And now for something complete different: The country queen will be rock-and-rolling on her new album.
When they told Dolly Parton last year that she had been inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the country queen originally wanted to “respectfully bow out” of consideration for inclusion. As she explained in an NPR interview: “I just felt like I would be taking away from someone that maybe deserved it, certainly more than me, because I never considered myself a rock artist.”
But then she changed her tune. In more ways than one.
Dolly did indeed accept inclusion in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, joining such notable inductees as Eminem, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon, Eurythmics, Duran Duran and Pat Benatar. And since she was now officially a rocker, she decided it was altogether appropriate for her to record a rock album.
Some of Dolly Parton's most iconic outfits on display at Dolly! All Access, the Dolly Parton pop up store in Frisco, TX
"When they did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I wasn’t sure I should be in that. And then when they gave it to me anyhow, I thought well, I’m going to just do a rock-and-roll album," Parton said at a ribbon-cutting for her pop-up store in Frisco, Texas, ahead of the Academy of Country Music Awards show. "I get a kick out of it. I’m a rock star at 77 years old."
And that brings us to Rockstar, for which Dolly teamed up with an all-star roster of musicians for a 30-song collection that includes 9 original tracks and 21 iconic rock anthems. It’s set for global release Nov. 17 via Butterfly Records with distribution by Big Machine Label Group, and will be available as a 4-LP set, a 2-CD set, and digital download, and on all streaming services.
As legendary drummer and former Lynyrd Skynyrd member Artimus Pyle recently told us, Dolly will be rocking with “Free Bird” on Rockstar with backup from Gary Rossington and The Artimus Pyle Band). “She made [the song] her own, like Dolly does,” Pyle said. “She put her own spin on it. I mean from front to back. She doesn’t stop singing when the guitar solo comes in. She takes it right to the end, man. She ad-libs and does all this cool stuff with her backup singers. It sounds like a choir of angels has descended upon the guitar solo in ‘Free Bird.’ It’s utterly fantastic. Dolly knows a good song when she hears it. And she put her heart and soul into that because she knew Ronnie Van Zant as a singer-songwriter.”
Among the other superstars who sing classic hits with Dolly on the album: Peter Frampton (“Baby I Love Your Ways”), Elton John (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”), Steve Perry (“Open Arms”), Debbie Harry (“Heart of Glass”), John Forgerty (“Long as I Can See the Light”), Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (“Let It Be”).
The album includes 30 songs that fans can buy as a set of four vinyl records or CDs. “Somebody said, ‘Why in the hell did you do so many songs?’” Parton said at the pop-up store event. “And I said I want them to last many lifetimes,” she said, adding: “I figured I’ll never do another rock album.”
Parton said her husband loves rock music, and she was able to record some of his favorite songs, including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which she sings with Pink and Brandi Carlile.
At the Frisco press conference, Parton said her husband Carl Dean was a critic of a prior recording of a rock song.
Dolly Parton greeting fans on the opening of her Dolly! All Access pop up shop in Frisco, TX.
“A long time ago I did ‘Stairway to heaven,’” she said, but in a bluegrass style. “I said I was going to do ‘Stairway to Heaven’ because that’s his favorite song, because he loves Led Zeppelin.”
Dean's response? “He said, ‘Oh hell, don’t do ‘Stairway to Heaven’ because that’s just a classic, nobody should do that but Led Zeppelin,” Parton said, laughing. “I recorded it anyway, and played it for him, and he said that sounds more like Stairwell to Hell.” A new, rock-and-roll version of the song made the list for Parton's new album.
The lead track off Rockstar is the timely original “World on Fire,” which will be available Thursday, May 11, the same date as Dolly’s world premiere performance of the song at the ACM Awards.
“This is a song I felt very inspired to write,” Dolly said. “I think it speaks about everything and to everyone this day and time. I hope it is something that will touch you and maybe touch enough people to want to make a change for the better.”
Dolly! All Access in Frisco, TX will be available to the public until Sunday, May 14.
Elizabeth Souder contributed to this story.
Images of Parton's Dolly! All Access courtesy of Olivia Sutton.