Flashback: Dolly Parton Performs at New York’s Bottom Line in 1977 – Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Dolly Parton Charms Mick Jagger, John Belushi at New York’s Bottom Line

Country entertainer wowed an audience of celebrities over a three-night stand

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton onstage at New York City's Bottom Line. In May 1977, Parton hosted a three-night residency at the club.

Suzanne Vlamis/AP/REX/Shuttersto

In May 1977, New York City was on the brink. A serial killer calling himself “Son of Sam” evaded capture and taunted authorities, while the city faced financial ruin and a growing reputation as a lawless, concrete jungle. Two months later, the situation would reach fever pitch, amid a sweltering heat wave, citywide blackout, raging fires and widespread looting. Elsewhere in the Big Apple that spring and summer, the glitterati partied to a disco beat at Studio 54, hip-hop spread from the Bronx to the rest of the world, and punk and new wave flourished at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. But at a three-year-old club in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, an eclectic array of performers, including Bruce Springsteen, Loudon Wainwright III, Carly Simon and Ricky Nelson, had been offering respite from the chaos swirling outside that 400-seat venue.

On May 12th, 1977, the Bottom Line hosted the first of a three-night stand for another influential artist: Dolly Parton, who was celebrating her first Number One album as a solo artist with New Harvest…First Gathering. Having dropped her Nashville management for L.A. representation, Parton set about embracing her new independent image after a seven-year stint as Porter Wagoner’s “girl singer” on his syndicated TV series. To that end, she enlisted a new group of polished players called Gypsy Fever and firing her Travelin’ Family Band, which, as the name suggests, was populated with the singer’s relatives.

Parton had already conquered San Francisco’s Boarding House, delighting her growing legion of gay fans, and L.A.’s Roxy, with Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Barbra Streisand in the crowd, by the time she hit New York. In spite of lingering throat problems, Parton filled the Bottom Line with high-energy pop-rock and down-home country, her effortless East Tennessee charm winning over an audience that included Springsteen, Mick Jagger and John Belushi. She swerved from the upbeat and joyous, like “All I Can Do” and “Getting in My Way,” to, in her words, the “plumb pitiful” “Me and Little Andy.” The now iconic hits “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” were reminders of the new direction in which she was headed, with “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” the most obvious indication of what had been and what was yet to come.

As the Nashville establishment and other country purists bemoaned Parton’s perceived abandonment of her Smoky Mountain roots (New Harvest…First Gathering targeted a pop audience), the woman who had finally secured a hard-won freedom from Wagoner’s imposing, rhinestone-studded shadow tried to assure everyone that she wasn’t abandoning country — rather, she’d be taking it with her.

In 1979, two years after Parton triumphed at the Bottom Line, she returned to Sevier County High School, where she graduated in 1964. There, she performed a benefit concert for the Sevier County Scholarship fund that included the above performance of the bubbly “All I Can Do.” The superstar entertainer, by then world-renowned for her many hits, also attended the dedication of the Dolly Parton Parkway, which, rather ironically, is the flattest stretch of Highway 411 in Sevier County.

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