If there’s one thing Dolly Parton has learned in her five decades-plus country music career it is this: Touring is fun.
“It’s really like a paid vacation,” said Parton, 68, whose “Blue Smoke” world tour brings her to Phoenix’s Comerica Theatre on Tuesday. “You work a couple hours at night and then you have the days off to do as you please to sightsee or whatever. … My band and I, we go out and sightsee. We go to all the points of interest everywhere we are.”
It’s not likely she will have any time this week to hit the Grand Canyon or any other Arizona tourist hot spots. Next week, she heads to New Zealand and Australia for a string of dates that will keep her Down Under through February.
Her timing is no coincidence. The Tennessee native, whose career has spanned country, gospel, pop and bluegrass music and acting in movies, is hitting Australia while it’s summertime.
“It’s beautiful, warm summer,” she said in an interview in late November, “and we’ll miss all this cold-ass weather here in Nashville. And when I get back, it will be coming spring.”
This is Parton’s most extensive tour in years and one that will take her throughout the United States this spring and back overseas to Europe in June.
She’s touring on her forthcoming album “Blue Smoke,” which she will release in Australia at month’s end and in the U.S. in May. The album includes seven or eight self-penned songs from Parton, the master of songwriting. Her treasure trove of hits includes the classic “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You” that the late Whitney Houston turned into a chart-busting pop ballad, and “9 to 5,” the title song from the 1980 movie she starred in with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
But she also does a couple covers including a countrified gospel turn at Bon Jovi’s rocking “Lay Your Hands On Me.”
“We kind of bluegrassed that up, countrified it a little and turned it into a gospel tune, which I’m very proud of,” Parton explained. “You know how I love to do those cover songs like ‘Shine’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Take those old songs and Dollify them a little bit. This one turned out real good.”
Parton remembers calling up Bon Jovi frontman Jon Bon Jovi and bandmate Richie Sambora, who co-wrote the song. “I said ‘Look, I just think this would make the greatest gospel song. So how ‘bout you boys let me put this together and let’s do us a good gospel tune,’” she recalled.
The song will be on the setlist, which will include Parton’s hits as well as her bluegrass songs.
“I am always amazed at how much fun (performing) really is and how much I really do still enjoy it,” she said. “Because I just love that audience/artist participation. I love those fans that have kept me in business all these years, paid all my bills. ... They feel like they know me and that’s just fun.”