‘Dolly on Dolly’ Book Gives Insight Into Dolly Parton’s Artistic Evolution

Dolly Parton continues to enjoy a career that is second to none in terms of career successes. She’s hit the pinnacle of the charts as a performer, a writer, author, and an actress. Her theme park in Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, continues to attract hundreds of thousands of guests year after year – now in its fourth decade. And, along the way, she has remained one of the most media-savvy personalities in the entertainment world.

But it hasn’t always been that way. A new book, Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, examines her evolution as an artist through interviews that she has granted over the years – beginning in the late 1960s, and continuing into today.

The book’s editor, Randy L. Schmidt, says that the book offers several different snapshots of the performer, serving as a time capsule of where she was at a particular moment.

“You sort of get to trace the evolution of Dolly Parton from the time she recorded ‘Dumb Blonde’ in 1967,” he shared with Sounds Like Nashville. “There’s an interview with her – still bound and determined to be a star – but she hadn’t even met Porter Wagoner yet, so we get a Dolly that was sort of an undiscovered talent from her apartment in Nashville, all the way up through recent interviews with her, and we get to trace that evolution of her through the press and the media over the years.”

Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton book cover; Cover art courtesy Chicago Review Press

Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton book cover; Cover art courtesy Chicago Review Press

In his analysis of the singer, Schmidt said that he feels that Parton was a very quick learner in the art of getting the point across.

“In those early interviews, she certainly was interesting – and showed her sense of humor, but she very quickly became a master of the interview in knowing what she wanted to get across, and getting it across no matter what the plan was of the interviewer, and what they were going to talk about. She seemed to always take control, and gear it in the direction that she wanted it to go.”

In addition to the words of Parton, the book also is a testament to the talents of much-admired music journalists as Jack Hurst, Lawrence Grobel, and the late Chet Flippo. Schmidt said that he was excited to introduce a new generation of readers to their greatness.

“I was able to get in touch with Chet’s family, and they were really excited to see that these interviews were going to have a new life, and be preserved in this way. It was neat to visit with his siblings, and get their approval on this. These journalists would go on the road with her sometimes for weeks at a time, and become friends and confidantes. They would see her prepare for shows, or come down from shows at the end of the night. It was a completely different era from now, where you might get a phone interview, and get to ask her a few questions, and then she was off to the next one. They got complete access to her during those times, and got to experience life on the road with her during her heyday.”

One interviewer who always seemed to get interesting tidbits from Parton was Ralph Emery. Beginning with his all-night show on WSM Radio, and continuing through a syndicated show in the 1980s, and his work on The Nashville Network, Emery was always able to connect with Parton. Schmidt noted that happened for a reason.

“She trusted Ralph. I think all of the country stars of the day trusted him to get their message out there, but not press them too hard on things. The reason I specifically included that one was that he asked her about the Rolling Stone article where she talked about running around the car naked with her friend Judy, really playful stuff that was shocking to a lot of people. I liked that he referred back to some of the other articles that were in the book.”

A few interviews shared in the book feature a few intimate details about Carl Dean, Parton’s husband of over five decades.

“I was really excited that some of the early interviews mention Carl Dean being there or backstage after a show,” said Schmidt. “The fact that he was there on the set of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas was neat. We got to hear from some of the journalists what it was like to see and talk with Carl, even though he has been so private over the years. There were a couple of journalists who got to get an insight on him.”

In compiling the book, the most difficult task was coming up with an ending point. After all, this is Dolly Parton, and she continues to write new chapters and blaze new trails on a seemingly daily basis.

“She says she is up at three in the morning, and has her routine, and her creative energies are non-stop. She’s constantly thinking about what she can do next, and how she can tie projects together. It’s that creativity that has served her well, and has kept her going after all these years.”

Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton is out now.

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