Dolly Parton reflects on career, new album

World Tour for 'Blue Smoke' comes to Cherokee May 25
By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Apr 30, 2014

Country legend Dolly Parton will be making a stop at Harrah’s Cherokee on May 25 as part of her world tour to promote her new album “Blue Smoke.”

“Blue Smoke,” Parton’s 43rd studio album, will be released May 13 and features everything from bluegrass, old mountain music, classic country and even covers of Bon Jovi and Bob Dylan songs.

“I wanted all the colors of my career on this album,” Parton said during a recent media call. “It also gave me a chance to work with the same musicians I’ve been performing with on my road show, which is even nicer because we can get excited together knowing we get to perform them live.”

Every song on the album has a story behind it and means something special for Parton, who has been writing her own songs throughout her musical career. “Banks of the Ohio” is an old world song her mother used to sing when Parton was a child. While the song is about a man who killed his girlfriend because she wouldn’t marry him, but Parton said she added a different perspective to the song.

“It was written from a man’s perspective, but I wrote a little intro like I was a journalist going into prison to talk to this man to make it so more women can sing it in the future,” she said.

The album’s title track is a title Parton has been carrying around in her pocket for many years. While she thought it would make a great name for a bluegrass band, the imagery ended up inspiring her to write a song about traveling on a train to leave the past behind.

Parton has always enjoyed taking popular rock songs and making them her own. In 2001, she turned Collective Soul’s hit “Shine” into a bluegrass tune, which went on to earn her a Grammy.

This time around, she did a simple cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and put a completely new spin on Bon Jovi’s rock anthem “Lay Your Hands on Me.” At first glance, the song lyrics are provocative, but Parton heard something else.

“I thought what a wonderful idea for a gospel song,” she said.

She contacted the songwriters Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora who were happy to let Parton put her bluegrass and gospel spin on the song.

“We’re all proud of it. It’s usually a good closing number because it’s so inspirational and uplifting,” she said.

Of course no Dolly album would be complete without a couple of duets with country legends. “Blue Smoke” features “From Here to the Moon and Back” with Willie Nelson and “You Can’t Make Old Friends” with Kenny Rogers.

“Singing with Willie is one of the hardest jobs anybody will ever have,” Parton said, adding it was hard for the two artists to be in sync because they both have unusual phrasing while singing.

“I told him ‘you may have to send me some of that dope you’ve been smoking so I can keep up with you,’” she joked. “But it turned out OK I think.”

But singing “You Can’t Make Old Friends” with Rogers came easy to Parton because they really are old friends.

“We know each other like a book and we sing really good together,” she said.

“Try” is another song Parton is very proud of because it is the theme song for her Imagination Library Literacy program that supplies books for children from birth to kindergarten.

“The song is about trying. It’s based on relatives who couldn’t read and write and I saw how crippling that was,” Parton said.  “The first book children receive is “The Little Engine That Could’ and “I’m a little engine who did so I’m very personally involved with and very proud of this song.”

Parton said song writing has always been her favorite part of putting out an album, and she can find inspiration just about anywhere she looks. Ideas come to her in the middle of the night, on tour or simply having lunch with her nieces.

“I carry a notepad with me everywhere and a recorder so I don’t forget a melody,” she said. “… I take off two weeks to write and go to my old mountain home or my lake house to get in the spirit and write, write, write. “Then I take off my long acrylic nails so I can strum the guitar.”

But Parton also enjoys recording and getting out on the road to perform for her loyal fans.

“Touring is better now because I’ve already built an audience so I don’t have to worry if anyone will show up,” she joked.  “I still enjoy it as much as I did in the old days.”

Looking back over her career, Parton is proud of all that she has accomplished because she knows how much hard work she put into it.

“The older you get you really start to reflect on so many things and how fortunate I have been to see my dreams come true,” she said. “There’s far more talented people than me that worked just as hard and didn’t make it big. But here I am at 68 years old, but I still feel like a little girl. I still have dreams and I hope to be doing this for another 30 years.”

To purchase tickets for her upcoming show at Harrah’s Cherokee, visit www.harrahscherokee.com.

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