How Dolly Parton Nearly Became a Rock Star

Dolly Parton
Country Music, Country Music News, Dolly Parton, History, News
Tresa Patterson

Versatility is the very essence of Dolly Parton.  From the thousands of songs credited to the living legend as a songwriter to films, TV, books, and most recently, podcasts, along with her motivational fitness project with Apple, Dolly Parton proves her success in every kind of media or artistic endeavor.

The superstar leaves no doubt that she knows who she is and what she’s able to do with her God-given talents.  Early on, though, some very influential people in her career had a hard time pegging Dolly Parton.  She isn’t a fit for pigeonholes, but as Yahoo News reports, the country music queen nearly steered to the rock ‘n roll stage.

The label didn’t hear Country in Dolly Parton

To her legions of admiring followers, Dolly Parton is forever a “rock star” for her enormous, positive spirit, her generosity, and her endless gifts of song.   When Parton arrived at Monument Records as a new artist in 1965, however, no one even imagines where she belongs.

Longtime Dolly lovers recall how her maternal uncle, Bill Owens, a popular musician, took young Parton to radio shows and any local stages open to her.  The two relatives arrive together in Nashville and both sign with Monument Records.  They write and record the songs, “I Wasted My Tears” and “What Do You Think About Lovin,’” as noted by Showbiz CheatSheet earlier this week.  Later, Dolly Parton writes a charting hit for her first label with “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby,” reaching #108 on the pop charts, and marking the superstar’s first “hit” single.  It doesn’t take long before Dolly Parton racks up a collection of country chart-toppers across five decades, but the label owner, Fred Foster, heard another genre altogether.

“It sounded like people thought it was childish, so they thought I might have a better chance in rock ‘n roll,” Dolly Parton relates to Jad Abumrad in Dolly Parton’s America. As it turns out, Dolly gives rock ‘n roll a spin in her own way, and lots of rock royalty really love her.

A dynamite Dolly Parton take on the Led Zeppelin classic

No listener conceives of anyone other than Dolly Parton singing “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” but in 2002, the artist dared to go where few Country talents have trod.

On her album, Halos & Horns, Dolly Parton takes the reins of the 1971 Led Zeppelin sonic landmark, “Stairway to Heaven.” She doesn’t skip a word or alter a single verse, but with her soulful interpretation, the FM radio standard becomes a heartfelt altar call.   The singular song forever stands as the juxtaposition between earthly treasures and eternal choices.  Somehow, though, Dolly’s exchanges with a gospel choir strike an even more powerful note than Jimmy Page’s thundering guitar.

The ethereal “Crimson and Clover” is another groundbreaking rock song that receives Dolly Parton’s tender interpretation, along with “Imagine,” and more great songs outside the country genre.  Great music goes far beyond categories.  Most recently, the Bee Gees’ founding elder brother, Barry Gibb, sought out Dolly Parton for her poignant interpretation of “Words” on Greenfields: The Brothers’ Gibb Songbook Vol. 1. 

Gibb finds his collaboration with artists from the Country realm so rewarding that he plans to devote the rest of his career to country and bluegrass projects.  Barry Gibb is music royalty, a knight, in fact.  His song “Islands in the Stream” took Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers across many genres for many years. Everyone knows Dolly Parton has two of her biggest fans in Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, too. Dolly’s goddaughter goes full-throttle rocker on Plastic Hearts, but she never forgets “Jolene” on her setlist.

Dolly had another friend at Monument Records

Ironically, Fred Foster guessed right on the money regarding another aspect of Dolly Parton’s future.  He told his new artist that she was going to be “a gigantic movie star.” Parton fails to agree at the time, but her future full of film roles tells the tale.

Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton share the same memories of writing songs and trying to crack into the charts as new artists at Monument Records.  It’s fun to wonder what Fred Foster counseled the future “Red-headed Stranger” to pursue.  The same man who penned “Hello Walls” had the time of his life singing along country classics with Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and other dear friends.  It goes to show that every artist finds his or her way in country music, even if a new niche is necessary.  Like their song, Dolly and Willie remain friends “From Here to the Moon and Back.”

No matter the genre, great songs are great songs.  From rock to country, in between and back again, Dolly Parton, like every true artist, sings and writes straight from the soul, and that honesty always translates beyond any category.

Check back with Country Music Alley often to get the latest on your favorite Country stars and new stories in the country music world!


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