HOT DISH: Dolly Parton, Eternal Star

"God Knows My Intentions Are Good -- No Matter What My Mouth Says"

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

No ifs, ands or buts about it. Hands down, Dolly Parton is the smartest person to ever call Tennessee home. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, former Vice President Al Gore, seventh president of the United States Andrew Jackson or Tina Turner — none of these personalities could hold a candle to Dolly when it comes to taking care of business.

I was off to Dollywood’s Harvest Celebration last weekend for an interview with the great Dolly who continues to convince me her eternal star will shine forever.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last almost four decades, you know she was born the fourth of 12 children into a poor mountain family in a three-room cabin in Sevier County, Tennessee. She began singing at an early age and dreamed of appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music. Upon high school graduation in 1964, Dolly boarded a bus the next day for Music City with a suitcase filled with dirty clothes, her head and heart filled with dreams that she continues to fulfill even now.

The singer, songwriter and musician became an Opry member, then she became an actress and businesswoman. Dolly manages herself and her extensive holdings, including the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and several Dixie Stampede Dinner Theaters. By invitation, I traveled to Dollywood and met fans who come back time and again to mob the park because they know they feel welcome with home-cooked food (like Dolly’s mama’s fried green tomatoes), homemade crafts and homegrown entertainment. There was Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Ricky Skaggs, the Del McCoury Band, Ronnie Bowman, the Grascals and the always-wonderful Miss Dolly.

For two days, I watched employees — from execs to waiters — and never once did I see anyone’s eyes roll in disgust, nor was there disagreements, jealousy, envy or laziness. Everybody knew what their job was and did it. I was impressed by the camaraderie and respect for one another, and it was obvious the entire staff respects and loves Dolly. I heard boasting of years of employment. Hardly anyone quits Dollywood. It’s easy to love the Smoky Mountains, and it’s easy to enjoy the pristine park with retirees in charge. There’s no sloshing soda, no throwing ice, no loud talking, no screams, no trash strewn, no dirty bathrooms, no complaining, no swearing, no running, no pushing or shoving and no flirting. Even though the park was virtually filled to the brim with fans, lines moved quickly and without anger. Plus there’s music every day at Dollywood.

The media breakfasted at Old Mill Restaurant, where they grind the flour that made the biscuits we sopped in gravy. The Old Mill has been grinding wheat and corn for more than a century and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. After touring the area, we had lunch at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que, and then it was off to Dollywood where we watched Dolly as she assisted a chef create strawberry flambé served over cornbread. The lady who sells $18 washboards in the park told Dolly and us that they sent 10,000 of them to service people in Iraq. Dolly recalled washing bloomers on a washboard. That night, we had a delicious meal served backstage at the park, and the next morning we were served breakfast at Granny’s Kitchen in Dollywood. Our lunch that day was such a treat when we had a chance to taste all the marvelous homemade goodies made in the park.

Last year after Dolly recorded her live bluegrass album Live and Well at Dollywood, she and an acoustic band toured three months in small clubs to overflowing crowds. Fans were turned away. The audiences screamed for her hits, so she decided to put together a stage show including her hits and take it on the road. Hiring a brand new band, she’s been working since August on her Hello, I’m Dolly tour which debuts in Greenville, S.C., on Oct. 14. For example, she’s recorded “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (a 1949 hit for June Carter and Homer & Jethro) with Rod Stewart and will perform the song with one of her band members, and there’s an Elvis number ready for the road along with her hits. Before Christmas, 40 cities will have the opportunity to see Dolly and her opening act, the Grascals, who joined other band members to complete her exciting new show.

When I spoke privately with Dolly, she told me how proud she is of her Imagination Library through which she gives a book a month to each child born in Sevier County. With the cooperation of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, the practice covers all of the state. Her program has given 1 million books to children. She wants to release self-penned children’s books and plans for a children’s TV show to originate at Dollywood.

“Kids respond to me. I’m small, have a high voice, and my name is Dolly. Maybe they think of a doll,” she laughed. “And I want to do children’s records.”

Catching her breath, Dolly added, “I’ve talked about my own line of food for a long time, and that’s something I want to do — Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s. Southern food. Some frozen.”

I’m listening. Dolly’s talking and making sense.

“I want to do my own cosmetic line,” she said.

Looking at her clear, smooth skin, not a wrinkle or a line on her China doll-like face, I nodded in agreement.

“I’ve always wanted to do a line of clothes especially Dolly’s nighties.”

“Great idea,” I mumbled.

“And I’ve been writing my life story using all new original songs for a Broadway musical,” she said, “although I’ve been approached by some people to do a show for Broadway using my old stuff. … I will always write songs and sing. That’s my life.”

Dolly bragged on the people who work for her and with her. She swears they’re top of the line. The best I could tell, she has a person to head up each department, and they came together that day at Dollywood. I learned Dolly attends all board meetings.

She is proud the park that bears her name is handicapped friendly. And cannot believe it will be time to celebrate its 20-year anniversary next year.

Her home is in Nashville with her husband Carl Dean. When in the Pigeon Forge area, she stays at her mountain cabin or in the Parton family homeplace that’s been renovated into a retreat near the park, but sometimes she stays in her bus that has all the comforts of home. She has a home in L.A. and another house in the California hills. “Houses all over the place,” she giggled.

“You remind me of my mama,” Dolly said. I was honored.

“The older I get, the better I feel,” she bragged.

In closing the great Dolly offered, “I love God. He directs me. He knows my intentions are good — no matter what my mouth says.”

You CMT viewers watched a pro when Dolly hosted the CMT 2004 Flame Worthy Video Music Awards. Last weekend as I watched Dolly sing “Coat of Many Colors” with my son Terry Smith playing bass, humble tears of pride and joy ran down my face. Life don’t get no better than that for a mama.

Watching Brad Paisley’s Star Rise
Until he arrived at the invitation-only event at the Ryman Auditorium, Brad Paisley wasn’t aware a celebration for 5 million record sales was at hand. Wearing his white hat and new leather jacket, he looked so cute answering media questions. When asked about ailing Buck Owens, who suffered a stroke in February, Brad replied, “He’s doing fine. I saw him a while back. I plan to spend New Year’s Eve performing with Buck at his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield.”

Brad smiled as he retold the true story of back when many of Buck’s pals were sticking their money up their nose, Buck was buying their publishing companies and buying the radio station that played their hits. Owens may be a billionaire.

Jumbo screens throughout the Ryman showed young Brad performing with his guitar.
Someone hugged me from behind, and it was actress Kimberly (Mrs. Brad) Williams-Paisley (ABC-TV’s According to Jim). Kim introduced me to her parents, Gurney and Linda Williams from upstate N.Y. (Gurney sounds so country!) Brad’s dad, Doug Paisley, also came down from the West Virginia holler.

Arista Records execs presented Brad a 5 million plaque and a Chet Atkins model Gretsch guitar. One of Brad’s favorite guitarists, former Desert Rose Band member John Jorgenson, gifted him a Fender guitar he’d purchased from Leo Fender. It was the same guitar John played during an Austin City Limits performance that Brad still plays in the VCR on his bus. His management company presented him with an acoustic McPherson guitar, and Grand Ole Opry execs gave Brad and Kim matching pairs of his and hers boots.

I’ve continued to watch the Paisley star rise since before he got his record deal when I first saw him performing wearing baggy jeans. “You’re gonna be a star, boy,” I advised. “Wear your stage britches so tight you can’t sit down.” He listened.

Brad just called me on the phone. Wants me to be in his video. Ain’t that hot!

Keith Urban Debuts at No. 1
Keith Urban’s wonderful new CD Be Here debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart — and his single “Days Go By” also remains at the No. 1 slot for the fourth week. Keith’s last CD, Golden Road, sits at No. 9. CMT On Tour: Keith Urban Be Here 2004 launches in Muncie, Ind., on Oct. 8 and remains on the road until the Christmas holidays. Universal South newcomer Katrina Elam is Keith’s opening act.

Seen and Heard
Creators of the animated series King of the Hill are planning to make Trace Adkins’ voice character, Elvin, a recurring role.

Ray Price, hospitalized in Houston with a blocked main artery that required angioplasty and a stent, plans to hit the road again in three weeks. The 78-year-old member of the Country Music Hall of Fame has always been a workaholic.

Travis Tritt is pitching in with the local Salvation Army and other agencies in Mobile, Ala., to help rebuild the state’s coast hit recent by Hurricane Ivan. Travis composed his first song while vacationing at Gulf Shores, a place close to his heart and mine.

Grand Ole Opry member Roy Drusky, 74, passed away Sept. 23 following a lengthy illness. Drusky is survived by his wife, Bobbye, and three sons.

The blouse Tammy Wynette’s daughter Jackie Daly supposedly sold on eBay is back on the auction block with a $300 starting bid. Seems the purchaser never paid the $720 they offered. There’s more Tammy stuff up for bid, including a pair of Dolce & Gabbana shoes ($250 starting bid) and a Ralph Lauren leather jacket ($400 starting bid).

Gretchen Wilson’s jeans, the one’s she wore in the “Redneck Woman” video are also up for auction on eBay’s charity section to benefit Max It Out for Meningitis. The jeans are autographed by Wilson, Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. If you have a mind to get in Gretchen’s britches, start bidding. The money — 100 percent of it — goes to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital

Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Alison Krauss and Gretchen Wilson are among the artists who donated clothing for the second annual Celebrity Rags 4 Charity Riches auction, also on eBay, running Oct. 16-23 to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, United Cerebral Palsy and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

I’m surprised that Loretta Lynn was not up for a CMA Award. Americana honored Lynn in two categories — artist of the year and album of the year for Van Lear Rose. Others recognized include Rodney Crowell (song of the year for “Fate’s Right Hand”),
Mindy Smith (new/emergent artist) and guitarist Will Kimbrough (instrumentalist). Lifetime achievement awards were given to Cowboy Jack Clement (songwriter), Chris Hillman (performer) and the late Jack Emerson (executive). The Americana President’s Award went to the Carter Family, and the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award was presented to Steve Earle.

Congratulations to all the CMA radio winners announced this week, especially the station I’ve been associated with for almost nine years, WFMS in Indianapolis, for being named station of the year in the large market category and to my friend, J.D. Cannon, who was named large market personality of the year.

“Biggest show at the coliseum since Garth Brooks played there” was the word that reached Nashville from Shreveport, La. Tracy Lawrence filled the Hirsch Coliseum for a free concert sponsored by radio station KRMD. As long as Tracy is behaving, he can put on a show. I have high hopes.

Like Samson, his once long blonde hair was cropped close when Keech Rainwater waved goodbye to bachelorhood. The Lonestar drummer wed Elissa Landell, co-host and writer for CMT Central on CMT Canada. Keech met his bride on the red carpet during last year’s CMA Awards. He surprised his bride with a wedding gift — a handmade bathtub he’d carved.

The Grammy-winning Mavericks returned from entertaining troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Germany just in time for the launch of their live CD & DVD. The Mavericks’ Live in Austin, Texas is on store shelves now.

It takes a real man to go back home to perform, and Phil Vassar fills those boots. On a media blitz promoting his new CD Shaken Not Stirred, Vassar made a triumphant return to his hometown Lynchburg, Va., to play two sold-out shows at his alma mater, Brookville High School. He travels all over the place, but nobody is prouder of Phil Vassar than the folks back home.

Garth Brooks told Marie Osmond on her radio show he might return to his career when his youngest child is 18 and he’s 52. This was Garth’s first radio interview in three years. He and Marie talked baseball and harmonized on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Tim McGraw is set to open the CMA Awards singing “How Bad Do You Want It.” His Swampstock celebrity concert and softball game, cancelled because of Hurricane Ivan, is reset for Oct. 30.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Scalloped Potatoes.