In 1980, two of the biggest country-to-pop crossover acts, Ronnie Milsap and Dolly Parton, recorded for Nashville’s RCA label. Both had major hits that year — Parton with the Donna Summer-penned “Starting Over Again,” and the movie smash “9 to 5,” and Milsap with the Number One singles “My Heart,” “Cowboys and Clowns” and the poignant “Smoky Mountain Rain.” The two Hall of Fame legends come together for a moving update on “Smoky Mountain Rain,” accompanied by an animated video that captures one dream fading while another is just beginning.
Taken from Milsap’s The Duets LP, released earlier this year, the slightly revised version of “Smoky Mountain Rain” is a sort of post-feminist “Hollywood to Dollywood” tale. In the opening verse, Parton takes the lead, explaining that in spite of her traveling man’s “change of dreams” that have led him back from the bright lights of L.A. to the greener pastures of East Tennessee, she tenderly tells him “not to bother, ‘cause I’m gone.” In another nod to Parton, who hails from tiny Locust Ridge in the Smokies, the clip shows the lovelorn lead character thumbing a diesel down outside a café called “Jolene’s,” while at the same time the character representing Parton finds herself empowered and ready to take on dreams of her own.
The clip was created by Josh Clark, guitarist and singer-songwriter with San Francisco-based rock band Tea Leaf Green. An illustrator and animator, he founded his independent 2D animation Clark Studios in Ashland, Oregon, in 2015.
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“As a visual artist I’ve always felt making music informs my art and vice versa. It turns out ‘Smoky Mountain Rain’ is a song I’ve lived,” Clark says. “When you’re asked to do a video for a Ronnie Milsap and Dolly Parton duet you obviously say yes first then ask what song. When I first listened and the scene in the rainy phone booth came up, it resonated with me right away.”
Clark adds that as a musician with 20 years on the road behind him he’s just old enough to have made many of those treks without the luxury and convenience of a cell phone.
“Instead we always left home with a big bag of change and the band would line up at the pay phone in the truck stop or gas station or wherever and wait to call our girlfriends,” he says. “Sometimes that call was devastating, and then you hang up and look around and there’s a whole lot of nothing. But you see her everywhere you go and in everyone you meet.”
“Smoky Mountain Rain” was written by Dennis Morgan and Kye Fleming, who also wrote “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” for Barbara Mandrell and “Nobody,” recorded by Sylvia. In 2010, “Smoky Mountain Rain” became one of Tennessee’s official state songs. Milsap’s The Duets LP also features the piano-playing superstar collaborating with Luke Bryan, Kacey Musgraves, Leon Russell, Montgomery Gentry and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.