March 9, 1999 edition

At last, some new music from a fun-loving Trio

Five years after recording Trio II, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris can't believe the album is finally seeing the light of day.

"I didn't think it would come out until after we were dead," says Emmylou. "We felt like we had not only gotten shelved literally, but emotionally as well."

The follow-up to 1987's successful Trio, which spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, was nearly finished in 1994. Then it was stalled by problems involving the singers' different labels and conflicting schedules.

So Linda never thought Asylum Records would go for the idea of resurrecting the project. She suggested it anyway when record executives began to ask her about a new album.

"I said, 'Would you be interested in reassembling this record the way it was originally recorded,' and to my complete shock, they said yes," Linda recalls. "It was hard to do, though. It was the same can of worms all over again: different record labels, different managers, all the stuff they didn't want to mess with initially."

Aside from ironing out those complications, a lot of work had to be done to reconstruct the tracks, some of which the threesome had redesigned for individual projects.

"Dolly had taken her tracks and put other harmonies on them, and I had taken my tracks and done the same," Linda explains. "When we took the record apart, we changed the harmony parts around, so they existed on backup reels, but they weren't in completed forms.

"We had to find all those reels and reassemble the songs the way the harmonies had been and re-combine them. That was a lot of work."

And it was producer George Massenburg who carried most of the burden. "Poor George," says Linda, "had to track down parts. He'd play me things over the phone, and I'd go, 'No, there used to be a part that would go this way.' It was hard."

One thing that was no problem on the Trio recordings was getting three such accomplished artists to work in harmony.

"We've never had an argument about the music," Dolly states, looking at the other two for corroboration during an interview with COUNTRY WEEKLY.

"The song would decide who would sing it," Emmylou explains. "We would pretty much say, 'I think Dolly would sound good on lead on this,' and 'Let's try this configuration with the harmonies.' There were never fights like, 'You're singing too many leads.' It was almost the opposite. We wanted to make sure everybody was represented, but the record was always first."

"It always is," Linda interjects. "The music is always served first."

"We were all of one mind with that," Emmylou says. "We didn't bring in a song thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to sound great singing this.' We were thinking of the trio. The trio becomes an entity, and the question becomes, 'What facet of the trio is this song going to bring out?'"

"When Dolly brought in the idea of doing 'After the Goldrush,' I'm sure she didn't bring it in with the thought that she was going to sing lead. She just loved the idea of the song. It was Linda and I who felt that her voice would give it the most spooky quality."

"I brought it in thinking I was going to do the high part because they love to hear my high part," Dolly says. "But Linda and Emmylou always work so well together that I totally respect what their opinion is on a song, and they know how to use me wisely.

"I'm very sure of real straight-ahead country mountain kinds of songs, and they trust my judgement on that, but they know more about some of the harmonies that were more involved," Dolly adds. "If there's something I don't know, it's not, 'Don't tell me what to sing.' I welcome their advice. It's, 'Please, tell me what to sing.'"

"What we didn't have were years on the bus and onstage together singing, where we learned how to phrase together and could anticipate each other's phrasing," Linda explains. "And that's what took time in the studio. It doesn't have to be perfectly in tune, but we all have to be singing to the same pitch center. When that happens, it shimmers, and I kept looking for the shimmer."

Was there time for any fun? "There was nothing but time to have fun," Linda says. "I made bread, and Dolly made fried green tomatoes," she adds, her mouth watering at the memory. "It was those drippings," she says, turning to Dolly.

"Bacon grease," Dolly announces.

"One night we decided we were going to grill steaks," Emmylou recalls. "The studio mascot was this big yellow lab named Partner."

"We called him Dolly Partner," Dolly interjects.

"Mike, the cook, brought out six beautiful steaks on a platter and then went back into the kitchen to get something. In that minute, Partner ate all six steaks. He inhaled them."

"I forgot about that," Dolly squeals, her hands up to her face, as Linda joins in the laughter.

"I'm sure Mike had picked out those steaks and marinated them just right, but it was just one of those moments that a dog waits for all of his life," Emmylou says.

"We have a lot of fun together," Dolly adds. "We exchange stories; we bring pictures in and articles we've read. And there's a lot of girl stuff like, 'Have you seen this makeup?' or 'Look at this hairdo.' Linda takes it seriously, though. She's very hands-on in the studio. She is very strong in making sure it's all carried out well."

"Linda understands sound and arrangements and is very involved in the mixing, too," Emmylou chimes in.

"And Emmylou has such a great ear for music," Dolly states. "Well, they both do, but Emmy just lives in these songs because she finds songs from everywhere, from 100 to 300 years ago. And I just like to sing with 'em. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Emmylou returns the complement. "When Linda and I first met, one of the first things we said to each other was, 'Who's your favorite girl singer?' We both said, 'Dolly Parton.'"

Dolly beams with pride as Linda recounts her first meeting with Dolly in 1970.

"Randy Scruggs took me down to the Grand Ole Opry, and she came on, and I just had to meet her."

"She came backstage to say hi," Dolly recalls. "She was getting to be the hottest thing going."

"And Dolly was already the hottest thing," Linda interjects.

"Yeah, I was hot, sweatin' because there was no air conditioning," Dolly teases. "And Emmy had just recorded my 'Coat of Many Colors.'"

"I recorded that on my first album, so when I went to Nashville, a quick meeting was arranged," Emmylou recalls of their first introduction.

Linda and Emmylou became friends after meeting in Houston, where they were both on tour. The one day in 1975, Emmylou phoned Linda unexpectedly from her Los Angeles home. "I said, 'You have to come over. Dolly is coming over,'" Emmylou says.

"I don't think I even stopped to put my shoes on," Linda recalls. "It was a 45-minute drive from where I lived, but I think I got there in 15 minutes."

"The first time we sang, it was not for a recoding session, and there were no cameras," Emmylou says.

"We just wanted to feel it and see how it would sound," Dolly says. "And when we heard our voices together that first time, we just said, 'We have to make a record!'"

Hearing their voices together is still overwhelming to them.

"It always takes my breath away," Linda says.

"It does me, too," Dolly agrees. "It makes me cry, and it's not from any kind of ego thing. I feel humbled to be on it. But when I hear it, I feel so many emotions that I cry. Of everything I've ever done, I'm proudest of the Trio albums."

"I don't listen to my records, but I like to listen to this," Linda concurs.

"The two records the three of us have made really succeeded in what set out to do. I've made a lot of records where I didn't feel that way. It's like, 'Ugghhh, that's awful.' It's hard for it to match the dream, but this matched the dream."

Since radio will not be serviced with any of Trio II's music, the singers are hoping word of its release will spread, especially among people who love acoustic and traditional music.

"The three of us have a lot to pull from," Linda says. "Dolly particularly focuses on it because she is the legitimate Appalachian thing, while it's music that Emmy and I have both studied, admired and emulated. When we have Dolly there with us, it becomes a great big thing because she brings an authenticity to it that is just stunning."

Dolly adds, "When it was agreed that this album was going to come out, I was very excited. But we didn't do it thinking it was necessarily going to be a big radio hit. We just want people to hear it."

By Robyn Flans