Originally published in the July 28, 1998 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
When Dolly Parton decided to record her new album, Hungry Again, she went back to the basics — her Tennessee mountain home.
“This wasn’t something that I needed to do for money,” Dolly says. “This was something I needed to do for me. It was my music that started it all. It’s what means the most to me.”
But when she went back home to write, she took the album’s title literally — Dolly fasted for three weeks in preparation.
“It wasn’t all that different for me,” she says, slipping off her trademark stilettos and curling up in a chair in her Nashville office. “I have fasted off and on all my life, for spiritual reasons and to lose weight when I’ve been heavier.
“So that part was not that hard. I fasted for three weeks. I did a juice-and-fruit fast for the first week, to get myself into it. On the second week, I had nothing but water. Then the third week, I had juices again.
“I just needed to know what I needed to be doing. Not just about my music, but also about my life — what I had accomplished at my age, what I had hoped to accomplish, what I wanted to do. It was lonely, but it was sweet.”
Dolly says all of the songs on Hungry Again, to be released on August 25, are autobiographical — but only to a point.
“Everything in this album is bits and pieces of me,” she says. “I take the liberty to make it a better story. Every song I write has something to do with what I or someone close to me has lived, felt, seen or done. When the ideas come and I sit down with that guitar, I don’t question what I’m writing about. I just write it.”
Dolly points to “Blue Valley Songbird,” a story song about a young singer/songwriter who leaves a troubled homelife to follow her dreams.
“With this song, everybody wants to believe that this is my true story — that I ran away from home and my father molested me. That’s not true. My father was a good daddy. But I know a lot of people who have been molested.
“So I took things that were a part of other people’s lives and put them with parts of my life. ‘Blue Valley Songbird’ is about a girl from Tennessee. I made her up, but she had so many pieces of me.”
“Hungry Again” was the first song written for the album.
“I didn’t know that I was going to call the album that,” Dolly says. “It wasn’t until after I was over the headaches of fasting and kind of settled into the fact that I wasn’t going to be eating.
“Then it’s almost like you’re high — like you’re on a drug of some kind. I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and couldn’t sleep. I sat down, started singing and it all started coming:
The thrill of desire, the excitement is gone
Let’s love like we’re hungry again
“I went home thinking, ‘I want to write like I’m hungry again and sing like I’m hungry again. I want to live like I’m hungry again.’ When this song came to me, I thought, ‘How many people feel this way? You’ve got a big fine home, all these great clothes, beautiful kids, a great job, and yet you’re not good in bed anymore. There’s no passion. There’s no desire. You’ve spent so much time trying to make it.’
“I could relate to that to many degrees with everybody I know in business who’s been so busy working. They haven’t taken the time to be passionate or affectionate or gentle and kind.”
The first single, “Why Don’t More Women Sing Honky Tonk Songs,” is vintage Dolly.
“We picked ‘Honky Tonk Songs’ because everybody thought it was so commercial,” Dolly says. “They thought it would be like a woman’s anthem. I only wrote it because I thought, ‘Why don’t women write and sing more honky tonk songs? Why don’t people write more songs about women who are hurt and busted open? Are they not allowed to go down the bar and have a few beers to forget it? But it’s fine for a man to do it?’
“I love that song because I get to bring Hank and George Jones and Haggard into it with the lyrics. I’m trying to tie the old in with the new. I had fun doing it.”
Dolly also had fun shooting the video for the song at Robert’s Western Wear, a bar and boot store in downtown Nashville. In the clip, Dolly has been left for a girl half her age and she catches her ex with his new love in a bar.
“I wanted a young girl, not just a guy, in the video,” Dolly says. “I wanted to show how pretty she was so you could understand why he would leave me — and so you could understand why I’d slap him, because there was no way I was getting him back. So I said, ‘Get somebody beautiful.’
The storyline called for Dolly to slap the actor playing her ex — to the delight of onlookers. But she didn’t really slap him.
“It was awkward, really,” she admits. “I pretended that I was going to slap him. I said, ‘I don’t want to slap him. I’m going to be criticized for being in a bar, for there being alcohol there.
“Then if I hit a guy, too, it’s like ‘There goes Dollywood.’ So I said, ‘Let’s just pretend I’m going to slap him and then I’ll pinch his cheek.’ “
Dolly recorded Hungry Again in a back-to-basics manner — in the basement studio of her first cousin, Richie Owens.
“I used to babysit Richie,” Dolly remembers. “Richie’s daddy used to run my publishing company, so he cut his teeth on my songs. I had never worked with Richie musically, but I knew he was the one. I thought I’d keep it in the family, keep it close and where it’s understood.”
Recording in the basement was quite different than a high-tech Nashville studio.
“It wasn’t as slick,” Dolly says. “It wasn’t as ‘professional.’ Richie’s a great engineer and he has decent equipment, but it’s still just an old basement studio. Richie’s three kids were running around upstairs, banging around and dropping things.
“Everything that was happening was so real to me. We didn’t holler upstairs and say, ‘Everybody shut up! We’re fixing to cut down here.’ I said, ‘Let everything that happens, happen.’
“Richie said, ‘Maybe we should go to a studio.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to. I want us to do it here. I want to be here with your family, which is my family.’ It happened so naturally.
“We didn’t have to go through a bunch of people. I only had to work with Richie. He produced it with me and engineered it. He understands what I’m saying. Like on ‘The Camel’s Heart,’ for instance. I wanted it to have a desert kind of sound that makes you think of camels. He knew what I meant and knew what needed to be done to get that sound. It was great. I love the album, in case you haven’t picked up on that.”
Dolly also loves her husband of 32 years, Carl Dean. Their secrets for a happy marriage?
“I think it’s the fact that we’re not in the same business,” she says. “We’re not competitive in any way. He’s got his world and I’ve got mine, and together we’ve got our world. We’re good friends, we’re very understanding and sensitive.
“We don’t argue because we don’t like harsh words. It takes us both too long to get over something. The worst we say is, ‘Oh, why don’t you kiss my butt’ or ‘Why don’t you go somewhere for a little while.’ And the other one usually won’t say anything back at that time.”
Dolly and Carl prefer the simple life.
“We’ve always had a camper, and it’s set up inside with a little generator,” she says. “We like going out to our lake house and sitting on the porch. We go out on the boat a lot. We’re big on picnics. We love traveling. We love finding old abandoned farms and houses. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
“We’re not the kind to hop on a plane and go to Baja or Hawaii.”
Dolly — singer/songwriter/actress/author — has just one goal for the future.
“I want to be doing the same thing — just more of it!” she says. “I want to be writing and singing and making records. I want to be doing television specials. I want Dollywood to be amazing.
“I’m still looking for a great TV series. And I’d like to be doing some movies — like Shirley MacLaine — when I’m older. I’m old enough now, but I’m kind of in-between. I’m a little too young to do the old parts and a little too old to do the young parts.
“I’ve always wanted to do an album with Chet Atkins — just him playing and me singing. I want to do a duet album with Alison Krauss — like a Louvin Brothers kind of thing. I’d like to do more things like I did with Tammy and Loretta, or Emmylou and Linda.”
In fact, you can expect a follow-up to Dolly’s Trio album with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. “We did it four years ago, but we never did put it out because of some scheduling problems we had at the time. But it’s finally coming out, probably in the spring of next year.”
Dolly reminisces about the special times she shared with country legends who are gone, such as Tammy Wynette
“I remember many things about Tammy because we were girlfriends,” she says. “Tammy and I were always swapping makeup and perfumes. When she was in the hospital, she would always send for me because she wore a lot of makeup like me. She’d want me to come see her and kind of paint her up a little bit.
“Roy Acuff was like a daddy to me. He was to so many people. When I first came to Nashville, many times he would hand me money out of his pocket and say, ‘Here, young’un, you probably haven’t even eaten good today.’ He felt very protective of me, like he needed to help.
“But you know, we can’t all live forever. We lose them and then we treasure them. We make the most of the contributions that they’ve left behind. So we never really lose them.”
As for today’s new singers, Dolly has a few favorites. “I love the ones who especially love me!” she says, teasing. “I love Alison Krauss’ voice — I guess because I relate to that voice. That’s very much the way I sing. And I love Lee Ann Womack’s singing. And of course I think LeAnn Rimes is just terrific.
“I like real heartfelt singers.”