Dolly Parton is hosting the CMT 2004 Flame Worthy Video Music Awards in Nashville on Wednesday (April 21) at 8 p.m. ET/PT. In the second installment of a two-part interview with CMT.com, Parton talks about her current album For God and Country, her professional breakup with Porter Wagoner, The Passion of the Christ, her music and other truths.
What’s the genesis of the song “Red, White and Bluegrass”?
I just thought to myself, now why in this world ain’t somebody wrote a song called “Red, White and Bluegrass”? And so I thought, well, somebody will — today! I wanted a few bluegrass flavors on here [For God and Country]. That one just hollered out, “Why don’t you write me?” Now all the bluegrass pickers are saying they’re gonna do it this summer. Especially at bluegrass festivals on the Fourth of July. I think that could also be a single at the bluegrass stations.
Another of my favorites of yours through the years, which works well here, is “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”
Well, they’re talking about putting that out as a single. And it seems to have a broad appeal. You know, that was my deliverance song from Porter. Have I ever told you that story? Well, that was the song when me and Porter was going through all our hell. He was not hearing nothin’, and I wrote “I Will Always Love You” tryin’ to get on past the hurdle. At least that softened him a little, but it was like time went on and on and dragged on and on. But the day I finally left, I was down at the office on Sixteenth [Avenue on Nashville’s Music Row] in Porter’s office, and I went in and said, “I have got to go. If you’re gonna shoot me, you’re gonna have to shoot me in the ass, because I’m walkin’ out that door.” I did. I said you’re gonna have to shoot me in the back … because I was kind of scared. I just meant, I’m leavin’, no matter what. And so I went out the door. That was when I was still drivin.’ And I always had a Cadillac. And so I got in my car, and I was drivin’ back to my house in Brentwood. And it was pourin’ rain. And I was cryin’. On my way, I was so happy that I had finally got away and I was really free, but my heart was so heavy. It was one of those god-awful mixed emotions, and it’s the saddest but you’re looking for a ray of hope. And I started thinking, it’s been a long dark night, and I’ve been waitin’ for the morning. Those words started coming. So I got to Brentwood, and right when I got to the chorus of “I can see the light,” the sun had busted through, and that’s when I got the idea to call it that: “I can see the light of a clear blue morning, I can see the light of a brand new day.” So I just went on home and wrote that down. And I’ve always called that my song of deliverance. So that and “I Will Always Love You” are my two Porter songs.
Maybe you should’ve stayed with Porter. Who knows how many more great songs that would have inspired?
No, I shouldn’t of either. I’d of been dead and wouldn’t of wrote nothing! One of us would have been dead!
You’ve gone back to some of the most beautiful and traditional gospel songs here with “Whispering Hope” and “There Will Be Peace in the Valley for Me.”
I love those. I did “Whispering Hope” because of my husband Carl. He’s Church of Christ, and when we were first dating and first got married, I used to go to church with him all the time. But me being a holy roller, we would just bang on anything in church, we’d pick electric guitars, shout and sing. But they had no music in their church [Church of Christ congregations traditionally sing hymns with no musical accompaniment]. I could not believe how beautiful these people could sing. His mother — she’s passed away now — but he was a momma’s boy. Carl won’t sing now, but he used to sing in church. He has a beautiful voice and so did his momma. He had that proper way of singing, in that Gomer Pyle or Jim Nabors voice. So I loved to sit there between Momma Dean and Carl and listen to them. They loved “Whispering Hope.” That was his mother’s favorite song. And he’s always whistling that song around the house. So I recorded it because of them. He didn’t know I had done it ’til I finished the whole album. I said, “I’ve got something I wanna play for you.” I had used a Church of Christ choir. And it just chilled him to the bone — he loved it. So that’s how that came about. And I had personally always loved “Peace in the Valley” because I loved Tennessee Ernie Ford. I used to sing that when I was a kid, on TV and radio shows. So that was a good ‘un to do.
There’re two songs here I never thought I would hear you sing: “Ballad of the Green Beret” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.”
Well, I got so sick of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” back when it was out. But I felt that I should do it because at the time that I was doing this album, everywhere I looked there were yellow ribbons tied on everything. And two or three little things just dropped in my lap. Somebody sent me something with a big yellow ribbon tied around it, a gift. So I was getting all these little hints. So I thought, I think I should do “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” Nobody’s done it since Tony Orlando, that I know of. So I thought I should do it — because of the times. For “The Green Beret,” I have a lot of friends at Fort Campbell [Ky.], and I visit up there quite a bit. Through Chris Garland, the guy I wrote “I’m Gonna Miss You” for, I used to go with him and hang out. I was thinking that these Special Ops guys are the ones who are really doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff and gettin’ no credit for it. Nor do they want any. But I just thought I needed to do “The Green Beret” for them. I remember lovin’ that song when I was a girl, when it first became a hit. So I thought, it’ll work. Same with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I always loved it and I wanted to revamp it.
You added the character Janey to it. Now Janey comes marching home, too.
I know. I actually changed several lines in it to kind of fit the times. I thought they would appreciate that. And they did. I did that song at the Capitol Fourth show last year. And I must’ve got 20,000 e-mails from women in the service and from families of women in the service, thanking me for that. Makes you feel good when you’ve done something that people notice. At my age any more, it ain’t about money. … It was never about money, but you always have to try to think about makin’ a livin’. But I love bein’ able to do the stuff now that I want to. … When I started doin’ my bluegrass stuff and my mountain stuff, I said I had to get rich in order to sing like I was poor again. And that’s the truth. You can’t make a nickel hardly in bluegrass music. Even now as big as my name is or my reputation is, even with all these albums that have got such critical acclaim, they still don’t sell nothin’ to speak of, compared to pop records or the big country records. But you get respected and appreciated for them and to me, anymore, that’s more important.
Now, where did you get that little red, white and blue outfit you’re wearing on the CD cover, with the pillbox hat?
I had that made. I wanted to kind of look like those girls in the old USO tours and just thought that would be a cute thing. I’ve had a lot of compliments on that. I’ve just about wore it out. I wore it on everything. This is our 19th season at Dollywood, and we always have our big parade on Friday night of the opening weekend. This year our theme was “For God and Country.” I had my big red, white and blue float, and I wore that. I’ve worn it on every television show. I’m gonna have to have a double made of it because I’m gonna wear this thing out. I’m gonna have some more of those kind of little Forties outfits. I’m kinda like that kind of girl. I always felt like I was from the Forties.
Get you some of those padded shoulders.
Yeah. And padded bras. And you can use your padded shoulders for pads for your bras. That’s what I used to do when I was a girl.
Getting back to religion a little bit, have you seen The Passion of the Christ?
No. I ain’t seen it. I’ve seen the previews, and it’s just too sad for me. I don’t do well with that kind of stuff, and I think I would freak out if I saw that. Even the previews for that, I thought, how much can they show? How much can they beat him? I thought, oh my Lord, I would probably do like some of those reports I’ve heard of people who died at the theater. I’d probably be one of them. Or be rushed to the hospital. I can’t stand pain and misery. I can’t stand sufferin’. I mean, I know the story, I know it was terrible, but I don’t think I could handle it. I think it’s great for Mel Gibson that he felt such passion to do this, to put his money into it. Now it’s gonna be worth, what, half a billion? Man, can you imagine? The Lord’s been good to him!