"I'm still dreaming, still dreaming big, still got new dreams to dream, [and] new dreams I hope to come true. I just love the music, I just love to write, love to perform and I hope to be doing this until I keel over dead in about 30 years," says GRAMMY-winning icon Dolly Parton.
That an international star of Parton's stature maintains such a hunger after so much success is an incredible testament to the love she has for making music. Her numerous accolades include seven GRAMMYs and 46 total nominations, a 2011 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, plus two Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe nods.
All the while, Parton has maintained a successful career for more than 50 years, continuing to please audiences of all ages. And with the release of her latest studio album, Blue Smoke, on May 13 and an international tour on the horizon, she shows no signs of slowing down.
In a new GRAMMY.com interview, Parton discussed Blue Smoke, squeezing some gospel out of a Bon Jovi song, touring and staying relevant, and her dream GRAMMY duo, Gaga and Goo Goo.
Are there any songs on Blue Smoke you're most proud of?
It's like I've always said about my songs, they're my children and "I hope to have them support me when I'm old" is one of my favorite jokes. But it's true, they're like your kids, you love them all, some of them are a little more special and you can sense that and know that, [but it] doesn't mean you love them less. But some of the songs I really enjoy singing. I love the song "If I Had Wings" because I love to sing that kind of song, I love to write that kind of song, it's got that old world feeling, [like] songs I used to sing growing up, it's got a little bit of that spiritual flavor. And I love the little song "Miss You — Miss Me" because it came from a very personal place with something going on in my own family. And I think so many people can relate to it because of so many people divorcing and the kids always wind up suffering the most. So those two are real special to me, but … it's fun to get in and cover other people's songs, like the Bob Dylan [song], "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." So there's always a challenge and it's always fun to experiment with new things.
What is touring like compared to how it used to be?
It's better now because I already have built an audience, so you know you're going to have a crowd. I used to worry if anybody was gonna show up. More than anything that's a great relief, they're telling me, "The tickets are selling really good." But it's fun for me still because I just love the audience. Of course, I love to write songs more than anything, but then again I love to go sing them, I love to perform them, so it's kind of an all-around thing for me. But I still enjoy it as much as I did in the old days.
What's been your favorite GRAMMY moment?
Actually, I am just always excited to be nominated and certainly to win. People often ask me what are the highlights of my life, I think to be part of that whole show is great. And certainly when you get nominated is great, but when you win that's even greater.
Who would be your dream collaborator onstage at the GRAMMYs?
That's a very good question. The other day I had a funny thought. In Nashville we have the Goo Goo Clusters, the chocolate-and-nut clusters that we're very famous for. So I represent those well and I send those out to people all the time, to Hollywood. And I was thinking maybe if me and Lady Gaga got together we could be Gaga and Goo Goo. That'd be good on the GRAMMYs, wouldn't it? "Here comes Gaga and Goo Goo."
How do you stay so relevant?
First of all, people are gonna always be people. They're gonna have the same thoughts, the same heartaches and everybody, no matter what's going on in the world, we have our true feelings, whether it's faith in God, faith in family, our love for one another, [or] our faith in children. And I just love life, I've kept a good attitude about it. Who knows why we're really here, so I figured we need to make the most of everything we can while we're here. And I always had just enough talent to get out there and make a living at it. I always said I had more guts than I had talent, but my mother's very musical and so I just wanted to make a career out of doing this. I just love people and I've always kind of allowed people to know me, and people think of me more as an aunt or a sister because they've grown up with me. And one of the reasons I have a lot of younger fans, a lot of the older ones have their children and they play records around home, they kind of grow up around me too. … So I've just always managed to be there on the job. I didn't want them to forget me so I tried to stay out front.
What was the "aha moment" on the album?
I called Jon Bon Jovi and asked if he'd be opposed [to] me [reworking] "Lay Your Hands On Me" and turning it into a gospel tune. And I called Richie Sambora, who was [a] co-writer on it, so we all three got together and everybody threw in their thoughts and ideas and they certainly condoned my thoughts and ideas. So that one was like, "This is going to be a big surprise to people." When I first heard that song years ago I thought, "Wow, that sounds so much like a gospel tune." That one was the "aha moment," like people are gonna be shocked when they hear this one.
What is your advice for new artists?
I try not to give advice, I try to pass on some information, if there's anything I can do. But I think it's true with everything, like those old sayings, "To thine own self be true," I really think there's so much in that. People really need to know who they are, what they really want and the strength of what their talent really is and I think you need to be willing to sacrifice for that if you have to. You've got to protect it, you've got to fight for it and if you really are that good and you really have that much faith in it, if you really stay in it all, chances are it will happen. If it doesn't, I've always said if you're really dreaming an impossible dream maybe you should know that it's OK to change dreams in the middle of stream.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)