- Mar 2 2021When country stars Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris collaborated on 1987's Trio, the results were momentous. To commemorate the release of a number of new Trio packages, Saturday Night Country's Felicity Urquhart spoke to Emmylou Harris.
Trio (Dolly, Linda & Emmylou) with Saturday Night Country
Trio (Dolly, Linda & Emmylou) with Saturday Night Country
When country stars Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris collaborated on 1987’s Trio, the results were as momentous and fascinating as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins’ famous 1956 ‘Million Dollar Session’. The long-awaited follow-up Trio II arrived in 1999, but we now have a new opportunity to appraise the threesome’s breathtaking output.
While we’ll never see them perform together due to Linda Ronstadt’s ill health, new collection Trio: The Complete Collection brings together classic recordings and lost sessions from these three country goddesses. To commemorate the release of Trio: The Complete Collection as well as a number of new Trio packages, I Like Your Old Stuff has been provided the transcript of Felicity Urquhart’s recent interview with Emmylou Harris for ABC’s Saturday Night Country.
Trio is referred to as the female country holy trinity, which really does sum it up when you’ve teamed up with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. The original Trio album came out in 1987, but you girls had been teaming up since the 1970s, hadn’t you?
“I had become friends with Linda and we’d sung on each other’s albums. We had confided to each other when we met that our favourite girl singer of all time was Dolly. We were able to meet and she sang on some of my records, but the first time we sang together we knew there was something special and we knew we should do a record.”
It must have been a whole lot of fun choosing which tunes to include on the very first collection.
“Well everybody brought different tunes. A fellow named John Starling, who was a friend of mine and Linda’s and who became a friend of Dolly’s, has a terrific song sense and was in the room suggesting songs like our cheerleader. We all brought in songs we loved and also songs which showed of our voices – Linda on the bottom, me in the middle and Dolly with that beautiful voice on top. We would try different voicings and that was fun too. The whole thing was great – like a big slumber party almost. We were laughing, telling stories and singing – what could be better than that?”
Did it take a while to work out the vocals on the first album or did the harmonies lock in as easily as breathing air?
“Well we are all really good harmony singers and we love harmony, so we were really just trying to see which voicing served the song the best. It’s not like anything sounded bad, but there’s a certain moment when you just know when the right sound has been found.”
Having personally donned the producer cap to put this collection together, has it been a whole lot of fun?
“Well I’ll tell you, the credit really goes to a fellow named James Austin, who has been overseeing this with a lot of love and dedication; we’ve been talking about this for probably 10 years. He’s the one who kept the ball rolling and would send us the different tracks to consider. The two complete albums were a no-brainer, but in the outtakes we had tried things that didn’t work or were different versions of songs. There were incomplete recordings that even though weren’t the whole song were quite beautiful. It was like panning for gold, almost. ‘Oh, I remember that! That was beautiful - people should hear that’.”
Do you hope this release will also discover a whole new audience?
“Well it’s going to be out there and I think people might really love to hear those voices. And the songs – I love all the songs and they are beautiful, beautiful examples of wonderful songwriting. And of course Dolly, being the amazing songwriter she is, re-showcasing some of her amazing work. There are some wonderful songs here.”
Were they ‘the good old days’ – did we have it made in the ‘80s and ‘90s as far as country music was concerned?
“Well I don’t know, since I’m still making music now and I still love it, but it’s been a wonderful adventure. I’ve been so lucky to collaborate with so many artists and singers over the years as it kind of takes the pressure off you as a solo artist. Somehow when you’re making a record with other artists, the collaborative process of really enjoying other people and hearing them shine, as well as the end product of what a song can be with those voices, it really was an extraordinary experience. Linda and Dolly are two amazing women – and friends. When you’re a recording artist you usually don’t get much time to spend with friends who also happen to be artists, because you’re on the road or doing solo records or whatever, so to know that you’re getting in the studio coming up with a product – which sounds like such a cold word – but also getting to enjoy that camaraderie, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Given your successful solo careers, did you ever get the chance to tour the original Trio albums in the 1980s and 1990s?
“We never toured. When I think back to then it’s almost a miracle we even had time to do those records. We realised the main thing was we got the records done and it had to be just that. When Dolly left Porter [Wagoner, Dolly’s duet partner until 1976] she had her own show and when Linda and I performed on that show it planted a seed for the record much later. We also performed on a CMA Awards show and did “My Dear Companion”, but that was the extent of our tour. There was no T-shirt or nothin’!”
I’d wear a T-shirt of the new artwork. The 1980s style and hair – you look beautiful.
“That was Linda’s idea. I had the tailored Manuel [Cuevas], who worked for Nudie and did all those beautiful western jackets and skirts, and I had one done for an earlier album called “The Ballad Of Sally Rose”. Linda, who really appreciates style, gets outfits made by Manuel too, so it was fun. My jacket was borrowed by Marty Stuart and is actually in a collection of western wear at the Tennessee State Museum or somewhere. It’s still mine though, Marty.”
You’ve got a lot of friends here in Australia – including your recent tour guest Harmony James. I believe you became quite close on that tour.
“Well she gave me some wonderful Australian tea as she knows I’m a serious tea drinker. I have finished it now though, so I have to get some more!”
When you’re touring so much internationally, do you get to be a tourist occasionally?
“Probably not as much as you’d think, since when you’re on the road it’s really important that you make the most of your time and it is a business, it’s about making a living. Just being in another country, you are going to see the beautiful parts of a country even when travelling from one place to another. I do enjoy the travel. I still enjoy it after all these years and I’m looking forward to the summer – I’ll be touring the States on a double bill with Lyle Lovett.”
What Trio song is a favourite for you?
“I suppose because it includes some outtakes which have never been heard, I was so glad we were able to include “Softly And Tenderly” and snippets of “Calling All My Children” and “Grace On The Line”. Every time Linda and Dolly opened their mouths it was such a thrill to be in the room.”
The single disc My Dear Companion: Selections From The Complete Trio Collection, the three-CD set The Complete Trio Collection and the LP edition of Trio II are all available now. Hear Saturday Night Country episodes here.
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