Dolly Parton on the election: ‘We could use more boobs in the race’

In a changing world, the country star is a constant, cheering presence: I try every day to leave something in this world that is a little better and a bit brighter

Dolly Parton is back on the road. The legendary singer-songwriter and theme park impresario is in the middle of her first full North American tour in 25 years and next month releases a back-to-basics album of new songs, Pure and Simple (I dont know how pure I am, but Im pretty simple, she characteristically declared at the press conference to launch it).

At 70, she is now slowing down. Once this tour ends in December, she says she plans to jump into a television producer role to guide a forthcoming NBC series about her early life. Last week she spoke by phone about the tour, her career, and her eternal positivity.

You recently said in the New York Times you would be endorsing Hillary Clinton.

No, I did not say that. That was a misquote. I have not endorsed Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Someone asked me, Would I think about a woman being president? I was saying that I think a woman would be great, Im sure Hillary would be fine. I have not endorsed either candidate. I was only saying I might run myself because I have the hair for it, its huge. And I think we could use more boobs in the race. I do not get involved in political things. I have not decided who I am voting for.

Dolly Parton in concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center, New Jersey, in June. Photograph: ddp USA/REX/Shutterstock
This is your first full North American tour in 25 years. What will people expect?

We try to do a little something for everybody. I try to be as entertaining as I can be. But we do of course all of the hits that people expect me to do 9 to 5, I Will Always Love You, Two Doors Down, Jolene. And then of course I do my family segment. Where I talk about my family and do a lot of the songs from back home and reminisce. We do some gospel stuff. I try to be funny.

The name of our tour is Pure and Simple. Because we really have a very small band. I broke it down more than I ever done since the early days. On the Pure and Simple album, theyre all songs Ive written, all love songs. Ive been married 50 years this past year to my husband Carl Dean, so I thought it would be a good time to do an album of love songs. But theyre also pure in nature and pretty simple. A lot of them sound like the very old records I used to record long ago that I think some of my true fans will appreciate.

Loretta Lynn has had great success with Jack White and he has talked about his wish to work with you. Have you met with him?

Well, I love him to death. [The White Stripes] did one of the greatest versions ever of Jolene. I had a chance to have dinner with Jack in LA not long ago and we talked about the possibility of someday down the road that we may get together to do something. I havent had time to sit down and really focus with someone else on an album. But he would be someone wonderful. And I think we would make some beautiful music together.

What is the difference between you and the image you present publicly?

I think Im pretty much the same. Im really as talky behind the scenes as I am out on the stage. I just bear my heart on my sleeve and I say whats in my heart and whats on my mind. And people have come to know me for the last fiftysomething years like that. I dont believe I have too many big secrets. I do love people and I think thats from being brought up in a big family. I work harder at some things than others, but my personality is the same.

Is there one instrument you rely on the most to write songs?

I play quite a few instruments, a lot of mountain instruments the banjo, the autoharp, the dulcimer. It depends on what Im writing. I use the guitar mostly. But if I really want to get into some old-timey sounds, Ill get out of my country instruments like that and write with them. I do write some at the piano, and sometimes it lets my mind go freer. I write with different instruments but sometimes I write with no instruments.

Do you see yourself as an early feminist in country music as many do?

I think a lot of people relate to me because of my rural background. A lot of people were brought up kind of hard. Because they know I came from very humble beginnings with a lot of grief and a lot of guts. Being a girl on top of that, you have to be strong. I grew up in a family of six brothers and all my uncles and my dad. So I always had a great respect and understanding of men. But I had a lot of power because of my six sisters, my mother and my grandmother. So Im a very rounded-out person.


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Dolly Parton onstage circa 1977. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

How do you assess how women are faring on country radio where many have complained you dont hear a lot of women?

Actually I think we have a lot of wonderful female artists in the business today. Im really proud of them, too. I have always been proud to be a woman. And Ive always been treated well. Of course wed like to be played [on the radio] all the time. We certainly should be respected and appreciated for our talent like anybody else. And I think we are.

Is there one song that you are proudest of writing?

Coat of Many Colors [from 1971] is the song thats closest to my heart. It means more to me for so many different reasons. Its about mama, its about an attitude and a philosophy and covers a lot of territory, even bullying. But I love some of my love songs from my old albums like [1970s] Down from Dover, which has always been one of my favorites. It never was a single or a hit. But it was just a story song that I loved.

Youre also one of the few country music stars with a strong LGBT following.

Well, I dont really know why for sure. Im just happy it is. Ive often said people dont come to see me to see me, they come to see me to see them.

Ive been around so long, so a lot of people grew up with me. I feel more like a family member or an aunt or an older sister or a friend. They know Im a little different myself. Ive fought for the right to be myself, so that is one of the reasons that the gays and lesbians relate to me. They know that I appreciate everybody for who they are. We are who we are, so why cant we be allowed to be that? I aint out to preach no sermons, Im just out to do my work, sing my songs and write them, and love people and share them.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Dolly Parton and Katy Perry perform Coat Of Many Colors at the 51st annual Academy of Country Music Awards in April. Photograph: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

In 2014 you said you were working on a dance album geared toward the LGBT community. Is that still in the works?

Every time I start to work on that, something else comes up, like this big tour. Ill have to put that dance album on the shelf again. But one day I promise you I will get that out. One of the songs is Im a Wee Bit Gay. Its a fun, tongue-in-cheek type of song. I promise Ill get it out.

Even people who may not know your music will know you for your irrepressibly upbeat personality. How do you account for that?

I love what I do. I have the freedom to work. I try every day to leave something in this world that is a little better and a bit brighter. I ask God everyday. Im not a religious person, but Im very spiritual. I see so much darkness in this world. I just want to be some sort of light. I want to do something to lift the spirits of somebody.

I get down like everybody else. Im a very sensitive person. So things will hurt me. But I try to have a good attitude. If I get down, I try to get up as quick as I can and bring everybody else up with me.

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