We Will Always Love You: Musicians Reflect on the Everlasting Legacy of Dolly Parton

Six Degrees
Jasmine Albertson

We don't deserve Dolly. Plain and simple. What Dolly Parton has done for feminism, fashion, childhood literacy, environmental conservation and Covid-19 research is enough on its own to hand her the crown. But then there's the music. With a whopping 52 albums under her belt, her ability to churn out finely crafted songs full of humor, emotion, and timelessness is unparalleled. Hence, why we at KEXP thought it would be a good idea to honor her status as a Living Legend with Six Degrees of Dolly Parton, happening Friday, April 22nd. 

From 7 AM-7 PM PT, DJs will be linking each song to the one they played before, beginning with, weaving in and out of, and ending with the music of the Queen of Country herself, Dolly Parton. In conjunction, we reached out to musicians to hear their takes on why Dolly matters and heard back from a diverse list of up-and-coming artists of various genres, established country bands, and a surprising submission from a member of the Royal Family of Darkness about their favorite Dolly songs while opening up about the impact she made in their lives.


"Light Of A Clear Blue Morning" - New Harvest...First Gathering (1977)

Guitarist Adam Johnstone: "It’s not hard to love Dolly, even if you’re not a fan of her music or even country music in general. She managed to make use of what worked for her to not only succeed but forge her own path in what was a mostly male-dominated country music scene and the music industry as a whole. After parting ways with her longtime musical partner Porter Wagner, who could very well be accused of holding her hostage to a generic sterile country music scene which she had so obviously grown out of, she wrote the song I chose ‘Light of a clear blue morning’. Her ‘set free’ anthem you could say, and with a voice like that with the gospel homage especially the upbeat ending how could she go wrong. She spread her wings and her career only flourished more. She is a true inspiration to not tying yourself down and being all you can be and not letting anyone's negativity keep you down. How lucky we are to still have her incredible passion and music raging on in the world."


Melbourne's Romero dropped their debut album Turn It On! earlier this month, drawing strong comparisons to Sheer Mag, early Blondie, and The Strokes with their fiery, riff-ripping power-pop. Watch the video for the title track to get a taste of what we're talking about.

Kate Clover

“I Will Always Love You” - Jolene (1974)

"Dolly Parton is more than a musician and songwriter; she's a northstar. Her strength comes from her honesty and her ability to capture those "in between" feelings such as letting love go. Her song 'I Will Always Love You' is a perfect example of that. Typical themes of breakup songs are often anger, regret and revenge which is justified but Dolly chose empathy. The emotional stance of the song softens you and her bittersweet vocals feel like a hug from a loved one. Her genius is in her ability to connect. No one does it like Dolly."


LA-based rocker Kate Clover is releasing her debut LP, Bleed Your Heart Out on April 22, 2022 via SongVest Records / SVR and recently shared the single "Daisy Cutter." She's currently on tour with a date in Seattle on Friday, May 6th at the Clock-Out Lounge with with The Fucking Eagles and Steal Shit Do Drugs.


“Those Memories of You” - Trio (1987)

"To me, this song is the quintessential experience of Dolly Parton: she’s taking the tradition of mountain music, which is her tradition, her childhood, her heritage, to the masses; inviting outsiders Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt to participate in it in a non-gatekeeping, arms-wide-open way. Dolly’s voice sounds effortless; it has such power and clarity. I grew up listening to and singing bluegrass music with my family, and though I rejected it for a while, I find myself coming back to Trio’s rich harmonies when I write vocals for my own music."


Boston-born, Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter and producer Barrie recently released her sophomore record Barbara last month. Following 2019's Happy to Be Here, the record is an intensely personal, diaristic indie-pop dance party which can be seen in the recently-released video for "Concrete." Don't miss her set at Barboza on Monday, May 2nd. 

Liv Slingerland

“9 to 5” - single, (1980)

"My favorite Dolly Parton song has to be “9 to 5” - it reminds me of being a little kid and watching that movie on the couch with my mom, which is probably how I discovered her and the rest of her work in the first place. Her musical skill and talent, unconditional inclusivity, and lifelong devotion to helping people are only a few of the things I love so much about this superhuman!"


Notable guitarist/singer songwriter Liv Slingerland's biggest spotlight moments thus far may have come from slaying the guitar for Halsey, Olivia Rodrigo, and Alex Lahey but is poised to be a star all her own with the explosive, riff-heavy, grooving indie rock she makes under her own name. Check out recent single "An Entire Lifetime" for proof.


"I'm In No Condition" - Hello, I'm Dolly (1967)

"It's completely impossible for me to choose one Dolly Parton song - but "I'm In No Condition" leaves me in such a state of vulnerable joy that it is usually the song of her's I go to first. Dolly knows how to distill heart break down so that every sensation is ignited, and you are left in a puddle.”


One of the few country signings on Sub Pop, Bria is a labour of love from multi-instrumentalists Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings. The Toronto-based band recently released Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 which saw the band reinterpret classics from country legends like Karen Dalton, Waylon Jennings, and Lucinda Williams.

Gentle Heat

"I Will Always Love You" - Jolene (1974)

"Picking a favorite Dolly tune is a tall order. I used to play in a country band, and through that have learned a fair amount of them. Ultimately, I feel I have to choose her original recording of ‘I Will Always Love You’ from the 1974 album Jolene (the title track of which is another obvious contender). By a huge margin, Whitney Houston’s cover from ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack is the more popular recording (which is also great), but there’s so much emotion in what Dolly sings here. As the story goes, she wrote this song as a means of convincing Porter Wagoner to accept her leaving his show and going solo - the feeling of proclaiming your love for a friend when you know you have to go is communicated pretty powerfully in Dolly’s performance on this track. It’s a classic."

Honorable Mentions: Hush-A-Bye Hard Times, Jolene, Just Because I’m a Woman, Hard Candy Christmas



Chicago's Gentle Heat make a tough-to-categorize blend of post-punk, indie rock, shoegaze, and grunge that keeps them sounding both fresh and nostalgic all at once. Fans of Ovlov, The Spirit of the Beehive, and the Swirlies should check out their recent single "Closer II" off their forthcoming record Sheer.

Sylvie Rose Novak

"Little Sparrow" - Little Sparrow (2001)

There’s a reason, for sure, that this is the title track of that album. It’s gripping, dark, and still absolutely beautiful - and that’s how I like my bluegrass.

I admire Dolly Parton deeply for many reasons but the simplest is that she got her start as a sidekick to a man in a male-dominated industry. She stepped away from that situation and not only built a career, but an empire. Dolly is a national treasure, yea, but she is also an absolute boss.



Singer, songwriter, and bassist Sylvia Rose Novak recently released a new single, “To Ten”, the second from her upcoming 5th studio album A Miss / A Masterpiece. Out May 20th, the album sees her pivot away from the Americana / alt country sound of her previous records and towards a harder rocking sound inspired by the emo and pop punk bands she loved as a teenager


"Together Always" - Together Always with Porter Wagoner (1972)

Charlie Anastasis: "I remember when I was a kid my mom had a CD of “Together Always” and the first time I saw the cover it scared the hell out of me and I cried. I thought Porter Wagoner was going to jump off of the CD sleeve and eat me. Dolly Parton for a while after that was just the nice lady who was trapped in the CD with that scary blue-eyed man. Until one day my mom, unbeknownst to me, hid the CD cover as she loaded the disc into the car’s stereo and out pored the title track of the record. After a few sentences delivered from Mr. scary man Wagoner, Dolly began her segment of the verse. It was absolutely wonderful, almost like she was telling me through the maternal nature of her voice that (when it was revealed to me who I was actually listening to) I didn’t have to be scared of the man next to her on the CD anymore. And her voice has remained a kind of anchor in my life ever since then. A sort of emotional sanctuary every time I feel freaked out. She has also put out 50 records so I can quite literally spend the rest of my life listening to Dolly Parton and pleasantly negate most boredom and loneliness. Although I could still probably do that if the only record she ever made was “Together Always”.



Los Angeles quartet Liily are best known for their manic and cacophonous live shows but finally translated their gritty, angular art-rock to the studio for their debut album TV or Not TV. Still bringing the heat at their live shows, the band has been touring heavy and, after just playing the Vera Project in March, will return to Seattle on June 9th to support Sunflower Bean and Palehound at the Crocodile. 

Hailey Whitters

"Coat of Many Colors" off Just Because I'm a Woman (1968)

"I remember the first time I ever heard Dolly's voice, I was in a souvenir shop on a family vacation in Arkansas and it’s stuck with me ever since. My favorite song of hers is “Coat of Many Colors” because it checks all the boxes for me; it’s personal, it’s storytelling, and it’s a message that makes you reflect on your perspective and values and how you carry yourself through this life."


Iowa-born, Nashville-based rising Country star Hailey Whitters released her third record Raised last month via Pigasus Records/Songs & Daughters/Big Loud Records. Rolling Stone called "Janice At The Hotel Bar" a "Song You Need to Know" and I've heard they know a thing or two about music. She's playing Tractor Tavern in Seattle this Saturday, April 23.


"My Tennessee Mountain Home" - My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973)

"My Tennessee Mountain Home is one of our favorite Dolly Parton albums, so we’re selecting the title track from that *tenderly* nostalgic album. We fell in love Dolly for her spunk, sparkle and sass, and for her incredibly visceral and engaging songwriting. She has a reputation for being genuine and charitable, and always staid true to her roots. As a strong a** woman in a man's world, Dolly is a punk through and through, which makes her our favorite role model!"


Automatic – the LA trio of Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) and Halle Saxon (bass, vocals) – is releasing their second album of retrofuturist motorik pop titled Excess on June 24th via Stones Throw and recently dropped the single "New Beginning." The band is currently on the road with Parquet Courts with a date in Seattle on Friday, April 22nd at the Showbox. They'll follow that up with opening slots for Tame Impala and Osees, as well as a string of festival slots over the summer.

Caroline Kingsbury

“Islands In the Stream” - single, (1983)

"Every Dolly song has a feeling....something you can't describe with words all the time, something that just exists and sways you, even if the specific lyrical content isn't entirely relevant to your current life. I listened to this podcast, Radiolab, do a series about Dolly...this particular episode was focusing in on her worldwide reach with her simple country songs...there's a huge Dolly fan base in the middle east...people who barely speak English can sing along to her songs. The feelings her songs convey give the middle finger to a language barrier...because feeling is a universal language. And I think that's what Dolly does best and is what is most inspiring to me. 'Islands In The Stream' is a genius song....It hooks me with that feeling I was talking about. I could listen over and over, and that's really the biggest win as a songwriter, if someone is willing to listen to what you wrote over and over."


Last year, Caroline Kingsbury released her 16-track debut Heaven's Just a Flight, which landed on PopMatters best Indie-pop albums of 2021. She then followed that up with a placement of the track "Fall In Love" in the new Scream film and the dreamy "Strawberry Sheets." She'll be in Seattle on Monday, May 9th to play Madame Lou's with Post Animal.

Adam Miller

“9 to 5” - single, (1980)

"Ok apologies for probably the most basic answer but it’s still gotta be 9 to 5. I loved that movie growing up and I just think everything about that song is brilliant."


Adam Miller is best known as the founding member of the recently dissolved synth-pop outfit Chromatics. He recently released his debut solo album of ambient instrumental tracks titled Gateway. Miller enlisted the help of former MTV VJ Jesse Camp for the goofy-as-hell double video for "Lost Guitar" / "Alien Summer." Listen to KEXP's recent conversation with Miller about the new record HERE.

Aimée Osbourne

Jolene - Jolene (1974)

"I was first introduced to Dolly through watching the film ‘Steel Magnolias’ as a child. The minute I clasped eyes on Truvy -  Dolly’s character in the film, I was hit by a firework of serotonin. I could feel a smile pour over me at the sight & sound of this captivating pint sized bottle of sunshine. Who was this sassy, ultra feminine, charismatic, electrifying lady? She sparkled like a jewel, was strong like a Duchess yet, was as adorable & soft as a kitten.

I hadn’t seen another quite like her before. Ultra feminine on the outside yet, so powerful & strong on this inside. Dolly commanded the screen with a unique warmth, softness, strength & power all at once. A mythical creature come to life. I was instantly hooked.

Discovering Dolly’s music only strengthened that unique feeling of sunshine. So few artists - that no matter what you’re going through, what your musical taste may be - can instantly fill you with happiness & joy the way Dolly can. No one can turn a goth emo girls frown upside down in an instant quite like Dolly! Or have an entire shop, bar, restaurant or DMV unable to stop themselves from singing along in an instant wether its ‘9 to 5’ or ‘Jolene’ blaring through the radio.

Dolly commands a sense of community & humanity in all of us. Dolly reminds us of the power of music. Dolly is a sonic Fairy God Mother to us all. A shining example of what it means to love in the most unapologetic, open & non discriminatory ways. Dolly can fill the widest of gaps in any heart with her sparkle. For that, she will forever have a place in mine."


Yes, she's a member of those Osbournes. A lesser-known child of the Prince of Darkness, Aimée Osbourne makes music under the name ARO that, while dark and broody, eschews the heavy metal her father played for throbbing electronic synth-pop. Her debut album Vacare Adamaré was released last year. 

Miles Francis

"I Will Always Love You" - Jolene (1974)

"'I Will Always Love You' is such a special song. I, like many others in my generation, heard the Whitney Houston version first and had no clue it was a Dolly song. That's the sign of a deeply gifted songwriter - that they are so attuned to universal human emotion that they can write a song that resonates with their generation and many generations to come, no matter who is singing it. Though the song is so universal, when you hear Dolly singing it in her version, you can hear her heart in her words. She is singing from a place of personal truth. That balance - between singing for yourself and singing for everyone - can be really difficult to access. Dolly makes it sound easy, though, and that is what I aspire to as a songwriter."


Multifaceted NY singer, songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Miles Francis has collaborated and performed with a long list of notable names including Sharon Jones, Amber Mark, Tunde Adebimpe, Will Butler, Antibalas, and more. Following 2018’s Swimmers EP & 2019’s Doves EP, Francis released their new album Good Man in March. Most recently, they shared a video for the gripping electronic pop closing track "Don't Fight Anymore."

Waylon Payne

"Here You Come Again" - Here You Come Again (1977)

"Down From Dover" - The Fairest of them All (1970)

"The Bridge" - Just Because I'm a Woman (1968)

"Heartbreaker" - Heartbreaker (1978)

"You’re The Only One" - Great Balls of Fire (1979)

Many many thoughts on Miss Dolly- from her constant incredible example of superstardom, her influence on my life, her gracious spirit after my mother's death- to taking time to write me personally with her thoughts on my new album. Anything for Dolly.



The son of legendary Grammy-winning country singer Sammi Smith, Waylon Payne was born with a natural affinity for music and has ties with some big names, citing Kris Kristofferson as a mentor and collaborating with Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack. You've also probably seen his face on the silver screen, portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in Walk the Line and Hank Garland in 2007's Crazy. His latest record is 2021's The Lost Act. 

Neighbor Lady

“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” - Heartbreak Express (1982)

Payton Collier (bass): "The common denouncement of country music is so painstakingly predictable one can nearly recite it on cue: am I really hearing another three chord song about heartbreak?

The late (and great) Townes van Zandt once described country music as 'simple, back porch music,' a genre less interested in flaunting technical prowess and more focused in using its simple structure as a springboard for narration. What the genre is often heavily criticized for is often what I believe is it’s greatest strength: direct and open communication. In its purest form, a proper country song is catharsis— a means by which to say unwaveringly that yes, life is difficult, and this is the best way I know to deal with it. Dolly Parton’s approach to songwriting always struck me in this way, and this song is one of the purest examples of unapologetic country. 'Do you ever think back on old memories like that, or do I ever cross your mind?' A childlike inquiry proposed in the face of lost love. Do you still think of me, after all this time? Its simplicity is not to its detriment, but instead it’s this curiosity and directness that makes her music feel so welcoming to revisit time and time again."


Georgia-based band Neighbor Lady are releasing their new album For The Birds on July 1 via Park the Van. To date the band has shared two singles off the LP - the infectious and playful “Felt” and "Haunting" that showcase the band's beautifully breezy yet lush and textural take on retro rock.  

Rosie Tucker & Wolfy

Rosie Tucker: Dolly Parton is a mega talent, a consummate performer and entertainer and songwriter and instrumentalist and musician whose talent spans decades, and she is just really a giant of music. And also Wolfy, you are a person who has done such a deep dive on her discography that trying to sum up any feelings about this person is probably impossible but we've got a little… we are going to try and very quickly relate some things that we love about Dolly Parton so…

Wolfy: Well I feel like with someone who has a decades-long career, someone who has recorded 60 albums there's like, a lot of fun stuff in the treasure trove, a lot of album cuts. So I think obviously it's “9 to 5”, it's “Here You Come Again”, it's “Coat of Many Colors”. Obviously “Jolene” is like…should be the national anthem but I think what immediately comes to mind is “I’ll Oilwells Love You” which is just a funny, wordplay song about being a gold digger and it's really hard to write a funny song but it is fully in the tradition of country music to be humorous. And even at the end of the song she says “Oil’s well that ends well” and it's just a really cute, funny song. Another one like that for me is “Traveling Man” off of The Coat of Many Colors album which is just again, in the tradition of country, telling a story with a funny, funny twist at the end that you don’t see coming but that is really, really satisfying and bears repeated listening. Those are some of my favorites.

RT: Definitely. I feel like the humor is such a hallmark of her appeal as a person, her willingness to… We can have an entire show about this person for years! But her willingness to kind of play as though she is the butt of the joke while being fully in control of the situation is just inspiring. But we also talked about the song “The Bridge” and I feel like that sort of brings to light this duality, this depth of Dolly Parton, where “The Bridge” also utilizes the storytelling and like, some of her other songs, you know, like a “9 to 5” or something, has a deep empathy for a specifically, a woman's experience in the world. And “The Bridge” is a heartbreaking song that utilizes music, particularly at the end, to great effect to imply a suicide of the speaker of the song. And it doesn't come across corny even though it is theatrical and it is just a really moving piece of music. And the silence at the end, you as the listener also feel the silence of the loss of the speaker which is just a magic trick.

W: Another favorite piece of media in Dolly Parton's career is this bit that she has done in the past and that she continues to do in her live show which is playing the song “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”, which is a beautiful song written entirely and only by Dolly Parton, which is so great when you find those Dolly originals in the catalog. But it's a beautiful song, she plays it with her band and it's great, and then at the end of the song she is like, “Do you remember being a kid and playing the wrong size record on the wrong speed? We're going to play it like that.”. And then they do a pitched-up, sped-up version of the song they just played and it sounds like, it sounds exactly like what she says it is. And it is fully alive and fully not altered and that is a really fun trick that she does with the audience.

RT: Yeah, I feel like Dolly Parton is someone who is able…who is firing on all cylinders and is able to access her talents to create a world of glamor where the listener does not have the impression that any of this has been worked for. She comes across like an effortless achiever of all of her talents and strengths and obviously that's not how those things work so…just… I love that performance as well, it is just mind-blowing as a musician. She's untouchable.



Los Angeles-based indie pop artist Rosie Tucker released their third studio album Sucker Supreme last year via Epitaph, which was produced by producer/songwriter Wolfy. The duo recently teamed up again for sucker supreme to study and relax to, a lofi reimagining of the LP that’s inspired by YouTuber Lofi Girl’s lofi hip-hop radio

Old Crow Medicine Show

"I Will Always Love You" - Jolene (1974)

Ketch Secor: "I will always love Dolly Parton. And my favorite Dolly Parton song will always be…can you guess it? "I Will Always Love You"—Of Course!

"Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry I had the privilege of spending some time around the late great Porter Wagoner, subject of this most sentimental of breakup songs. Everytime I was around him the song seemed to come into my head. When I passed him in the halls, waiting for a cup of lemonade (no booze at the Opry) and even one time when I was in the bathroom while he washed his hands and I accidentally started whistling it before realizing the tune (promptly switching to something abstract). But it wasn’t until his funeral that I finally heard Dolly sing it in person. Everyone was crying by the last note. She closed the ceremony with these words: “I think this is probably a real sad day for everybody, except for Porter.” We’ll always love you, Dolly. You’re the angel’s voice from heaven."


OCMS is releasing a new album titled Paint This Town this Friday, April 22 via ATO Records. The long-running Nashville Americana band recently shared the single  “Honey Chile" ahead of the record's release. They will perform at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA on July 18, 2022, with Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway.

Listen to a playlist of the artist's picks below.

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