The theme of Stella Parton’s new album can be summed up in its one-word title: “Survivor.” Parton, the younger sister of Dolly Parton, has endured her share of career ups and downs during five decades in the music business. Away from the stage, her personal life has has met with its own share of setbacks, including being a victim of domestic violence and family members who battled drugs. As Parton approaches the age of 70 (though she hardly looks it), she can truly call herself a “survivor” in every sense.
“I didn’t really plan the title,” Parton says, seated in the office of her Nashville publicist. “It just kind of developed into that. But I am glad to be one of those survivors.”
The album takes on some heavy topical issues that are especially relevant to women in the modern world. In “Survivor,” which she produced, Parton addresses the #MeToo movement, drug abuse and divorce, among other subjects. One selection from the album, “Dirty Rotten Dog,” is a slight slap at kindhearted women who stay with not-so-good men. “It doesn’t sound like it at first, but it is a put-down of these women,” Parton explains. “It’s an obvious dig and I wanted it to be. I was seeing all these lawsuits involving [film producer] Harvey Weinstein and some other men who had been getting away with sexual harassment. I was just stunned by that. I started playing around with that title one morning and the song just came to me.” Fans can also enjoy the video for “Dirty Rotten Dog,” airing on several outlets.
Parton has become a strong advocate for women in the music business, going back to her prior experience. As a young, aspiring singer in the 1970s, she found herself subjected to overt come-ons by male producers and record label execs. One man in particular tried to sexually assault her but she managed to escape, leaving with a broken nose and a scar.
“Many times, talent was secondary to your looks and your sex appeal, which I always resisted,” Parton says. “I never did that to sell my music.” Some in the business insisted that she make herself over in an effort to promote her sexuality. “I was against that, too,” Parton says in a fiery, defiant tone. “It wasn’t always popular but I didn’t care. I would rather sleep under a bridge the rest of my life than not be true to myself.”
Plenty of her female counterparts could relate similar stories. But Parton, like females of the era, stayed silent rather than call out the offenders. “We knew what people would say, ‘Oh, they’re just bitter or trying to get attention.’ But I speak now,” she states.
And she’s overjoyed to see today’s women speak out as well. The new generation has come forward with their own sagas of harassment and unequal treatment, spawning the #MeToo movement that’s cutting across all fields of work, from the recording studio to the executive office. “I celebrate this whole movement,” she says, almost triumphantly. “I’m glad I have lived long enough to see women not be silent any longer. I had many bad things happen to me and I never said anything about them. So, I applaud the younger generation for saying we’re not going to take that anymore. I’m proud and I stand with them.”
Parton’s downright refusal to play the Music Row game, as she perceived it, helped her become a pioneer of sorts. She could be rightly termed one of the first “indie” artists, as she wrote, produced and recorded her debut solo album, “I Want to Hold You in My Dreams Tonight,” in 1975. She released it on her own label, and the title track landed just inside the Top 10. Parton later signed with the Elektra label and enjoyed such hits as “The Danger of a Stranger,” “Four Little Letters” and others.
Music, obviously, runs in her family, not only with sister Dolly but also younger brother Randy, who had a string of chart singles in the early 1980s. Stella writes about her family roots in “Crazy Cradle of Love,” one of the selections from “Survivor.” Letting go a grin, Parton recalls, “I came up with that title and I was talking about my family I liked the alliteration of ‘crazy cradle,’ and that’s what I thought a home and a relationship were like – a crazy cradle”
That lighthearted tune contrasts deeply with “Illusions,” also about her family but dealing with a certainly dark and tragic subject. She actually found the song while digging through some old files, searching for something to finish out the “Survivor” project. “It’s the oldest one on the record,” Parton notes. “I wrote it around 1995, as that’s what the date on the sheet read, and I figured it must be a finished song. I wrote it because I was angry that a couple of my siblings were doing drugs. It was sad, too, of course. They were hiding from real life.” Of a more tender nature, “The Last Rose of Summer” centers on her parents’ undying love.
Parton feels a deep sense of pride in releasing “Survivor,” and is doubly proud of her uncompromising belief in doing things her own way. “I have no regrets about that,” she says earnestly. “I believe I have done my best to live a life of honesty and integrity.”
Stella Parton’s album “Survivor” is available now. For more on Stella, visit her website.