Bosom Buddies

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Bosom Buddies

It was the mid-seventies. I was young. She was young. My career was just beginning. Hers was too. I had big hair and big boobs. Her mane and upper torso were even bigger. But she could flat out sing a song, and light up the room with her vocals and sassy southern drawl better than anyone I have ever met – charming through and through. In case you have not guessed, I am talking about the one and only Dolly Parton, country music’s darling!

Thinking back, it must have been 1975 or ’76. I was working for WOLS Radio in Florence, South Carolina, and free-lancing for WBTW TV 13 when the radio station asked me to go to the Southern 500 in Darlington to interview an up and coming country singer.

First of all, I did not like country music back then, and secondly, I was not a race fan, hated the noise and grit that went with it. But off I dashed with my tape recorder (no iPhones back then) to capture the essence of this young gal who had recently left Porter Waggoner to set out on her own in hopes of making it big.

The race track director escorted me to a chair outside a little trailer that looked like a small camper. I was told that Dolly was doing an interview with the local newspaper but would join me shortly. Next thing I know, this adorable bosomy blonde, five foot two-ish, peaches and cream complexion, who looked like Ellie Mae Clampett from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” snuck up behind me and said, “Hi, I’m Dolly. Who are you?”

Well, I thought being cute would break the ice, so I theatrically sang, “Hello Dolly. Well, Hello Dolly. It’s so nice to have you here in Darlington.” Dolly giggled with the most infectious laugh and said even though many folks had sung her that song, no one ever did it with such sincerity and pizazz! I was flattered. We just stood there talking awhile as if we were school chums getting to know each other. She was sweet, charismatic and spoke from the heart. Then she invited me into the trailer.

What a shock! I gasped when I stepped up into her compact traveling home. There were dozens of styrofoam heads donning blonde wigs in every style imaginable. Dolly laughed at my gasp, saying she never appears in her real hair, and even her husband had never seen her without a wig, which of course I found hard to believe.

There we sat, in a makeshift kitchen area, for twenty minutes, talking about her determination to make it big as a single act. Dolly was hoping to find success as a singer, but seemed to have more confidence in her writing ability as she had been composing songs since she was very young growing up in Sevierville, Tennessee, and already had some writing hits in Nashville.

Dolly was the fourth of twelve children. Her father was a tobacco farmer, and she said “mama was best at lovin’.” They lived in a one-room cabin. But it was her “grandpaw” who had the most influence on her music, as he was “a holy roller Pentecostal preacher,” as she called him, who forced the family to be in church every time the doors opened. Church music inspired Dolly to write her own songs, and by the time she was nine years old she was singing them on a local radio show. Local TV performances came next, and then right after high school she moved to Nashville where she was penning songs for Skeeter Davis, Kitty Wells and Hank Williams, Jr.

Talk about making your dreams come true! Dolly was still determined to sing her own songs, but her first attempt in 1965 was a complete flop. Monument Records did not think Dolly was cut out for country so they hired her as a pop-type singer. “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby” written and sung by Dolly Parton, received very little airplay.

However, the very next year Dolly was invited to sing harmony on a country music record that went to number six on the charts and kicked her career into gear, even though her name was not even mentioned on the credits of the recording. Not getting credit did not deter Dolly. It fueled her passion to make her dreams come true, and before she knew it, she was recording her first single, “Dumb Blonde” which she did not write. The Parton legacy was born, and we are all aware of her many successes since.

I did ask her about her decision to go it alone after seven years as Porter Waggoner’s sidekick from 1967-1974, which was said to be tumultuous as he was very demanding and demeaning according to the media accounts. But Dolly remained classy by saying it was simply time to move on. In many interviews since she has called him a “Male Chauvinist,” and it is said that the nasty sex-crazed male character in the movie 9 To 5 was based on Porter.

As Dolly was giving me her life story, a handsome man entered the trailer, who Dolly introduced as her husband Carl Deen. She said she met him in the Wishy Washy Laundromat two days after she moved to Nashville. In a giddy sort of way, she said he was her first and last husband.

As the interview ended, Dolly hugged me, and thanked me for giving her a chance to tell her story to the people of the Pee Dee Region. At the time, I had no idea she would ever become the mega-superstar that she is now, but I knew she had the determination and guts to do it. The radio station loved the piece I put together, and I certainly became a Dolly Parton fan and followed her career with pride through the years.

Since that interview, I have been in Dolly’s company three times during press conferences at the Dixie Stampede and Pirate’s Voyage here in Myrtle Beach. During one of the media events, I said “Dolly, I interviewed you back in 1975, and you are more beautiful and younger looking today than you were way back then!” Dolly replied, “That’s because I have been nipped, tucked and sucked more than any human has the right to be in order to look this cheap.”

That’s Dolly for you! A musical genius who beat the odds, from poverty to paparazzi, with a style all her own, and for one shining moment in history, we were bosom buddies.

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