A Magazine Survey Inspired Dolly Parton to Record an Album in a New Genre for the Country Star

After Dolly Parton got her start in country music, she began to turn her attention toward pop. But in the 1990s, she found her way back to her roots. She debuted her first official bluegrass album, The Grass is Blue, in 1999. Here’s the story of how her friend and producer, Steve Buckingham, convinced her to put out a bluegrass album.

Dolly Parton performing on state at The Gift Of Music Concert
Dolly Parton | Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Dolly Parton on working with Steve Buckingham

Throughout her time in the music business, Parton has worked with many producers. She considers Buckingham to be the cream of the crop.

“Steve Buckingham is a wonderful man, and he knows his music,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “He knows everything about country music, about every artist, and about everything concerning it. He’s also a great organizer. He knows how to put great musicians together. He knows how to make great records, and he’s so easy to work with.

“I loved working with him on everything we did together. He was always there to help me, whether it was performing on shows or organizing a band for TV. He was just an all-in kind of guy. He was really a magic person for me, starting with Eagle When She Flies.”

How Steve Buckingham convinced Dolly Parton to do a bluegrass album

In addition to being professional colleagues, Parton and Buckingham are friends. Back when they worked together regularly, they’d often share meals together.

“Steve Buckingham and I used to go to dinner all the time, because we knew so many of the same people,” wrote Parton.”We’d get caught up on the latest gossip and talk about whatever was going on in the [music] business. We just enjoyed each others’ company.”

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One night at dinner, Buckingham brought up something he’d seen in a magazine.

“I have always loved bluegrass music, and I grew up singing a lot of it,” wrote Parton. “This one night we were at the table, and Steve said, ‘I saw a survey in one of the magazines asking, ‘Who would you most like to see do a bluegrass album who’s never done one?’ And your name was at the top of the list.'”

Parton responded: “Well, let’s do one.”

And so they did.

“In no time flat, he put together the best bluegrass pickers,” Parton wrote of Buckingham. “He did such a great job pulling it all together with those great musicians, and we had such a fun time recording that.”

‘The Grass is Blue’

Parton has been listening to and singing bluegrass for much of her career. But The Grass is Blue was her first official album in the genre.

“We picked some of the best, great, classic bluegrass songs, and I wrote, ‘The Grass is Blue’ as the theme song,” she wrote. “The album got some of the greatest reviews I’ve ever had for my music. I’m really, really proud of that record.”

Rivers flow backwards
Valleys are high
Mountains are level
Truth is alive
I’m perfectly fine
And I don’t miss you
The sky is green
And the grass is blue

‘The Grass is Blue,’ by Dolly Parton