Dolly Parton Hopes to Leave Good in Every Day

In Second of Two-Part Interview, Country Legend Talks Success, Songwriting and Sacrifices

On the heels of her latest album release, Better Day, Dolly Parton is embarking on an international trek for her Better Day world tour. Kicking off her journey July 17 in Knoxville, Tenn., near her hometown, she will make 12 stops in the U.S. before heading to Europe to perform in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland. She will end her tour in Australia, her first time to perform there in 30 years.

But before hitting the road, Parton stopped by CMT’s offices for a one-on-one interview. In the second portion of her conversation with, the iconic singer-songwriter shares details about her upcoming performances, her chosen path in life and the prayer she says each day.

Are there any songs in your career you are particularly proud of that didn’t reach as huge of a commercial success as you thought they would?

Dolly: Oh, some of the biggest. My favorites are songs that never really made any success. They’re in albums, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t [succeed] someday whether I’m dead or alive. But a lot of my favorites are just songs in albums. Some have even found their way to the surface just being recorded. Like “Down From Dover” is a song that I wrote in one of my early albums. I just love that song. And when I wrote it I thought, “Wow, I just love writing songs.” But yeah, some of my favorites like “Gypsy, Joe and Me,” which was also “Gypsy, Rose and Me” for a man, but Gypsy Joe. So, yeah, there’s tons of them.

Do you feel as though your approach to songwriting has changed through the years?

No, my approach to songwriting hasn’t changed. There are outlets for my songwriting that I didn’t have back then, so I can kind of become more commercial with it. Like, for instance, when I was asked to do the musical for 9 to 5, I had never done a musical, didn’t know if I could work under somebody’s direction telling me what to write or what they needed here and there, but I love a challenge. And sometimes if I know somebody’s expecting something from me, I do my best work. (laughs) ’Cause I don’t want to appear to not know what I’m doing, and because I’m a skilled songwriter, I’ve been doing that for so many years, it’s like my wits are always sharpened because I’m always writing.

So I realized that I was better at that than I thought I was going to be because I was prepared and didn’t know it. You know what I mean? I thought it was like, “Wow, I know how to write a story.” I know how to do dynamics in a song. I know how to be quick. And because I am quick, it made it easy for me, working with people like that. I love a challenge, and I love being able to do a variety of things with my writing. But the approach itself and the reason I write has never changed. I write because it’s something I have to do, but I can apply it to projects now.

“The Sacrifice” on your new album refers to your endless devotion to your music and career. What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to live this life you’ve always dreamed?

Well, it sums it up right in the first lines of the song where it says, “I gave up vacations with family and friends, for work without end, 24/7, 365, but you ask if it’s worth the sacrifice.” So you really give up time with family, friends. I didn’t have children. It would have been a different story had I had children. I probably wouldn’t have been who I am today because I would have been a very devoted mother, I’m sure, just like my sisters are and my mother and all the way back. But I had the freedom to write, the freedom to work. My sacrifices were personal and just being away from people I loved and not getting to do things I wish I could have done, go places I could have gone, taken part in things that I didn’t get a chance to — but I had to work.

Any regrets?

No. The song says. There’s a line at the very end in the fade that says, “Sometimes I wonder in the wee hours of the night, was it really worth the sacrifice.” But I always come back to the same thing. Yes, it was worth it because I can’t imagine what my life would be! I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it had been any different. If I hadn’t of been willing to make the sacrifice, I wouldn’t have been able to write a song about making the sacrifice.

With all of your success, how do you stay grounded? Where do you go to recharge?

God is my light and my salvation and my strength. I pray to God every day that he will give me courage, give me strength, give me patience and tolerance with people and to just give me stamina and give me good ideas and to lead me and guide me and to show me what I can do — not just for myself — but for mankind. How I can help do something, leave something in the world today that wasn’t there yesterday, whether it’s a song or something that other people can enjoy, whether it’s a park for families to come, whether it’s books that children can read, whether it’s songs I can write for a play, for instance, where people can come and enjoy it. I just ask God to work through me, and that’s where I get my strength.

Your Better Day world tour starts July 17. What can we look forward to?

It starts July 17, and then we do a lot of shows in America. Then we go to Europe in August, and then we go to Australia in November, which I’m looking forward to it. We’ve done some tours in the last few years, so I wanted to change it up. We’ll, of course, do all of our favorites. We’ll be doing about five or six new songs from the Better Day CD, and then we’re going to be doing a bluegrass segment in the show that I didn’t have before. And we’re gonna be doing some songs, a little medley of some things from the Joyful Noise album, some of that choreography and dancing I was talking about doing — a little something different for my fans so they’ll get a kick out of some of that. And then, of course, the gospel stuff and fun stuff. Hopefully, my shows are always fun because I have fun doing it, and hopefully it’s joyful to everybody. So, we’re looking forward to it.

Read the first part of the Dolly Parton interview.
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