USA TODAY - MARCH 12, 1999
A 'Trio' in tune with one another
A 'Trio' in tune with one another
By Edna Gunderson
LOS ANGELES - Gathered around platters of fruit and pastries in an Elektra Records conference room, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton are chattering about television appearances, schedule conflicts and farm animals.
"Linda has a pregnant goat named Pinky," Harris says.
Parton brightens. "That sounds like a new song!"
When this trio convenes, all trains of thought lead to Nashville. They just released Trio II, the sequel to 1987's Trio, which sold 2 million copies, yielded four hit singles and a Grammy. The new one, recorded in 1994 and shelved until the busy soloists could promote it, is off to a healthy start. It's No. 4 on Billboard's country chart.
They've won over critics, but with country radio shunning traditional sounds, these musical triplets have no delusions of a sales bonanza.
"In our separate careers, each of us had the chance to do what we wanted to do, which is extraordinary," Ronstadt says. "There have been many times I fell flat on my face, but at least I got the chance to try. So I don't feel like I'll die if this album isn't a hit."
If Ronstadt is philosophical about the marketplace, Parton is indifferent. "It's a bigh hit with us," she says. "So it's already a success."
Mutual admiration bound them from the moment they first joined voices at Harris' house in 1975.
"It was an extraordinary sound," Harris recalls. "Our three voices become something completely different from what any of us do as individuals. It blew me away."
Parton adds, "That night, we all said we have to do a record someday."
Though that day didn't arrive for more than a decade, it was predated by plenty of cross-pollination. Their first three-part harmony was on Harris' Light of the Stable in 1975. That year, Ronstadt recorded Parton's I Will Always Love You and sang on Harris' Queen of the Silver Dollar. Parton recorded Harris' Boulder to Birmingham and sang on Ronstadt's "I Never Will Marry" in 1977.
Both Trio projects sprang from the threesome's love of songcraft, country tradition and each other.
Parton: "Linda is such a perfectionist. I'm like a butterfly on duck dung so it's hard for me to work with a perfectionist. My part is so good
on this because they didn't allow me to run rampant like I usually do. Emmy has the greatest ear for songs. Linda is spectacular in the studio. I do whatever is left."
Harris: "Dolly has one of the purest traditional-sounding voices of all time, a beautiful instrument from the Appalachian tradition. To put that voice
into a song like After the Gold Rush brings the tradition forward without losing the connection. Linda has a wonderful sense of arrangement and added
beautiful touches like the glass harmonica on After the Gold Rush and strings on You'll Never Be the Sun"
Credited for clinging to roots, Parton surprised her colleagues when she proposed After the Gold Rush, Neil Young's surreal musings on medieval times, Vietnam and space travel. Parton was familiar with U.K. band Prelude's 1974 version.
"I loved the song, but I didn't know who wrote it," she says. "Through the years, I became a Neil Young freak. I love the way he writes and just that old nasally tone."
Parton's suggestion made the cut, as did the Carter Family's Lover's Return, Randy Newman's Feels Like Home and bluegrass-shaded tracks like John Starling's He Rode All the Way to Texas and Del McCoury's I Feel the Blues Movin' In.
Harmony previaled at every juncture, from selecting songs and choosing parts to recording and picking cover art - photos of them at age 7.
The trio did hit a hitch over setting a release date, repeatedly postponed owing to outside obligations and family crises.
It caused a lot of hurt feelings, but we resolved that," Ronstadt says. "We all felt there was a time when one didn't validate the others' hard work. I think we valued it so much that it was crushing to see it sit on the shelf."
In hindsight, Parton sees the constant delays as a test of friendship. "It was a blessing in disguise. We're like sisters. You have differences, your feelings get hurt, but it's OK. You're still family."
Will there be a triple crown from these country queens? All three hope to reunite for a third installment."
"One of the great things about this is that you realize you're not the center of the universe," Harris says. "Sometimes, the career pressure of being me, me, me all the time is a big drain. With three of us, I'm more relaxed. We nourish each other."
Thanks to Mark Watson for providing this article.