Dolly Parton Talks Being a Music "Workhorse," Her One Career Mistake
Ahead of the opening of her Grammy exhibit, the singer joined Linda Perry for a discussion about career setbacks, 'Dumplin', hawking menstruation medicine and more.
Hit-making producer Linda Perry sat down with Dolly Parton, the 2019 MusiCares Person of the Year, on Monday evening for the opening night of the country icon’s exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Perry, who worked with Parton on the soundtrack for the Netflix film Dumplin’, praised the legendary singer’s work ethic and stamina in the studio.
"I can barely get a 30-year-old or 20-year-old to sing a song in one day. Dolly walked in and sang six songs in one day," Perry said of working in the studio with Parton.
"Yeah, I wrote ‘em," joked Parton, adding, "I say I’m a workhorse that looks like a show horse."
Perry produced the Dumplin’ soundtrack with original Parton songs that were reworked as duets with other musical greats including Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Sia and Mavis Staples. The lead single "Girl in the Movies" was nominated for best original song at the 2019 Golden Globes.
"I started singing on local radio and television back in my hometown in east Tennessee when I was 10 years old," Parton told the crowd at the Clive Davis Theater inside the Grammy Museum, explaining that her mother’s side of the family was always very musical.
"As soon as I learned to play the guitar when I was 7, I started writing some serious songs after that," she said. "I had a gift of rhyme. I wrote a song about a little cob doll I had called Tiny Tassel Top."
In the conversation, which was live-streamed on Billboard’s Facebook page, Parton said the first song she wrote was about a doll she had that was made from corn husks.
"Daddy took the husks and got a hot poker in the fire and made some little eye holes in this cob,” Parton said. "Mama put the little tassels back on it and made it a little shuck dress. I loved that little doll."
The Grammy Museum's "Diamond in a Rhinestone World: The Costumes of Dolly Parton" exhibit will be open to the public through March 17 and holds a storied display of outfits the singer has worn throughout her career including in music videos, on album covers and during iconic performances.
"I was surprised with some of the stuff they did bring. I wasn’t expecting the stuff from the early days with Porter [Wagner] in ‘66. That was before I was wearing all the gaudy stuff which I got into late and I still love," Dolly said of the more than 30 pieces in the collection.
The Porter Wagner Show "was a very family-oriented show and we did a gospel song every week and we were sponsored by the Chattanooga Medicine Company. We did our own commercials where we’d sing about ... there was a product called Cardui and it was for that time of the month, like Midol. I was so embarrassed that I had to do that out there," Parton said after seeing some of the simpler dresses from that era in her career.
Discussing Parton's long career, Perry asked the veteran performer if there were any mistakes she made along the way she wished she could redo.
"I really think that if you change one thing, it would change everything. Everything I’ve ever done, even if it looked like a mistake to somebody else and even if I paid the price for it as a mistake, it seemed like the thing I was supposed to do at the time,” said Parton. “So I can’t say I would honestly do it any different."
Parton went on to point out one "mistake" in her career: her early variety show Dolly! "Years ago I did a variety show and it wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I wasn’t able to be my own self in it. There were too many other people involved," she said.
"It just was not good and I was not happy doing it. But I didn’t dwell on that," added Parton, who said that she learned from the experience and grew from it as well.
"Dolly is one of the most humble people," Perry said towards the end of their conversation. "To me, you're like the sun. You just shine down. How did you become that?"
"I am really comfortable with who I am. Of course I hurt. I have to keep my sensitive side alive. I can’t harden my heart, because then I couldn’t write the way I write. I couldn’t relate to people the way I do,” Parton said.
“I don’t harden my heart, but I strengthen the muscles around it because you have to in this business,” she added. “People are always saying, 'Dolly why do you look so happy?' I say, 'That’s the Botox.'"
Parton will be feted with a tribute concert on Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the televised Grammy Awards on Sunday will feature additional honors for the legendary artist.
Watch the full conversation below.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.