Dolly Parton on ‘Blue Smoke,’ LGBT fans & her Willie Nelson & Kenny Rogers friendships

Dolly Parton - Blue Smoke Album Cover Art

Dolly Parton is rollin' down the track with her newly released Blue Smoke record, a healthy 12-track set that has the living legend sharing her legacy's body of work in cool, new ways. Whether it is the feisty gospel spin of Bon Jovi's "Lay Your Hands On Me" or the tender "You Can't Make Old Friends," a duet with long-time friend and collaborator Kenny Rogers, Parton is as sharp-shooting as she ever was.

"I usually don't get played on the radio that much anymore. I don't try taylor-make things just for radio," she told reporters at a press event last month of the album. As a whole, Parton wanted Blue Smoke to be a project her fans "would want to hear, something that means something to me."

"I thought, 'well, here at this age, I've been around this long. I've had the chance to do some of everything.' I just wanted to put together a record–I wrote a little liner note in the album where I talked about that I felt like this was just a whole assortment of all the different things I'd done through the years," she described. "I'm a girl of many colors. It was an album of many colors. I think it touched on the bluegrass, the gospel, the mountain and the more pop and rock things."

Her voice remains precise, delivering the lyrics with heartfelt poise, resonating for a new generation of country music fans. While Parton is best-known for such hits as "9 to 5" and "Coat Of Many Colors," Blue Smoke offers up a wholly unique experience, compressed with hits (if radio were still in her corner). Despite that, the singer has continued to develop her fan base, through countless live performances every year, various events and reaching out to her loyal followers via social media. Unexpectedly (and not so surprisingly), her fans stretch the gamut of backgrounds, ethinicities and sexual orientations: in fact, she's become quite the icon for the LGBT community. "All the guys want to look like me," she laughed about what makes her so appealing to that group of listeners.

"I always said that it's a good thing I was born a woman or I'd definitely had been a drag queen," she quipped. "I think they definitely relate to my flamboyance. I've always been so outgoing."

She added, "I think more than anything: everybody understands and realizes that I've been through a lot myself. I've been condemned. I've been persecuted looking the way I looked in the early days, for saying what I think and how I feel. So, people relate to me in the fact that they know that I understand what it's like to be me and fight for being myself, overcoming all sorts of things."

"They also know that I love them and don't judge or criticize anybody. I'm not God. He loves us all. I always look for the God-light in everybody and want that to shine through me. I'm just honored that the gays and lesbians understand, and I understand them. We're just people," she said. "We do what we do, and we love who we love."

On "You Can't Make Old Friends," Parton looked back at her unconditional friendship with Rogers and how that has evolved since "Islands In The Stream." She explained (to NashvilleGab) of the new tune, "It was a different kind of energy. It had more meaning. That particular song, I think, Kenny had either come up with that idea or worked with someone on it. He kind of wrote it about mine and his relationship and the whole idea of 'you can't make old friends.' It fits so many people."

"Maybe you hadn't seen them in years, but when you see them, it's like you never have not been right with them," she detailed. "That song was very emotional because of our relationship and the fact that we're both older. When we were talking about when Saint Peter knocks on the door and you come walking in, it makes you think, 'you know what? It's not gonna be long until that's going to happen.' The fact that we got to be together all this time and to have hits like 'Islands In The Stream'…[that song] was like '9 to 5' the movie: it was like a first love."

"[It] was a first love with my partnership with Kenny and such a big hit. 'Old Friends' was just really and true to both of us," she concluded.

Another collaboration found on the record is "From Here To The Moon And Back," a song with Willie Nelson. "I think Willie's just one of the most unusual people," Parton praised of working with the outlaw. "People don't really realize how intelligent and deep and smart he really is. What a great musician and stylist. I love his songs and love his voice."

"I met Willie when I first came to Nashville. We came at about the same time. He had really short hair, saved and just looked like a dork," she giggled. "He was so clean shaven. He was like you'd never think in a million years he would turned out to look like he does. He was so special. We both started writing with Fred Foster of Combine Music and Monument Records. We used to hang around a lot together. All of us were songwriters (like Kris Kristofferson)."

"Different ones of us would be in different places, not necessarily writing together, just kind of coming in and out and bringing our songs, singing 'em to each other," she retold. "So, Willie and I–our careers kind of went hand-in-hand from Monument. Then we both got on RCA at the same time; we kept sitting around, singing each others songs that we'd written through the years. We did an album called 'The Winning Hand' and a TV show where we sang some stuff. He just stayed a good friend and been so giving to me."

"When he got ready to do his album of all his girls he loved ['To All The Girls…], he asked if I would sing on it. He said, 'well, I love your song 'From Here To The Moon And Back.' I can just play the hell out of that on the guitar.' I said, 'well, let's go for it!'"

Don't forget to grab a copy of Blue Smoke on iTunes now!

Enjoy this interview? Feel free to email me to keep the conversation going!