At first glance, iconic US singer Dolly Parton is a web of contradictions; part plastic surgery fanatic, part country music icon and part philanthropist, she’s a tough woman to peg.
But talking to the woman who has sold more than 100 million units of albums and songs, and written genuinely massive mega hits like I Will Always Love You and 9 to 5, is really just like having a cup of tea with an old friend.
In short: Dolly is down to earth.
“I’ve never had a dry spell. Music is how I express myself, so I write something every day – even if it is just a song title or an idea.”
Speaking ahead of her Australian tour, Dolly talked about her latest album Blue Smoke, whether she would have made it if she was starting out in 2014, covers and favourite movies.
She sang us a couple of songs, too.
Starting with her debut record, 1967’s Hello, I’m Dolly, Parton has recorded a staggering 42 studio albums in 47 years. Her back catalogue is a plethora of bluegrass, country and pop – all sung with Parton’s signature southern drawl.
“I’ve never had a dry spell,” she says matter of factly. “Music is how I express myself, so I write something every day – even if it’s just a song title or an idea.”
Parton, now 68, started her career at age nine, singing on US TV shows. Sound familiar? Yet Parton isn’t sure if she would have found the same success if she had to introduce herself via America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Idol, etc.
“You know, I don’t know if I would or not. That’s a very good question,” Parton says.
“Not that it was easy then, but I kinda did it at my own pace and in my own way back then. Now, everybody’s thrown out there, you either make it or you don’t.
“I’m not sure I would make it now.”
Chances are she would, however, because Parton’s particular skill is songwriting, something that has seen her influence range well beyond the confines of country music.
Jolene alone has been covered by everyone from The White Stripes to Laura Marling and punk band The Sisters Of Mercy. Rolling Stone listed it at 219 in its definitive Top 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.
Then there is I Will Always Love You, a song most people associate with the late Whitney Houston. Not that Dolly minds.
“People always say: ‘That’s Whitney Houston’s song’. I say, ‘It certainly is’, she can have the credit as long as I get the cash,” she jokes.
Dolly herself isn’t averse to recording other artists’ material either. Blue Smoke, for example, features a stunning rendition of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and a “countrified and blue-grassed” version of Bon Jovi’s Lay Your Hands On Me.
And finally there is her celluloid career, which has garnered two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress (9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas).
Asked to pick a favourite she plumps for the movie she is most synonymous with.
“I’ve enjoyed doing all the films I’ve done. Because you get to work with lots of people, not just the stars, so you make all kinds of friends,” Dolly says.
“But my favourite, even though I loved doing Steel Magnolias and working with all those wonderful women, is 9 to 5.”
Top 5: Dolly Parton
9 to 5
Here You Come Again
Harper Valley PTA
I Will Always Love You
Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke Tour starts in Melbourne on February 11, 2014 and finishes in Perth on February 27, 2014.
For tickets and more information go to Ticketec.