When two larger-than-life creative forces combine, the results are often legendary. Tuesday’s release of the six-disc “Just Between You And Me” by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton is reflective of this, as the entire recording history of the two is included on the Bear Family package.
Though the classics the two recorded from 1967-1976 will stand the test of time for eternity, the recording partnership almost didn’t happen. When she was hired by Wagoner to replace Norma Jean, Parton’s role was to perform on his syndicated TV series as well as his road show. Records weren’t in the plans, until fans gave Parton a somewhat cool reception as she attempted to fill the place of Norma Jean. Wagoner decided that it might endear the newcomer to his fans if the two started working some duets into the set list. Always an astute businessman, that very well could have been one of his more astute moves.
Starting with the release of “The Last Thing On My Mind” in November of 1967, the two made musical history over the next few years – charting twenty-one singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart. Each of those recordings are included on this comprehensive set – as well as the other 139 tracks the two cut during that time period. (The two did reunite on record in the early 2000s for a recording of the Gospel classic “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”)
Included with the discs is a 80-page hardcover book with a complete discography – as well as thoughts on their legacy from former Wagonmasters Buck Trent and Don Warden. Fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris wrote the foreword for the book, in which she recalls getting turned on to the music of Porter and Dolly in her brother’s Road Runner convertible in 1968 while on a trip from Washington DC to New York City, where Harris was to try her hand at a folk career.
The music on “Just Between You And Me” is a mixture of the upbeat and humorous (“Run That By Me One More Time,” “Fight And Scratch,”) the love songs (“The Right Combination,” “Lost Forever In Your Kiss”), and the tragic mountain ballads such as “The Party” and the breathtaking “Jeannie’s Afraid Of The Dark.”
In a 2012 interview with Billboard, Parton good-naturedly said “Those songs are sad. They’re pitiful. But, I grew up like that. I grew up with those songs from the old world. They were so sad you could hardly stand it. We didn’t have television back in those days, and we really didn’t listen to the radio that much, as we had an old battery radio that we had to save the battery. But, Mama would sing songs and tell stories. We would really listen to those old songs, and it’s just in my Smoky Mountain DNA to sing and write those God-awful, plum pitiful songs. I remember in Vegas, I was singing “Me And Little Andy,” and this guy says ‘Hell, please don’t sing that song again and again. Ain’t you killed enough kids and dogs in your songs?”
That’s the first chapter of Parton’s history-making career, but she’s still going strong. Join us Monday in The 615 for a look at her new album “Blue Smoke,” which will be released next week.