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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dolly Parton: The Queen Of Country Music

We’re about ready to launch into yet another edition of the special month that I like to call “Sweethearts of Country Music” month.  And, today’s musical spotlight is going to fall on a woman who many have bestowed the title of the “Queen of Country Music”.

Now, you would think that for someone to be able to hold that title, they would have to have some major clout in order to legitimately claim that honour.  Believe me, she has all that and more.

She’s written well over three thousand song compositions throughout her lifetime.  Quite a few of them were for her own albums (of which she has released a whopping forty-one studio albums since 1967), but several were for other artists as well.  She has sold over 100 million copies of each of these albums, and has released over one hundred singles in country radio.  Of these singles, she has had over twenty #1 singles on the country music charts. 

And don’t you think for a moment that music is the only thing that she has excelled at.  She has also proven herself to be skilled in acting, appearing in at least a dozen films.  These films include “9 to 5”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Straight Talk”, and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”.

(Wow...did I really just type in the word “whorehouse” in a blog post?  Cool.  J )

She’s also made appearances on various television sitcoms.  Some of these appearances include “The Simpsons”, “Designing Women”, and “Hannah Montana”.

(Of course, that last one is sort of expected, given that she happens to be the godmother of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus.)

So, who are we focusing on today?

Why, it’s Sevierville, Tennessee native Dolly Rebecca Parton, of course.  This blog is all about the lady who has truly worn a “coat of many colours” throughout her 45-year-long career.

But which song will I be focusing on?  We’ll get to that a bit later.  For now, I imagine that you all would like a small history lesson on the self-dubbed “Backwoods Barbie”, so let’s get right to it.

Born on January 19, 1946, Dolly Parton was the fourth of twelve (yes, twelve) children born to Avie Lee and Robert Lee Parton.  Her siblings were all born between 1940 and 1959.  And to say that the family struggled in the early years was a bit of an understatement.  Could you imagine living in a one room cabin in the middle of nowhere during your childhood?  Dolly could.  She LIVED that lifestyle. 

To Dolly’s credit though, she didn’t let the fact that her family was dirt poor stop her from wanting to achieve her dreams.  When it came to music, she was introduced to it at an early age.  When she was a young girl, she started performing for the first time, most notably on radio and television programs in the eastern part of Tennessee.  By nine, she was appearing on the Cas Walker Show on a semi-regular basis, and had appeared at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee shortly after turning thirteen years old. 

While she was at the Grand Ole Opry, she happened to have an encounter with another rising country music star, Johnny Cash.  And Johnny Cash ended up giving the young Dolly some rather sage advice.  That advice was for her to follow her heart and not to care what others thought about it.  And shortly after graduating from high school, Dolly relocated to Nashville in 1964 to seek out her fame and fortune.

Now, what was interesting is that when Dolly first arrived in Nashville, she was one of the few who found almost instantaneous success...but not as a singer initially.  As it turned out, she ended up becoming a successful songwriter, writing hits for Skeeter Davis and Bill Phillips.  Just one year after arriving in Nashville, Dolly ended up signing her own recording contract with Monument a bubblegum pop singer!  Needless to say, the bubblegum pop grew stale after just a few chews, and despite the fact that she did have one single bubble up, the whole idea of Dolly going into the pop music scene at that time sort of blew up in her face.

(Yeah, yeah, I know...I’ll lay off the gum puns.)

So, she decided to try her hand at country music.  Her record label agreed to give her a chance at recording a country music album after one of her compositions for Bill Phillips ended up peaking at #6 on the charts.  Her first single was ironically enough one that Dolly herself did not write...a single entitled “Dumb Blonde”.  It did somewhat okay on the charts, peaking within the Top 30.  Not exactly a breakout smash, but it was the first of many singles that would help make her a country music legend.  The follow-up single, “Something Fishy”, ended up doing slightly better on the charts, reaching a peak position of #17.  These two songs ended up being included as singles on Dolly’s first album, appropriately titled “Hello, I’m Dolly”, released in 1967.

Also in 1967, Dolly Parton ended up getting a gig through Porter Wagoner.  She joined his organization and started performing on a weekly basis with Wagoner on his weekly show.  Dolly’s early appearances on the show were not warmly received by the audience at first.  The audience were so used to Norma Jean (who sang on the show with Wagoner and who departed the program just before Dolly began appearing) that they had mixed feelings about Dolly coming in to take over.  Fortunately, thanks to Porter Wagoner’s insistence that Dolly was good people, the fans of the show soon began to accept the young singer.

Porter Wagoner was also a key influence in Dolly’s decision to switch record labels early in her career.  She signed onto RCA Victor and her first single with the new label was a duet that featured her and Wagoner.  The song, “The Last Thing On My Mind” ended up making the Top 10 in early 1968.  Believe it or not, that song would be the first of a six-year-long string of consecutive Top 10 hits that featured both Parton and Wagoner as the vocalists!

TRIVIA:  Dolly and Porter worked together exclusively while Dolly also recorded solo records of her own.  The professional relationship between the two lasted until 1974 when Dolly and Porter sang their last duet (although they still remained close).  Dolly ended up writing a song that would end up topping the country charts about the split.  That song was “I Will Always Love You”.  It also became a huge smash for the late singer Whitney Houston in 1992 when she re-recorded it for “The Bodyguard”.

Now, I mentioned that when Dolly was working with Porter Wagoner, she had several solo singles charting on country radio.  And perhaps one of the most famous of these songs is the song that I want to feature in this blog.

ARTIST:  Dolly Parton
SONG:  Jolene
ALBUM:  Jolene
DATE RELEASED:  October 1973

“Jolene” was a #1 hit for Dolly Parton.  It topped the country charts the week of February 2, 1974, and even charted on the Billboard 100.

And there are a couple of influences behind the song.

The first involves the song title.  The story goes that one time, when Dolly was performing a concert, she met a little girl after the show wrapped up who wanted an autograph.  According to Dolly, the little girl had red hair and green eyes, and her personality charmed Dolly enough to ask the girl what her name was.  She said that her name was Hortense, Gertrude, Madonna, Jolene.  Dolly loved the name, and made the promise to the little girl that she would write a song using the name “Jolene”.

That said, I often wonder how “Jolene” would feel knowing that her name was used as the name of a homewrecking wench?

That’s right.  Jolene is about a woman who ends up being the “other woman” who comes in between a married couple. 

The song is told through the point of view of the wife who ends up confronting Jolene, telling her basically to “stay the hell away from her man”.  And the story that inspired the body of the song “Jolene” was based on a real-life incident.

There was a particular bank teller (a female bank teller) who kept a wandering eye on her husband whenever he stopped into the bank to make deposits and withdrawals.  And, Dolly also believed that her husband was unable to resist the charms of said bank teller, as she noticed that he made more of an effort to go to that bank than he had before the teller started working there.  It’s unclear as to how far the confrontation went, but it is widely reported that Dolly often performs the song live and before she does, she tells the concert audience that “she fought ‘Jolene’ tooth and nail for her husband”. 

So, note to all women out there.  If you hit on Dolly Parton’s man, be prepared to get your eyes scratched out.

Fear not though...”Jolene” hardly made a dent in the rock solid marriage between Dolly and Carl, who ended up celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary on May 30, 2012.

You see?  Celebrity marriages DO last.

And, that’s our look back at Dolly Parton.  Well, at least the early years, anyway.  I may do another entry on her in regards to her later works.  I’ll admit it.  I love Dolly.  J

Next week, the “Sweethearts of Country Music” month wraps up with another living legend who in addition to singing also did some acting on the side.  But when her whole world came crashing down following a tragedy 21 years ago, she found the strength to not only go on...but record an album about it.  We’ll take a look at that tragedy, as well as a song about how one country singer found life out there after tragedy.

That’s coming up on September 30.

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