“I guess we’re making more news!” Dolly Parton says with a delighted giggle as she hops on the phone for an exclusive interview with Billboard to talk about her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Following her February nomination, Parton told Billboard that she never considered herself a rock ‘n’ roller “in any sense of the word,” but she says she’s gleefully willing to reconsider now. “People usually [say] ‘Dolly rocks’ or ‘you rock’ or ‘you’re a rock star.’ I thought they just meant that I was cool, and I took that as a great compliment. But now I’m going to have to take it literally!”
It’s been a bit of a zigzag for Parton since she was announced as a nominee on Feb. 2. She initially seemed flattered but a little perplexed by the perception that she was a rock act. Then on March 14, she posted to her 5 million Instagram followers that she was “respectfully” bowing out of the nomination because she did not feel she had earned that right and didn’t want to split the votes. The ballots had already been mailed out and the Rock Hall ruled she would remain on the ballot. Just six days ago, on April 29, she told NPR that she would “accept gracefully” if she was inducted.
The honor comes in a particularly rich time in the 76-year-old icon’s career. Her book with James Patterson, Run, Rose, Run, is a New York Times best-seller. Her companion album of the same name debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart dated March 19, making it her 47th top 10 album — the highest tally among all among women. Earlier this year, she received 47 global gold and platinum certifications from countries including the U.S., Australia, U.K., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. The Guinness World Records recognized her as the only artist to celebrate seven decades of top 20 hits.
Parton tells Billboard she doesn’t know if she’ll attend the Nov. 5 ceremony in Los Angeles, and she certainly hasn’t thought about whom she’d like to induct her, but she did indicate she already had a few tricks up her sleeve if she is there.
The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you find out that you were going to be inducted?
[My manager] Danny [Nozell] called me from the office and said, “You’re going to be inducted.” I said, “Really?” I said, “Well, I guess I’m a rock star now,” jokingly.
This has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for you. How do you feel now that the voters have spoken?
Well, I feel great. I feel honored that all the people that voted for me did. And I appreciate the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame people for staying there with me. I never meant to cause trouble or stir up any controversy. It was just always my belief — and I think millions of other people out there too — always thought the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was just set up for the greatest people in the rock ‘n’ roll business, and I just didn’t feel like I really measured up to that and I don’t want to take anything away from the people that have worked so hard. So I just wanted to go pull out before it got started good. I found out later that it’s far more than that, obviously. … I’m very honored and humbled by [the induction], and so I’ll try to live up to it.
There are a number of artists who are both in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, including Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Chet Atkins. But you are only the second woman to be in both after Brenda Lee, whom you have very wonderful feelings about.
Yes! And I think Brenda Lee has some great songs that would be considered rock. She was such a crossover artist. I love Brenda, she was a great, great artist. She should be in there. I found out later there’s more people than I knew are in there, and I found out more about what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame really stood for. … I even have a lot of my rock ‘n’ roll friends and people that are, you know, to the point of being bitter about the fact that they’re not being nominated or in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. So it’s like, “If they’re not able to be recognized in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where do they go?” I was trying to be nice and good about not trying to take something away from somebody that had truly earned it.
Are you going to the induction ceremony?
I don’t know. If I do, I’m going to sing the hardest style rock ‘n’ roll song I could ever muster up just to show that I can do it.
I think we all want to hear you sing “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
[Laughs] I don’t know what I’ll do. … But I’ll do something to make it fun and to be forgiven for my mistake. To earn my title.
Musicians, historians and the music industry vote on the inductees. What do you think they saw differently in you than you saw in yourself? Because you’re also getting in on your first-round nomination, which doesn’t happen to a lot of nominees.
I think they were smarter than me. They knew what it was all about and I didn’t.
When you first got nominated, you told Billboard you were going to have to put out a rock album immediately. When are we getting a rock album from you?
I had actually thought about that before I even got nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve always wanted to do a great rock album, and I’m going to do that. I don’t know when, but I will do one.
You’ve covered artists like The Beatles, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. Who were some rock artists that influenced you?
I love The Rolling Stones. I’ve always wanted to do the song “Satisfaction.” That’s one of my husband’s favorite songs. And I may have to drag Mick’s guys up there to help me sing it. I thought about writing a song called “Rock of Ages,” where I get all the great old rock ‘n’rollers, the people that I have always admired and respected. I didn’t follow rock music that much, but my husband is a rock ‘n’ roll freak. He loves all the groups and all the great stuff. I just liked certain records. I may do up a version of something like [Lynyrd Skynyrd’s] “Free Bird” and do my own versions of some classic things that I think would make good rock ‘n’ roll songs.
You posted a great photo a few weeks ago on your Instagram of you hugging Mick Jagger from the ’70s.
Yeah, I loved him and I love “Satisfaction.” I’m hoping we’re both around long enough when I get to doing this record that he’ll come sing with me, and I may have to use The Rolling Stones to play behind me. I might do something like that — try to get some different rock bands, some of the classic bands, to back me on some of the songs I do and then do two or three or four originals. I’d like to get in with some of the great rock groups and do some things, [but] I’ve been working so hard on so many things and I’ve got to overcome this so-called controversy, which I never meant it to be that. So now I’m in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. So I’m going to have to do a rock album at some point. … Now I may have to call my album Rock Star!