- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dolly Parton knows a good investment when she sees one, and these days, she sees one in the mirror.

Miss Parton, whose business portfolio includes a theme park and an entertainment production company, says she’s spending a lot of her own money trying to get back on country radio with her new CD, “Backwoods Barbie.”

“I’m looking at it like an investment,” she said recently. “I thought, ‘I’ve made enough money. I can afford to invest a little in myself.’ ”

For the first time, she self-released the disc on her own label, Dolly Records, and hired a seven-member promotion team.

The dozen tracks, nine of which she wrote, are her most accessible in 15 years after a trio of bluegrass albums, a collection of patriotic songs and a covers record.

“I purposely tailor-made this to try to get some hits,” Miss Parton explains. “I would have done this all along, but I couldn’t get anything going and had to resort to other music I loved.”

The album reached No. 2 on Billboard in its second week, her best showing in 17 years.

However, the first single, “Better Get to Livin’,” a country-pop song she describes as sonically similar to Keith Urban’s work, sputtered at No. 48.

“The problem with that song is that it had big neutral scores,” says John Hart, a Nashville-based market researcher who tested it in 20 cities. “It never turned up any real appeal to any of the age groups.”

The second single, “Jesus & Gravity,” a gospel-flavored tune in the vein of recent faith-based chart-toppers “Jesus, Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood and “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn, is just arriving on radio.

“With the right song, Dolly can absolutely have a hit record,” Mr. Hart says. “There is an awareness of her and a fondness for her.”

Indeed, at 62, Miss Parton remains an icon. During a recent interview at her office, she wore a purple dress and clear high-heeled shoes with her trademark wig and deep cleavage. She joked and laughed and told stories, and you got the feeling she would have a played a song or two if a guitar had been handy.

“I never did it for the money. I always believed that if I did it as good as I hoped, I would make plenty of money. But I’d still do it if I didn’t make any money at it,” she says.

She began in the late 1960s as Porter Wagoner’s duet partner and built a long and successful recording career that she parlayed into movie roles, business ventures and philanthropic programs.

Her Dollywood theme park in her native East Tennessee ranks among the top tourist attractions in the state. Her children’s literacy program, Imagination Library, is in 46 states, Canada and the United Kingdom. Her entertainment company, Sandollar Productions, has produced hit TV shows including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as well as the “Father of the Bride” films.

At times, she has been ranked among the wealthiest female entertainers in the world.

“I don’t think there’s anything that woman can’t do,” says rising country star and “American Idol” finalist Kellie Pickler, who calls Miss Parton her greatest influence. “She just walks into a room and lights it up. She’s got that ‘it’ factor that money can’t buy. She’s the whole package.”

Miss Parton is flattered to be cited by young artists but says it makes her feel a little old. Music Row began to lose interest in her in the 1990s as a new crop of country stars emerged. Her last Top 5 hit, “Rockin’ Years,” was in 1991, and she hasn’t had a major-label record deal in 10 years.

“When it changed, I was still as serious as ever and was thinking I’m still as good as ever, if I ever was any good,” she remarks, flashing the self-deprecating humor that’s as much a part of her persona as the heavy makeup and gaudy get-ups. (Her famous quip: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”)

In recent years, she has watched with interest as new technology has created opportunities without the big labels.

“Now the majors are what they used to think I was: history,” she says. “Everything is going in a new direction. Why not jump on that bandwagon?”

With the new album, she pulls from many phases of her career, from old-school country to blues, pop and gospel. She rounds it out with a pair of cover songs, the ‘80s pop hit “She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals and the Smokey Robinson classic “The Tracks of My Tears.”

Miss Parton was set to start a tour in February but had to postpone because of back problems (“I’m saying I bent over to pick up a lucky penny and my luck ran out,” she cracks.)

Although still a little sore, Miss Parton says she’s feeling better and rehearsing again. She’ll kick off her tour March 28 in Los Angeles and continue into August.

If she can return to radio, it wouldn’t be the first time a country veteran has rebounded from a long dry spell. One of her popular duet partners, Kenny Rogers, hit No. 1 in 1999 with “Buy Me a Rose” after a decade away from the Top 10.

“I don’t want to wait until I’m dead for my music to become important,” Miss Parton says. “I want it to happen while I’m living because I’m living it every day.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide