Rock Around The World July 1977   21

At The Crossroads . • .

by Marc Shapiro

Dolly Parton in going through some changes.

Now to hit a rabid country music fan with a bombshell like that and then drop it is to court all kinds of horrible conjecture. So, in the interest of fair play, we’ll straighten out those rumors as well as let you in on the truth of this musical matter.

For openers Dolly hasn’t gone on a crash diet that’s reduced her celebrated proportions to skin and bones. No, she hasn’t traded in her platinum blonde wigs for a David Bowie brush cut. And an unequivical “no!” goes out to whoever it was that circulated the rumor that Dolly was going on tour with Kiss.

What Dolly has done, and rather successfully I might add, is take her own brand of country music and made it pallitable to people outside of the Nashville persuasion. For Dolly, these accommodations to mass acceptance have taken on many forms. In place of her often maligned “Traveling Family Band,” Dolly has assembled a slick but professional group of mainstream musicians called the “Gypsy Fever Band.” She’s switched over to some high powered management and, I kid you not, become a spirited oasis in the bland that is the television talk show circuit.

But, through all the image changing, Dolly Parton remains the powerful singer/songwriter whose emotional odes to life and love have garnered her every conceivable award for country music excellence. And in this area purists need not fear; while the instrumentation and the rock nature of some of Dolly’s songs seems designed with a pop audience in mind, the heart and soul of “New Harvest   First Gathering” remains in the Great Smokey Mountains of her birth.

“I want people to know there’s a lot more to me, good or bad, than they’ve seen so far. All I’m askin’ is a chance to prove it. Many of my friends are afraid I might be screwin’ up by going this route. And some people are afraid I might do too good. But I’ll never turn my back on the people who made me want to sing and write in the first place. I’m not leaving Nashville. Roots are important to me and my roots are there.”

Roots, in regards to Dolly Parton, go a lot further back than the mecca of country music. Dolly was born in Locust Ridge. Tennessee, and from year one people had the feeling that there was music in Dolly’s future.

Dolly began writing songs at age five. Her childhood musings were far from the tough times/simple pleasures attitude she would adopt in later life but here, in the truest sense of the word, was a beginning. These early signs flowered into church singing and appearances on local radio and highlighted Dolly’s creative growth during her wonder years.

Her pre-teen years saw Dolly move further into the world of song. By age ten Dolly was appearing regularly on the Cass Walker Show: one of the better things going on Knoxville television. An appearance, two years later, on the Grand Old Opry cemented her goals toward those of a performer and, upon graduation from high school, Dolly headed for Nashville to make her fortune.

Once in Nashville Dolly made the proverbial rounds before hooking up with Porter Wagoner for what many insiders considered a promising country duo. The coupling proved more fruitful as, in the ensuing years, the pair won every possible award for singing and songwriting. During this period Dolly’s ever maturing talents as a solo performer were also beginning to garner accolades. Her “Mule Skinner Blues” dented the country charts in 1970 and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy. In ’74 she was nominated for best female country singer by the Country Music Association.

In terms of her career 1974 stands out as a turning point in Dolly’s life. For that was the year she parted company with Wagoner and literally took the country charts by storm. Three of her compositions (“Jolene.” “I Will Always Love You” and “Love Is Like A Butterfly”) all went to the top of the country charts and began picking up attentive ears in the area of pop.

These early indications of strength in other but traditional country circles will doubtless be reinforced with the release of “New Harvest … First Gathering” as Dolly has managed to incorporate just the right elements of country and pop necessary for the widespread attraction she’s obviously after.

Dolly showcases her new sound rather effectively in her cover of Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl.” Her emotionally excited vocals play the perfect foil to a pleasant popish backing that instill in the listener the fact that Dolly’s version more than holds creative water.

A more biting stab at countrified blues is forthcoming on “Holdin’ On To You” as crisp picking and Dolly’s “white girl sings the blues” vocal refrains accent her abilities at mixing and matching influences.

A powerful counter to this new musical direction lies in an almost traditional country treatment of “You Are.” Granted, the instrumentation and certain aspects of Dolly’s vocals are indicative of a ’77 style. But beneath the glossy vincer there surfaces a kind of little girl sweetness that seems more at home on an Opry stage than in a cavernous 20,000 seater.”

All of which brings us back to Dolly Parton’s quest as an all encompassing superstar. She makes no bones about it. Dolly-wants the rock audience, the soul audience and every other following that’s there for the taking.

And by all indications it looks like she’s going to have her way. A

In a recent People Magazine interview Dolly was emphatic in stating that her search for superstardom had not resulted in the country being taken from the woman.