The Grass is Blue: The Interview, Part III

Cash On The Barrelhead (The Louvin Brothers)

That, "Cash on the Barrelhead,' I have always loved. That happens to be one of Carl Dean's favorite songs. He said, "Boy, it's too bad you can't sing 'Cash on the Barrelhead' 'cause that's such a boy's, it's a man's song." And so I took it out, and of course, I loved Ira and Charlie Louvin, and I just love that turnaround, the, the music that they play, I just think that's one of the most unusual turnarounds I've ever heard in a song! It makes me laugh. And so anyway, Carl said, "Too bad you can't sing that one 'cause I really like 'Cash on the Barrelhead.'" So I thought, well, what's about that I couldn't sing. And it just says "That'll be cash on the barrelhead, son," uh, you know, "You can take your choice you're 21." And I thought, well it's a girl. The girls get, can get picked up from loitering on the street, where it talked about from loafing on the street. And girls get locked up. You know, there's lot of hookers or lots of just runaways or strays or somebody. So I thought, well I can sing it. I'll just say, "That'll be cash on the barrelhead, hun." And you know that'll make it a girl thing or, you know, whatever, so. And I just loved it 'cause I just think it's fun, and it's one of my favorites in the whole album for the fun value and because Carl is so happy it.

I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open (Flatt & Scruggs)

I always loved Flatt & Scruggs. And I knew them very well. And, of course, Lester Flatt wrote one of my favorite songs, "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open." I, which I just think that song is so funny. And I can picture myself doing it on stage. I thought if I ever do a video I can just, you know, close one eye. "I'm gonna sleep with one eye open." But I just, I just think that is just the funniest, uh, sounding, you know, to put that in a song. It's just so country and so corney that it's great. And it, it, I think that's one of the fun. I think "Cash on the Barrelhead" and "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open" I did for, for the fun value of those just 'cause they're fun to sing and in, like I say, they'll be fun to do on stage when I do, you know, some bluegrass shows.

I Wonder Where You Are Tonight (Johnny Bond)

I did a Johnny Bond song called "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." And I had, I've always loved it. I used to sing it when I was a kid on, back on the radio shows back in Knoxville. And, of course, this year I am being honored with, uh, being put into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is truly a great honor, and Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond are also going in. And I didn't realize when I was recording it, I just loved, uh, you know, the song, um, uh. So I thought well I'm gonna sing this, and, you know, "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." So and I, I didn't tag it to Johnny Bond. I didn't realize that that's who wrote it. And so, we were doing, fixin' to do some, some vocals. Like I say, even though we kept most of my lead vocals, I would always still do tracks for Steve to pick words from. So we were over at the studio, uh, recording, and somebody just said, "Oh, by the way, congratulations for being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Who else is in?" I said, "Well, they're putting Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond in." And somebody said, "Oh!" So, and then that conversation ended, and Steve said, "OK, we've got to get to work. Which song do you want to start with?" So I said, "Let's start with something easy on my throat, uh. Let's start with, uh, 'I Wonder Where You Are Tonight.'" And Steve said, "Well, how ironic is that! Johnny Bond wrote that song." And I had just said his name, and he was going into the Hall of Fame this year, and of all the years I've been singing this song, for 30, 40 years. You know, that it's like, all of the sudden, here, it's like, I just thought it was kind of one of these unusual things. So I, I felt that was like Johnny Bond saying to me, "Hey I'm glad to be going in the Hall of Fame with you, and thank you for singing my song!"

Steady As The Rain (Dolly)

I had written, uh, "Steady as the Rain" for my sister Stella, who used to record quite a bit, and I try to always to write songs if, if they wanted 'em. So I had written that song for her, and she did a great record on it. And I had always thought of it, though, as a bluegrass thing in my mind when I wrote it 'cause I actually wrote it on the banjo. Uh, and I was playing the banjo. See I, when I write songs I'll, eh, you know, I'll either take the banjo or a mandolin or the autoharp or some, you know, something 'cause I try to get different kinds of sounds, or the electric guitar. And this one, uh, it just kinda had that rolling kind of sound, so when I wrote it I would just kinda do it with a rolling banjo. And I was picking songs different of mine, this one just jumped right out. I thought, well, do "Steady as the Rain;" that's a perfect bluegrass song. So, uh, it, it did lend itself real well. I thought, I thought it fit real well with the other bluegrass things on the album.

I Still Miss Someone (J. Cash/R. Cash)

"I Still Miss Someone" is, has always been one of my favorite songs. And I was so impressed 'cause Johnny used to sing all those bizarre songs like "Folsom Prison" and "Ring of Fire," but he wrote so many beautiful, beautiful love songs. And every time I hear, uh, you know, his, this, these slow songs, I always get so emotional. And so I just thought, well, I'm singing this one, and I'm just putting it on this album. And Flatt & Scruggs did that years ago, too, and I just loved their version of it. So I thought, well, it will definitely be accepted as a bluegrass song if Flatt and Scruggs did it and if Johnny Cash wrote it and if Dolly Parton sings it, they'll just have to accept it!

Travelin' Prayer (Billy Joel)

"Travelin' Prayer" was my idea. I always loved Bill Joel. I think he's one of the greatest writers in the world, uh. "The Entertainer" is one of my favorite songs. I tried to figure out a way to do it, too. And, uh, but "Travelin' Prayer" is just, to me it is a bluegrass song without the piano. And, uh, as a matter of fact, I think Randy Scruggs or, or the Earl Scruggs Review years ago, I think they might have done that, and I think Billy Joel might have played the piano on that. But I, I just heard it off, I just was playing off of Billy Joel's record 'cause it was one of my, you know, favorite songs. And when that, you know that record had come out, I had, I had it there at the house. And I thought well now that would lend itself really well. I think I scared Steve Buckingham sending all these weird kind of songs over there! He'd, he kept sending me tapes, and I was picking songs he was sending that were my favorites off of the songs he sent. Then I kept sending things over, you know, to him, like "Travelin' Prayer." And I guess he was taken aback, as they say, a little bit. But then when he got into it, he just loved it. So, it did turn out, I think, as one of the very best songs on the album.

Will He Be Waiting For Me (Dolly)

I always loved "Will He Be Waiting For Me," and it's sort of like "Steady As the Rain." When I wrote it, all of my songs basically along those lines could be done bluegrass or country. That's I was talking about before, there's a very fine line in my music between bluegrass and country, that mountain country. Anyway, I just always liked it and, uh, I just thought that I'd do it!

A Few Old Memories (Hazel Dickens)

Patty Loveless was little Patty Ramey when I met her. She and her brother Roger used to come to all the Porter & Dolly shows. In fact, I'm not so sure if it was at the Grand Old Opry backstage that I first met her, maybe it was, but I know I used to see her. She used to come to the shows and come on Porter's bus and. But anyway, uh, Porter thought she was great. I thought she was great. And I just loved 'em. I kind of claimed them as little family, like I did with Rhonda and Darin Vincent, too. They were kind of an extension of my own family. They reminded me of my own younger brothers and sisters. But Patty, I just watched her grow, and I watched her become all that she's become. And she's this wonderful lady in addition to being, you know, such a great singer. She's so kind and so sweet, and I love her singing. And so I just love the sound she gets in her voice. And when I did "A Few Old Memories," I thought Patty would be perfect on this song. So, we called her to see if she'd sing. And she was actually going out of the country. She made a special, special effort to come down late at night on Friday night when she was trying to pack to get out of the country and everything 'cause she wanted to sing on it too. 'Cause we'd been looking for something that we could do together. 'Cause she's another one, I'd do anything for Patty. And so I was so honored and thrilled she got to sing on this. And she did good, too.

Silver Dagger (public domain)

When I wanted to do "Silver Dagger," uh, for the album, it's another one of those I shocked Steve Buckingham with. I sent it over. I had only the, an instrumental version that someone had done that I had there at the house. I said, "I'm sending this instrumental version of a song called 'Silver Dagger' that I grew up singing, but I'll have to send the words later 'cause I want to call Mama and make sure I've got 'em all right." 'Cause this was definitely one of those songs. So, anyway, he thought, "Well, this is very strange. Is, is this gonna lend itself to bluegrass?" Because the song was very unusual. And, uh, it was more like a folk song than a bluegrass song. I said, "But it'll work. It'll work. It'll be great." So, in the meantime, I, I got words from Mama and gathered up from different aunts and uncles different words. And in the meantime, he also had found a version that, uh, uh, Joan Baez had, had done. So we all kind of put of all the words together that we, you know, had. And it, it, it happens to be one of my very favorite ones on the whole album if not my personal, personal favorite, and maybe that's because it was one of Mama's, one Mama taught me. But it's just got an unusual, haunting sound. And it's unusual for this album. But I think it, it may, it works.

Train, Train (Shorty Medlocke)

Well, "Train, Train," is another one of those songs that I shocked the fire out of Steve Buckingham when I sent it to him. Because I had a Blackfoot album, the group Blackfoot. And, it was just on an album of theirs, and I, I think that probably was one of, in fact it was one of Carl's albums. You know, he's got all this weird assortment of people that he liked, and it was really a hard rock, uh, sound. When I sent it over to Steve, I know he just thought, "Oh, my Lord! She's lost her mind!" 'Cause I, but I knew that it was, it, it would lend itself perfect for like a "Orange Blossom Special" bluegrass type thing or, you know, one of those. So anyway, it was off a Blackfoot, uh, record. And I, I changed the words around a lot because they had some very strange words in it like "Grandma, goodbye grandma," you know, anyway, so I, I changed it and kinda rewrote like I did on Billy Joel's song "Travelin' Prayer" just, just enough to kind of make some of the lines fit me better or fit a girl better or just make more sense for what I was doing. But, uh, "Train, Train" I just, is one of my favorite songs.

I Am Ready (Rachel Parton Dennison)

My sister Rachel is one the most beautiful girls in the world. She's the baby of our family. She is one of the greatest songwriters. And her voice is so beautiful. She wrote this, uh, beautiful song about my mother, you know, the, "I Am Ready." She, uh, she was out in Los Angeles and she was working with my brother. And they had a group that they had put together, uh, that they were going to be singing, you know, as this four people. And Mike Post, who's, uh, Mike Post of television fame. He's a great musician, a great person. He produced a record on them and, and I guess they were out there and he said, "Well, we need a gospel song, something a capella maybe." So sh, Mama was sick at the time, and Rachel was feeling bad about that 'cause they were out in L.A. and Mama was home sick. And so, um, she said, "So I just was thinking about Mama, and they said we needed a gospel song. So I just went in the bathroom 'cause everybody was there in the motel room." And she said, "And they were all talking about everything else." And she said, "I just locked myself in the bathroom and I sit there on the sink and I wrote this song thinking about Mama." And she said, "And I came out in whatever amount of time, 30 minutes of so." She said, "It was so inspired that I knew it was right and I just went over said, 'O.K. I have our song.'" And so they just, uh, they just loved it, and so they worked up the harmonies and did it on a, a record that never came out. And I just, and she sing, she used to sing with my brother at Dollywood. My brother Randy has a show there. And so they sang with that group, Honey Creek, that they had for a while and they, and this was a song they featured. And every time I'd hear it it'd make me cry and I'd get chills. And I thought, well I'm gonna record this as a surprise for Rachel.

Endless Stream Of Tears (Dolly)

Actually, I wrote "Endless Stream of Tears," that's a new song for me. When I did Hungry Again, the al, the last album I did, with my cousin Richie Owens, uh, you know, producing with me, we did some wonderful things. And it was just one of the songs that didn't make it on the, uh, Hungry Again album 'cause we had, uh, another bluegrass song we used, in, instead. And, uh, so Rhonda and Darrin Vincent had sung the harmony on it. We did complete it, it just didn't make the album. But I, when I started to do this bluegrass thing, I thought, wow, you know, I've got "Endless Stream of Tears;" Rhonda and Darrin already know their parts. So they, uh, they just came in and I, we just did a new track on it with these new, with these different musicians and just cut it again. But it's, uh, I wrote that song when I was, when I did Hungry Again, when I went back to East Tennessee that time and fasted for three weeks and wrote all those songs, and, uh, and it was one of the batch that I wrote while I was up there a few years back, about three, what, three years ago I guess. So it's not old, old, old. A lot of people think it's old because it sounds old, but it's not. The "Endless Stream of Tears."

The Grass Is Blue (Dolly)

When we talked about doing a bluegrass album, I thought, well, I need to have the title be something to where people will know it's a bluegrass album, and, and I didn't want to call it "Dolly's Bluegrass Album," you know, which wouldn't be so typical, or that's probably how people will refer to it. I thought, well, it needs to have a title but it needs to have a song to go with the title.

So I was right in the middle of the movie, and, uh, when I was doing Blue Valley Songbird movie and we were, I was still putting thoughts into, to doing, doing the album. So I thought, what if I call the album The Grass is Blue, and what if I write a song, you know, some beautiful song that will be like, you know, "The Grass is Blue," but like just opposite everything. So on my lunch break, uh, and we only had a 30-minute lunch break during the movie 'cause you know when you're doing a movie it's not like feature films, you have three weeks instead of three months so you have a 30-minute lunch break instead of an hour.

So on my lunch, 30-minute lunch break I went into the back of my bus that I was using for my a dressing room for the movie, and I told Judy, I said, "Don't let anybody back here 'cause I'm going to write the, the theme song for my bluegrass album." I said, "Just if anybody wants me, I'm asleep." So I, I went back to the back and it just came so natural. I just got my guitar and these words just started coming.

And I have a phone in the bus, and I called Steve Buckingham. I said, "I've got our song." I said, "I wrote it on our lunch break and I know it's good 'cause it came too natural, too easy, and I know it's good. So just plan it in, you know, just put the title down and I'll, I'm sending you over a tape." So, uh, Judy came in the room and I, uh, I said, "Get me a tape recorder," and so I just put it down and we sent it over to Steve that very afternoon.

So that, it, it was so perfect. You know, how I just love it when I, when I feel like God intervenes when I'm really needing something really bad. 'Cause I always, any gifts I have I always give God the glory. And, like I say, some songs are better than others. God does better sometimes than He does at others! But anyway this time, I was so tired I just wanted it to be so good and He just pretty much wrote this one on His own. I just sat back there and just, you know, in this little amount of time, so I thought, "Well, God wrote a really good song today, so I'm gonna send this one over!" But I didn't put His name on it, but at least I'll give him the glory.

This is the final in a three-part series based on the interview CD Sugar Hill issued in connection with The Grass is Blue.

To read the official Dollymania review of The Grass is Blue (the first review of the album published anywhere!) click here.