Dolly Parton Reveals How a Tiny Doll Inspired Her First Song
Image attributed to Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is the most honored female country performer of all time. She has garnered 11 Grammy Awards, including the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All-inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, paid digital downloads and compilation usage during her Hall of Fame career have reportedly topped a staggering 100 million records worldwide.
Parton’s career has spanned nearly five decades and is showing no signs of slowing down. An internationally-renowned superstar, she has contributed countless treasures to the worlds of music, film and television. Some of her hit films have included Nine to Five, Steel Magnolias, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Rhinestone, Straight Talk and Joyful Noise. Parton received two Oscar nominations – one for writing the title tune to Nine to Five and the other for “Traveling Thru” from the film Transamerica.
"When I’m on stage, I love that feeling I get from the audience."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s your secret to remaining active and vibrant?
Dolly Parton: (laughs) It’s just natural. You know, I was born with a lot of energy. It’s a good thing that I have something to channel it into or I’d probably drive everyone crazy. When I’m on stage, I love that feeling I get from the audience.
When I feel that energy coming back, it just goes through me like fire. Then I put it right back out. So we have kind of a little love fest, and it takes me hours to come down from a show because I’m so energized. I love what I do, and it’s always energizing to me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It’s interesting, Dolly, that you started writing at seven years old. Was that a song, story or poem, and what was it about?
Dolly Parton: The first song I ever wrote … I didn’t write it. I just made it up, and my momma wrote it down. I didn’t remember it ‘til years later. But it was about a little cob doll that I had that momma had made a little dress for out of the corn shucks. We used to grow our own corn, and daddy would take it to the mill, so we had all these cobs where we’d have to take all the corn off. So we made homemade toys.
I had this little doll that I loved, and her name was Tassel-top. Momma put the corn silk back on her for her hair. I had written this song, and I remembered it years later when momma said I would sing this little song: “Little tiny Tassel-top, you’re the only friend I got, big brown eyes and corn silk hair, how you make me smile. Little tiny Tassel-top, I love you an awful lot, hope you never go away. I want you to stay.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are your two favorite songs of all the ones you’ve written?
Dolly Parton: You know, your songs are like your children. At least, my songs are because I expect them to support me when I’m old (laughs). Some of them will, and some of them already have. “I Will Always Love You” just goes on decade after decade. I’m very proud of “Jolene.” It’s just a fun, easy song. “Coat of Many Colors” is really about home and momma and daddy, and it’s also a personal favorite.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What's the story behind “From Here to the Moon and Back"?
Dolly Parton: “From Here to the Moon and Back” is a song I wrote for Joyful Noise, a movie I did with Queen Latifah a few years back. When Willie Nelson decided he was going to do an album with a lot of the female artists in the business called “All the Girls I Loved,” or whatever he called them, he asked if I’d sing on it, and I said, “Of course!” There’s no other way you’re going to get all these other girls and leave me out of it. I asked, “What do you want to sing?”
Willie said, “Well, you’re a songwriter. I want to do something of yours.” And I asked him, “Do you have something in mind?” He said, “Somebody played me a song you wrote called ‘From Here to the Moon and Back,’ and I think I could play some really hot guitar licks on that, so if you’re up for us doing that one, then we’ll do that one.” I said, “I’m totally up for that ‘cause when I was writing the song, I really thought that it was going to be one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You wear such bright colors and sequined vests. How did you develop the “Dolly” look?
Dolly Parton: I patterned my look after the town tramp (laughs). But that’s a girl’s idea of glamour because I wanted to have my hair blonder. I was a blonde kid, but it was dishwater blonde, and I wanted radiant blonde. I wanted to have lipstick, and I used pokeberry stains for lipstick when I was a kid and burnt matches to make my eyebrows and beauty marks and all that.
I’m not a natural beauty, and you know I have to make the most of everything I got. How I dress and what I wear is how I feel most comfortable, and that’s when I do my best work. If I’m comfortable with me, people are comfortable around me even though they may say, “God you been wearing that all day” and what not (laughs). But I understand all that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have been married for over 50 years! What’s the secret to a successful union?
Dolly Parton: You gotta be close. You gotta be friends. You gotta share things. And you got to not be in each other’s face all the time, so don’t think you have to be in each other’s face all the time (laughs). Give it a little space, and give it a little respect. Respect the other person, and make a lot of love.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Has your faith in God carried you through the turbulent times?
Dolly Parton: Oh yes. I really have a lot of faith. I think if you got faith, things just kind of happen. I just feel like I have been so blessed by God and that he had a purpose for me, and I always tried to be on guard to not miss any cues from him.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What life lessons do you share with young people who want to embark on a career in music?
Dolly Parton: Well, first of all you’ve got to find out for sure if you have the talent. You’ve got to have real talent, and then if you do, you need a plan. You need to find the right people to help you. But more than anything, you have to stay grounded in who you are. You have a better chance if you really have the talent, work hard and pray hard. I think, through God, all things are possible.
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