No, not Gram Parsons. Not even Elvis Presley (though if you don’t consider Elvis to be the epitome of ‘Americana’ then I will fight you right now). Dolly Rebecca Parton (of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee) has written, played and performed it all. And I’m prepared to fight you right now about that too.
From the late 1960s through to the mid-1970s Dolly wrote and recorded some extraordinary songs – Jolene, Coat of Many Colours, Tennessee Mountain Home and others. All of this whilst also being the ‘girl singer’ for the brightly suited, bleak and controlling Porter Wagoner. It made for good music, but difficult interpersonal relations. Porter deserves his own write up too, even if he only ever released The Rubber Room, that’s a revelation in itself.
However, I’m digressing here. For a decade or so, Dolly was a global superstar – the music was mainstream pop schmaltz and mostly forgettable. But Dolly came from a dirt poor, mountain folk Bluegrass background and she can effortlessly return to it too – listen to Little Sparrow and see if you disagree, you soul-less swine!
Don’t discount Trio either – two wonderful records made with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. These three were retro-cool before retro cool even existed. Nine Grammy awards suggest that Dolly’s got quite the grip on what good ‘country’ music should sound like. And like many other great country acts, she’s an endearingly not very good actor (see also Kristofferson, Nelson & Cash). Did I forget to mention that Dolly’s supported childhood literacy across the world with her Imagination Library, providing millions of high-quality educational books for children under school age, irrespective of their family economic status.
Damn! I nearly forgot about Dollywood, where she’s ploughed millions into a surprisingly enjoyable theme park (I’ve been!), employing thousands back home in Pigeon Forge and creating a thriving mini-economy in the Smoky Mountains. Dolly is a stone cold legend. She’s a septuagenarian now, but isn’t retiring any time soon.
The canon 50 studio albums (consisting of 46 solo studio albums, two studio albums with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, one studio album with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette and one studio album with Kenny Rogers), six live albums, five soundtrack albums, one extended play and approximately 183 compilation albums worldwide.
Key Release(s) 1973’s ‘Tennessee Mountain Home’ album, 1974’s ‘Jolene’, 1999’s ‘The Grass Is Blue’.