Q: You’ve come a long way from Locust Ridge, Tennessee. Can you still claim to be backwoods?
A: Yes, and proud of it. I stay close to my roots and my family. I never want to forget any part of it. I’m still just a hillbilly at heart, thus a Backwoods Barbie.
Q: Congratulations on your new album. You wrote the bulk of the material and it occurs to me that a lot of folks might not realize that you’re such an accomplished songwriter. Tell me how you go about it. Do you compose with instruments in hand? What comes first, the words or the music? Is it a difficult process?
A: It happens every which away. Sometimes I start with a great title or idea, sometimes a great melody will run through my mind; but the higher percentage of the time, the words and music pretty much come at the same time.
Q: You also do a good job on other people’s songs, such as recent concert covers of Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”. How do you decide whether a song would work for you? Are there any that you’ve considered that didn’t turn out to be as good a fit?
A: I usually know before I record them if they’re going to work for me because I sing along with them and work on them beforehand. So I pretty much know before I tackle them in the studio. Some, of course, are better than others, but they all work.
Q: I’m impressed with the number of instruments that you play in the course of a concert. How do you find the time to practice on them to stay sharp? Which one is your favorite?
A: Well, it’s just for show. I’m not that great at any of them. The guitar is my favorite and the one, I guess, I’m best at. But I play enough of the different instruments to be able to write with them and to, hopefully, to make myself look impressive on stage.
Q: Your new album “Backwoods Barbie” comes after several very well received recordings of bluegrass oriented material. Looking back on your albums for the Sugar Hill label, did re-exploring bluegrass and acoustic music help freshen your appreciation and perspective for the more country oriented songs on your new album?
A: I’m very proud of all the bluegrass oriented albums. It just reminded me and my fans that I should always record acoustic music and country records, along with anything else that I might want to do.
Q: The title song from “Backwoods Barbie” affirms an especially endearing aspect of your career, that you seem to be incredibly in tune with the image of the audience of Dolly Parton. While the image may not exactly be the same for every fan, you seem confident enough to joke about it as well as celebrate. Do you think staying in control and on top of your public image has been one of the keys to the longevity of your career?
A: Well, who’s to say what will or won’t work. I just try to be true to myself and look the way that I’m comfortable looking. Because if I’m comfortable with me, then you’re going to be comfortable with me as well.
Q: How many of the new songs do you do in your current show? Is there one that works particularly well?
A: I do several of the new songs. I do “Shinola” and it works really, really good. Also “Backwoods Barbie” and “Only Dreamin'” get a good response.
Q: You’ve had both an amazing music and acting career. Which do you enjoy more, performing on stage in concert or performing in a studio for a television or movie?
A: Well, I enjoy all of the above. But the thing that I enjoy the most is the thing that you left out, songwriting.
Q: You have been such a popular and successful concert artist for so many years that one can only assume you wouldn’t still be touring if you didn’t still enjoy it. Can you please try to describe the feel you get out of performing for an audience today?
A: Well, I am addicted to the love and the energy that I receive from the crowd. But it’s a fair exchange. I love them and give them every ounce of energy that I have as well. So I guess you could say that we feed off one another.
Q: You’ve made a few appearances on “Hannah Montana”. I understand you are the Godmother of Miley Cyrus. The shows always look like a lot of fun. Have you gotten any feedback or feel like your appearance on the show has garnered you a few younger fans?
A: Well, yes, I am amazed at the response of my being on the show. Everywhere I go, every young person points at me and says “Hi, Aunt Dolly”. Or “Are you Aunt Dolly?” I love doing the show and I love Miley and Billy Ray. I am proud to be her honorary Godmother.
Q: In 2007 three of your finest early 70’s albums, “Coat of Many Colors”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Jolene”, all of which were produced by Bob Ferguson, were reissued on CD. That made me wonder if there is an album you have recorded at any point in your career that stands for any reason at all as a potential favorite.
A: For what it’s worth, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” gets my vote. “My Tennessee Mountain Home” is definitely one of my favorites. And my first album after I left the “Porter Wagoner Show” was called “New Harvest First Gathering”, so I have a very, very special feeling toward that one as well.
Q: I guess the back problems didn’t exactly shut people up, did it?
A: Oh, people have to talk and I have to let them. I am fine, and I’m not dead either. (That was a rumor going around recently.)
Q: It seems there isn’t much you haven’t yet done (movies, music, television, running a theme park); but is there still something else you’re really hoping to accomplish?
A: Yes, I’d love to develop and star in my own children’s show, write children’s books, do children’s albums, movies, DVD’s, etc.
Q: To what do you credit your longevity in the music business?
A: Staying in it, staying on it, never losing momentum and hopefully having talent.
Q: What has been the highlight of your professional life?
A: Every success in my life has been a highlight, from becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry to being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, having Dollywood (my theme park) be a success, having my first movie “9 to 5” be such a success and lately being able to write all the music for it for Broadway. The list goes on and on. I’m very grateful and thankful for all of it.
Q: I wanted to ask you a question about being a female performer in country music. What do you think about the new group of female country singers, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Gretchen Wilson and the others?
A: I think there are so many great girl singers in this business. And I’m happy that they’re all doing great. Unlike some people that just make great records but don’t have the voice, all the people that you mentioned are fabulous singers. Some of them are great writers, too.
Q: As a follow-up, do you think it’s still hard for women to get a fair shake in mainstream country music?
A: They are rarely nominated in the best entertainer category, which is dominated by men. I think that women are actually being accepted very well these days. And I’m very proud of that fact. I think that the women would be nominated more as entertainer of the year if they did more of the big production shows that some of the guys and male groups are doing. I know Reba did it and I did it. I’m sure they can, too, and I’m sure they will be acknowledged as time goes by.
Q: How has country changed since you’ve been gone?
A: First of all, I’ve never been gone. Country is as country does, which is the title of a song that I wrote with Mac Davis. And that’s exactly what I think, country is as country does. I think country music will always be going through changes. It always has been and always will be, in one form or another. I’m just proud to be part of any or all of it.
Q: Do you get to go out at night when it’s just you?
A: Well, why in the world would I want to go out at night with just me? What fun would that be? (Ha!) Seriously though, I do go out. I go when and where I want to. I know what to expect. But I really only like to go out at night to dinner. I never was a party doll, I just look like one.
Q: Musically you’ve bounced around and “Backwoods Barbie” is your first mainstream country album in seventeen years. Why come back?
A: As I mentioned, I never left. I love doing all kinds of things. I have a wide variety of fans, mostly because I’ve been brave enough to try other things. I’ve gained fans from all fields of music as well as being in the movies. I’m glad that I can be a part of all of it. I love being able to come and go as I please. And I’m dead serious about all of it.
Q: This is not a question, but I love the movie “Smokey Mountain Christmas”. It’s one of my favorite holiday films. It doesn’t get much better than that at Christmas time.
A: Well, thank you. It was fun. And I hope to do more children’s movies, especially Christmas ones.
Q: A question specific to central Florida. Any plans to re-open the Orlando Dixie Stampede?
A: Not at this time.
Q: “9 to 5: the Musical” just debuted and goes to Broadway in the spring. What did you think of what you saw on stage in LA?
A: I was proud of it. I think with the necessary changes, tweaking and tightening it up a bit, it will be ready for Broadway in April 2009.
Q: You wrote the music for it. Where were you going with it? What did you want it to be?
A: I wanted it to be all that it could be. I wanted it to be what the story called for. I wanted each song to fit each character perfectly and fit the story line as well. And to have the songs be singable and memorable.
Q: Who are you listening to?
A: Right now, I’m listening to you. The rest of the time I’m listening to me. Well, I do listen to God for direction, but I really don’t have time to listen to other artists all that much.
Q: What’s on your TIVO?
A: What’s a TIVO? Seriously, the answer to that is the same as the question before.
Q: Finally, what’s the audience in Jacksonville going to see on October 21st?
A: Well, they’ll see me. And they’ll see the Mighty Fine Band. And a collection of their favorite songs like “Jolene”, “9 to 5”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Coat of Many Colors”, several new songs from the “Backwoods Barbie” CD, some gospel songs and lots of blabbin’ from me. Hopefully enough stuff that we all have a real good time, so come see us.