Dolly Parton: Songwriting Is Time with God

“If I Had to Give Up Everything Else, I’d Just Write”

One of the first things I wanted to ask Dolly Parton when I sat down with her in Chicago recently was about all the awards she’s collected in her 50-year career.

She told me that the ones she’s won for her songwriting have meant the most to her.

“If I had to give up everything else, if people said you can only do one thing, I’d just write. I’d say, ‘Well then, I’ll just be a songwriter.’ Because that’s how I express myself. That’s my time with God.”

“It’s so fulfilling to think that I could actually leave something in the world today that wasn’t there yesterday.”

Parton explained that songs just pour out of her, and that she always keeps her mind open so she can be inspired by everything and everyone.

“My guitar is like my best friend, and my songs are like my therapy. I can’t even begin to imagine a day when I don’t think up a good idea or sing a melody that makes me think, ‘Oh, I think I’m making that up right now.’ With this album,” she said of her brand new collection Pure & Simple, “I wrote love songs for everybody.”

There’s “Can’t Be That Wrong,” that Parton wrote about someone she knows who had a spouse at home but sincerely fell in love with someone else. Then there’s “I’m Sixteen,” that Parton said she wrote about her younger sister. “She’d had a couple of bad marriages, and she just thought it wasn’t in her cards to find true love. But she did find it. They act like they’re teenagers now. They’re sickening they’re so cute,” she laughed.

Parton has been known to write songs every day. So had she written one that sunny day in Chicago?

“Some days I’ll write four or five songs. Some days I’ll just write one. They’re almost always spinning in my head,” she said, “and the day ain’t over yet.”

Parton’s Pure & Simple will be released on Friday (Aug. 19).

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.