Dolly Parton to People Who Tell Her to Tone Down Her Look: ‘Go to Hell’

Music icon Dolly Parton is featured in a new four-part series, “What Would Dolly Do? Radio,” premiering Oct. 25 on Apple Music and available on Apple Podcasts.

As she prepares for her latest evolution with the release of her first rock album, “Rockstar,” due out Nov. 17, the 77-year-old Parton talks about her life and career with country music artist and co-host Kelleigh Bannen.

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Parton, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, reveals in the premiere episode that country music star Chet Atkins once told her to “tone down” her look in the early days. Bannen asks what Parton would do if somebody told her that today, and Parton responds, “I’d say, ‘Go to hell. I ain’t doing it.'” She continues, “My true belief with most things, you’ve got to really find out who you are, what makes you happy, what you’re comfortable in, and if you feel like you look your best, according to your rules, then you are going to do your best. I really believe that. And I think everybody has their own little things they love. To me, that is what fashion is.”

Also on the first episode, she discusses her new book, “Behind the Seams,” and shares anecdotes about her mom, her husband Carl, and the famous “Jolene” album cover jumpsuit. (See below for excerpts from the episode.)

The episode will stream on Apple Music 1, accessible from the Radio tab of the Apple Music app, Wednesday at 5 p.m. Pacific. It will also be available on demand on Apple Music and on Apple Podcasts (which last month added Apple Music radio). On Apple Podcasts, Apple Music subscribers who have updated to iOS 17 can follow the show to automatically download and get notified of new episodes when they’re available on-demand.

Additional excerpts from the premiere episode:

On Atkins telling her to tone down her look:

“One of my dear friends and one of the most beloved people in the whole business was Chet Atkins… he was running RCA at the time. And he pulled me over to the side because he really liked me. He said, ‘Dolly, I really don’t believe that people are going to take you serious as a singer and songwriter unless you tone down your look. You’re a right pretty girl. You don’t need all that.’ And I said, ‘Well, okay, I’ll take that to heart, Mr. Atkins. Thank you for your advice.’ And of course, I just got worse with it. And years later, after I became a star, he sidled up beside me and said, ‘Now, ain’t you glad you listened to my good advice?’”

About getting flak for her hair and makeup:

“I was [teasing] my hair, my family’s hair, because I had a knack for that. But I was wearing too much makeup, and a lot of the mothers in school thought that I was a bad influence on some of their girls, thinking I was too cheap, a little too this, too that. And their daughters were the ones that were making all the trouble, running with the boys and all that. And I was actually pretty innocent in that respect.”

About how her mom felt about her look and helped her with it:

“Well, my mama was my grandpa’s daughter and my grandpa was a preacher, so Mama was more flexible than Grandpa… because Mama, she understood that I was just trying to be myself… So Mama was the one that would kind of, if I would say, ‘Hey, Mama, when you sew this little thing, put a little padding so I can push my boobs up just a little.’ Mama would say, ‘Well, you better not tell your daddy I did that.’ … Mama trusted me too. She knew that I was a singer and I was creative and that I was different. And so she tried to keep me in check as much as she could. But she did understand.”

On realizing early on playing guitar got her attention, even though she had a shy side:

“I saw early on that I was getting attention for [playing guitar and writing songs], so that inspired me more. And so I don’t know that it’s true that everybody wants to be seen. I think everybody wears a sign around their neck that says, ‘I want to be important,’ but a lot of people are basically shy. But I wanted the attention. I can’t explain it, but it’s pretty obvious. I guess I felt what I was going to be maybe. Because I have a shy side, believe it or not. And in my early days, till I learned what all I could do, what all I could get away with, that side of me was kind of always there. But the more I felt my own power and my own importance, so to speak, the more I was free to get to be more of what I have become.”

About the household items she first used as makeup:

“I think I wanted to be pretty. I’m not a natural beauty, but I can paint it up to where I can get away with it. But it was just always in me to wear lipstick. Even when I was little bitty, I would get in trouble because I would find all the natural things living back there in the mountains. I would pick poke berries that stain forever, and I’d paint my lips and make jewelry and all sorts of things with that. And I’d use flour for powder, burned matchsticks, the kitchen matches, Mama’s big old wooden matches, to make my eyebrows and paint a beauty mark or whatever, eyeliner.”

About her first stylists:

“When I first started, I would have local people or family members, friends that could sew, make my clothes. And then as I started to grow, then you have other people that get involved in your career, like say a Fred Foster, who decided that he would hire someone to help give me a new hairdo and to get clothes. But I hated it. I didn’t like being fashionable. I didn’t like wearing what somebody else would that’s supposed to have had good taste.”

About the famous “Jolene” album cover jumpsuit:

“Now that was something I bought off the rack… And I don’t think we even added. Usually, I buy a lot of stuff off the rack, but usually we do what we call ‘Dollyize’ them, add some stones or add a collar or whatever. But I just remember I loved that little dress.”

About her creative director, Steve Summers:

“His title is creative director. Actually, though, he can direct anybody in what we’re needing to do, whether it be on the set… But then he got to where he would be buying clothes off the rack and then ‘Dollyizing’ it. And we still do that a lot today. He knows all my strengths and all my weaknesses, knows what not to put me in or knows what I will not wear. And I’m little, I’m short, and then I’ve got all these other things going. So you’ve got to really put a lot of thought into how you dress me and to make it not be overwhelming because most people, a lot of people, designers, if you’re not careful, they’re designing for the big women or for themselves.”

Her husband, Carl, has called her outfits “doll clothes”:

“I’m tiny. I’m only like five one. But yeah, there’s an arc to that because when I’m in [my stage clothes], I’m larger than life, so to speak, my personality and all. I remember Carl said one time, he says, ‘Sometimes I go out in the closet when you’re gone, and I think those look like doll clothes. They look like a little girl’s clothes.’ I said, ‘Well, they do ’til I get in them.’”

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