Hello, Dolly

Jerry Perry poured himself a cup of ambition and planned Dolly Parton’s 60th birthday party

In 1965, Dolly Parton’s single “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” reached No. 108 on the pop charts.

In 1965, Dolly Parton’s single “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” reached No. 108 on the pop charts.

Dolly Parton’s 60th-birthday tribute show; 9 p.m. Thursday, January 19; $10. Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street, (916) 442-8832.

There’s more to Dolly Parton than the sequined costumes, sky-high platinum wigs and big (OK, really big) breasts. Underneath the glitzed-up exterior is an amazing songwriter, capable of composing top-of-the-chart pop hits and heartbreaking country laments. Parton expressed it best when she said, “I hope people realize that there is a brain underneath the hair and a heart underneath the boobs.”

As one of America’s most prolific songwriters, Parton’s catalog, which Dollymania.net tallies at 3,000 original compositions, is as diverse as her audience. Conservatives love her. Liberals love her. Drag queens love her. Gays love her. Attend one of her shows—if you can, we recommend it—and it’s likely that you’ll spot a drag queen seated next to a 60-year-old grandmother. There are only a handful of other artists who can bring those two demographics together—we’re talking, of course, about Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Elton John.

Throughout her career, Parton has penned commercially successful songs, including “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You,” a track that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts three times, twice for Parton and once for Whitney Houston. She’s also written lesser-known bluegrass songs like “Bluer Pastures” off of Little Sparrow, an album that also includes the Grammy-winning track “Shine.”

So, when Jerry Perry, publisher of local music magazine Alive & Kicking, first decided to organize a tribute show in honor of Parton’s 60th birthday on January 19, there was no shortage of songs to choose from. It was merely a question of who should be involved in the project. “I’m not thinking what are the wackiest, most ‘out there’ artists that I can put on this bill so much as I’m thinking what artists will really bring to the table the essence of these songs,” Perry explained in a recent phone interview.

At the time of the interview, Perry was still scrambling to put the bill together. Brianna Lea, a newbie on the local music scene, was an obvious choice, as were Jonah Matranga, Chelsea Wolfe and Noah Nelson (of Las Pesadillas).

“I really want to turn Noah on to some of [Parton’s] country-death songs because no one will deliver those like Noah,” said Perry. “And singing them from the feminine point of view in his style will just be almost classic-folk delivery, like ‘The House of the Rising Sun’—that kind of thing,” he continued.

Despite the folksy stylings of the above-mentioned artists, Perry isn’t expecting the event to turn into a full-fledged folk fest. “I know we’re still going to have some interesting takes on this music, but I think the artists are a little more geared toward Dolly Parton,” he explained.

As for who’s covering what, well, many requests were made to perform “Jolene,” the 1973 hit that helped Parton cross over from the country charts to the pop charts. The honors have gone to Eric and Donna Bianchi. As for the other artists, “some people are taking it very seriously,” Perry explained. “They’re choosing very profound songs. Some of them are approaching it from a whole different view, like the guys from Saucer were looking into songs from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” he continued. “It’s like, oh my God! That’s just going to be horrendous, in a very campy way, of course.”

Whatever the final lineup, one thing is sure: Perry wants it to be something Parton would be delighted with. “I have a lot of respect for her as a songwriter, and I think she’s amazing. I just happened to see that her 60th birthday was coming up, and I thought, ‘Wow, that would be a neat theme.’”

Even neater is the fact that proceeds from the show will benefit WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment). “She’s such a strong female presence in the music world,” Perry said, “and to use it as a fund-raiser for a women’s organization—I thought a lot of people would really appreciate that.”