but I would really love to have that song ’cause you can write some more!” Anyway, I fought Porter over it and I guess you know who won! He never did forgive me when it became a number one. I was always really proud of that and it had a story to go along with it.

What can you tell us about the new Water Park and Snow Park?

We’re excited. I want to clear up a few things. I think everybody in Nashville is thinking we’re going to rebuild Opryland. It’s not going to be Opryland. It’s not going to be Dollywood. We’re actually trying to come up with a whole new concept. Our first phase is going to be the water and snow park. Hopefully we’ll have the first phase open Spring 2014. We will be announcing what’s going in the next phase at that time. We’re still working on what it’s going to be. We are providing good jobs for people that need them right now. The first phase will have at least 500 people with the construction this fall when we start breaking ground. We’re still trying to come up with the perfect name.

Any upcoming projects?

I’m not touring this year. I took time off to write. I’m writing my life story as a musical and I’m probably going to do my life story as a movie too. I have a book that’s going to come out this fall, a positive uplifting little book that I’ll be donating most of the proceeds to The Imagination Library, my literacy program. I’m also going to be writing some children’s books.

Having recently completed a media blitz that included 82 interviews in 14 hours over 2 days, along with her long list of upcoming projects, there’s no sign this country legend has any plans to slow down.

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Sherod Robertson is President and Owner of MusicRow Enterprises. He oversees all operations and develops strategic initiatives for MusicRow magazine, RowFax, and MusicRow's CountryBreakout chart. Robertson previously served as Director of Finance of Arista Records after beginning his career as Vice President of Finance and CFO at Reunion Records.

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