Dolly Parton Slept at a Bus Station, Risked Her Safety to Record Her 1st Record at Age 12: ‘I Was Just Shaking’

Dolly Parton went through a lot to record her first album, “Puppy Love.” She was only 12 at the time and had no one to take her to the recording studio in Louisiana. No one except for her senile grandmother who’d never left East Tennessee. Together, they set out to make young Parton’s dreams come true.

Dolly Parton playing the guitar in black and white. She's wearing a patterned blouse with bell sleeves and her signature big blond hair. The year was 1974.
Dolly Parton, 1974 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How Dolly Parton came to record her first record

Parton had an uncle named Robert Henry who was in the Air Force, stationed in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He found a recording studio near where he lived and encouraged young Parton to “come down here and make a record,” the singer writes in her 2020 book, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics.

“Well, how am I going to get to Louisiana?” she asked herself. “Mama’s got a houseful of kids. Daddy ain’t gonna want me to go, so we kind of had to sneak around. There was nobody to take me. This was my big chance, and I would beg anybody and everybody to take me, because Uncle Henry was sending me the money to go.”

The only person available to take Parton was her grandmother.

“My grandma was beginning to get senile at that time,” she wrote. “She dipped snuff and carried a can with a lid on it to spit in. She had never been anywhere.”

Dolly Parton and her grandmother travel to Louisiana to record ‘Puppy Love’

So Parton and her grandmother set off for Louisiana. They got tickets to take the bus out of Sevierville. But after they got off at their first stop, they didn’t know where to go.

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“We don’t know anything or anybody,” she wrote. “We got off the bus and got lost. The bus leaves us there in Birmingham. My grandma was just a nervous wreck. She didn’t know what to do or how to talk to anybody.”

They quickly ran out of the food they’d packed. Luckily, “people offered us potato chips or whatever.” But Parton was scared.

“I was just shaking,” she wrote. “I’m just a little country kid, and I don’t know how to talk to people either. So I go up to the man at the depot and tell him where we’re trying to go. He told us we would have to wait. I remember us sleeping in the bus station with Grandma crying.”

‘Puppy Love’

After a night at the bus station, Parton and her Grandmother recollected themselves and they got to Louisiana.

“And then I got to make ‘Puppy Love,'” wrote Parton.

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The record wasn’t a huge hit by any means, but the future Queen of Country was proud of what she’d accomplished.

“When ‘Puppy Love’ came out, it only got played locally,” she wrote. “I remember the first time I heard myself on the radio. I about killed myself. I was sitting up on the counter, and the radio was on. I jumped off the counter and slid and fell trying to get the radio to turn it up.”