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DOLLY PARTON & PORTER WAGONER

DOLLY PARTON & PORTER WAGONER
The Complete Duet Recordings Released By Bear Family

Duets
have always had a place in country music but, during the 1960s-80s,
they enjoyed even greater popularity thanks to the star teamings of such
as George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty and,
preceding either of them and the most successful of all, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton who scored 21 chart singles and released 13 albums.
Now Bear Family
presents the duo’s complete recording collection, together (as can
always expected from this label) with some extras that include rare cuts
and live recordings, in a 6 cd box set accompanied by a 80 page
hardcover book.
DOLLY PARTON & PORTER WAGONER    Just Between You And Me
(Bear Family BCD 16889 FK)
By the time Dolly Parton had joined forces with Porter Wagoner,
he was already well established with some 15 years of hits, a weekly tv
series and an immensely popular roadshow to his credit. She was still a
relatively newcomer in Nashville, recording for Monument Recordings and
pitching her songs around town.
Porter started his rise to national fame in 1954 with Company’s Coming on RCA Victor and hitting the top the following year with Satisfied Mind.  Nicknamed the “Thin Man from West Plains”
(that’s West Plains, Missouri), he always possessed country music
ambitions and became one of the premier characters of the post-war
hillbilly movement. He was immediately identifiable with his down-home
humour, true-to-the-roots country sounds, high rising pompadour and
glitzy rhinestone suits performing songs that often revealed the sadder
side of life, among them Skid Row Joe, Cold Hard Facts Of Life, Carroll County Accident and Green Green Grass Of Home. His success led on to the launch of the syndicated Porter Wagoner Show in 1960, a show was seen by some four million viewers in over 100 areas and also featured his band, the versatile Wagonmasters and a girl singer, for many years, Norma Jean.
Dolly,
born into an impoverished family in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, also
possessed country music ambitions and started things off at an early
age, making her radio debut on Cas Walker’s Knoxville radio show (followed by guesting on the Grand Ole Opry) and her first record – an original song, Puppy Love – on the Louisiana based Goldband label when she was 13. With further small label recordings to her credit (among them a handful of Kitty Wells covers for Stereo Fidelity), she headed straight to Nashville after her high school graduation. Accompanied by her uncle Bill Owens, she started made the round of the music companies, and pitching songs that led on to a recording deal with Monument Records.
Although she scored two charts singles – Dumb Blonde and Something Fishy – Dolly continued to pitch her material, bolstered by the success of Put It Off Until Tomorrow
(a 1966 Top 10 hit for Bill Phillips penned by her and her uncle), so
when she received a call from Wagoner requesting a meeting, she thought
that she may have struck lucky with a song for Norma Jean. Instead he asked if she’d be interested in joining his show, offering her $60,000 a year, an incredible amount back in 1967. “It was the most money I had ever heard tell of. And I could not believe it” she told biographer Alanna Nash, who has written the book notes in this box set collection.
Naturally Dolly agreed and Porter, immediately thinking about the duet potential, set about getting her off Monument and on to RCA Victor. Chet Atkins,
who headed up RCA’s Nashville division, was not so completely
enthralled with the idea, saying that he didn’t think Dolly could sing.
Countering that, Porter said that if the records didn’t sell, Chet could
take the losses out of his royalties. The story was subsequently denied
by the label boss.
Dolly
commenced the association by going out on the road where, reportedly,
her performances were met with mixed reaction as audiences had grown to 
like the very differently styled Norma Jean and Jeanne Seely, her
predecessors. There was also the problem that she talked too fast and
sounded nervous, a situation that Porter helped resolve by working on
the duets that would soon be recording.
Their first session took place at the RCA Victor Studios on October 10, 1967, with Bob Ferguson
producing although Porter played an integral role, before stepping into
the studio, with rehearsals that ensured familiarity with the vocals as
well as working on the arrangements. Well familiar with session, he
used members of his band augmented by musicians from Nashville’s “A”
team. Unlike later sessions where material penned by the two artists
dominated, their earlier sessions combined original material alongside
songs from other writers which, on their debut album, Just Between Me And You, included Before I Met You, Four O Thirty Three and the title track, with folk singer Tom Paxton’s The Last Thing On My Mind chosen as the first single release, resulting in a #7 Billboard chart position.
The duo’s second chart single was also a non-original, Holding On To Nothin’, written by Jerry Chestnut, scoring #7 in the charts, and appearing on their second album, Just The Two Of Us. That same album also contained their third single, a double sided (#5) hit, We’ll Get Ahead Someday c/w Jeanne’s Afraid Of The Dark,
the latter penned by Dolly and finely displayed Porter’s superbly
plaintive recitation skills. Such skills, already heard on several of
his earlier solo recordings, well contrasted with Dolly’s vocals on the
equally heart-rendering Mommie, Ain’t That Daddy, a song laid down on their first ever session.
Biographer Nash, in the accompanying book notes, divides their recording career into three chapters: Say Forever You’ll BE Mine (The Classic Years 1967-1972); I Will Always Love You (The Freedom Train – And The Split); Just Someone I Used To Know (Reunions and The Last Concert).
As
their success developed the relationship changed, with Dolly felt
hemmed in by Porter’s domination over her own solo career which soon
began overtaking his in terms of high charting records. He was extremely
strong-willed and as her producer, overrode her ideas for her own
songs. She also resented “the girl singer” (in the band) mentality that
existed back in that era of male dominated country music – and Dolly
strived, like other female artists, to be recognised for their own
abilities. In her case, her chart successes (like Joshua, Coat Of Many Colors, Touch Your Woman, My Tennessee Mountain Home and Jolene) well spoke for themselves.
There’s
was also the personal situation: Porter loved her and was jealous of
anyone getting near her. Yet Dolly had given Porter new life. Writes
Nash: “Vocally, she had forced him to step up his game just to keep
par with her, and her own brilliant songwriting had inspire him to write
again, something he wasn’t sure he would ever do. He and Dolly had
achieved a level of success that exceeded even what Porter had done on
his own, and he fiercely intended to protect it, even if she completely
eclipsed him”.
So
the inevitable split happened and they performed their last concert
together in June 1974, though Porter continued to produce her recordings
until 1977. Their final album Porter & Dolly (comprising new overdubs for some old masters) was released in August 1980 and the last duet, If You Go, I’ll Follow You, which rose to #12 in the charts, followed in early 1981.
But,
in spite of their irreconcilable differences, Dolly still cared for
Porter and couldn’t have expressed her feelings better than in her
heartfelt I Will Always Love, a song that Porter considered her
finest work. It also became her most successful composition which,
besides topping the charts in 1974, became a massive world-wide hit for Whitney Houston
when featured in the film “The Bodyguard” and, more recently, enjoyed
further country chart success when she recorded it as a duet with Vince Gill
Nevertheless the break-up resulted in six years of lawsuits and counter
suit, resulting in Dolly paying Porter one million dollars. “It took me a while to pay it off, but he got the first million dollars I ever made” she said.
After
the break-up both artists went their separate ways, Dolly on to greater
and greater heights (her pop-country phase, films, recording
collaborations and more) while Porter, taking a little time to recover
from his devastating loss, continued recording, brought James Brown to
the Opry, produced Joe Simon and, in the 1990s, became the Grand Ole
Opry’s unofficial Ambassador.
Happily there was a reconciliation and quoted Dolly to Nashville journalist Robert K. Oermann, “when
we grew older, all those old hurts and aggravations faded away, and it
turned into a pure kind of sweet love, peaceful and nice”.
On May 19, 2007, a month after his final album Wagonmaster (produced by Marty Stuart) was released, Porter celebrated his 50th anniversary with the Grand Ole Opry and, in an emotional reunion, he and Dolly performed their old duet Just Someone I Used To Know before she sang I Will Always Love You
while Porter watched with a tear in his eye. Then, five months later,
Dolly visited Porter on his death bed, just four hours he passed away on
October 27, 2007.
With
this box set, there’s the chance to hear all their recordings,
commencing from the early days of slipping around and cheating songs and
tales of Appalachian heritage, mixed in with frivolous fun material,
familiar revivals and originals from their ever expanding song catalogue
which, as the years passed, dominated the recording sessions.
In all, Porter and Dolly enjoyed 21 chart singles – The Last Thing On My Mind (1967), Holding On To Nothin’ (1968), We’ll Get Ahead Someday/Jeannie’s Afraid Of The Dark (1968), Yours Love (1969), Always, Always (1969), Just Someone I Used To Know (1969), Tomorrow Is Forever (1970), Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man (1970), Better Move It On Home (1971), The Right Combination (1971), Burning The Midnight Oil (1971), Lost Forever In Your Kiss (1972), Together Always (1972), We Found It (1973), If Teardrops Were Pennies (1973), Please Don’t Stop Loving Me (1974), Say Forever You’ll Be Mine (1975), Is Forever Longer Than Always (1976), Making Plans (1980) and If You Go, I’ll Follow You (1980).
In addition to all the RCA recordings, this collection also includes The Freedom Train
(1973), their only non-RCA release, which was a fundraiser for a
bicentennial train that travelled the country with the nation’s historic
documents in a museum car. There’s also a handful of unreleased duets
and the set concludes with four songs recorded in concert.
For
all their considerable successes, Dolly and Porter were well rewarded
with accolades and trophies, including three time winners for both the
Country Music Association and Music City News Awards as Vocal Group of
the Year during the period 1968-71.

The six cd set is accompanied by the 80 page, full colour book in which Alanna Nash’s essay includes many comments by both artists as well as insights into their careers by banjoist Buck Trent, long-time member of the Wagonmasters, and Don Warden,
Porter’s equally longstanding friend and business partner. There’s a
mass of photographs, album cover reproductions, discography and an
introduction by Emmyou Harris, “truly humbled by the high art
and soul of duet singing and its power to tell the story of the human
heart, broken and otherwise, but Porter and Dolly became the gold
standard for me and remain so to this day.”

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