Forty-one years ago today, September 9th, 1975, marks the historic occasion when Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt all met for the very first time in a hotel room in Los Angeles following a studio session during which Harris recorded the prophetically titled “One of the Days.” While Parton and Harris were friends first and both longed to meet their favorite “girl singer,” the three began recording together as a trio almost immediately after first meeting. Early tunes they recorded included the 1975 Christmas single, “Light of the Stable,” which also featured Neil Young, “Evangeline” and the frothy Fifties’ classic, “Mister Sandman” (both later issued on Harris’s 1981 LP, Evangeline) and a cover of Parton’s plaintive 1971 track, “My Blue Tears, which surfaced in 1982 on Ronstadt’s Get Closer album.
But the question of just when the three hugely popular solo stars would get down to business and release a full album of collaborative tunes was repeatedly met with the same answer: “One of these days.” The day finally came in early March 1987, and Trio was met not only with rave reviews and brisk sales, but a dizzying media blitz worthy of the three superstar entertainers. Right out of the starting gate the LP’s first single, “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” penned by Phil Spector, charged to Number One on the country chart and the album would spawn three more huge hits: “Telling Me Lies,” “Wildflowers” and “Those Memories of You,” all of which reached the Top Ten.
On March 13, 1987, a high-profile story on the Trio project appeared in the Los Angeles Times detailing the intense three-day media frenzy the singers endured, including insight into Parton’s patented humor after having repeatedly been asked about her recent weight loss. (In classic Dolly fashion, she replied, “I just pulled my head out of the lard bucket for a change.”) That same day, Harris, Parton and Ronstadt appeared as musical guests on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Parton was a favorite (and her voluptuous figure a favorite target) of the late-night host, so the appearance was hardly unexpected. What was surprising – and yet certainly appropriate – was that the ladies were given three performance slots – and some valuable couch time to gab with Carson. Opening with the lively “Those Memories of You,” seen in the above clip, the entire performance was backed by an ace band which included Mark O’Connor on fiddle, Herb Pedersen and John Starling on guitars, Steve Fishell on Dobro, Leland Sklar on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums. “To Know Him Is to Love Him” followed and after chatting with Carson, the trio and musicians returned to the stage for “Hobo’s Meditation,” with lead vocals from Ronstadt.
“People are always askin’, ‘What’s Johnny Carson really like?'” Parton joked when the host asked about some of the most-asked questions they encountered during their recent press junket. “Why don’t you find out sometime?” he quipped, causing the unflappable Parton to reply, “Who knows? You get around, so I might be next.”
Forty-one years after they first met, Harris, Parton and Ronstadt are being celebrated with another long-awaited release. The Complete Trio Collection, out today, compiles the 1987 Trio album, the 1999 sequel and 20 additional tracks comprised of alternate takes and previously unreleased tunes from the legends. While the spectacular harmonies and song selection throughout are plenty enough to make the set essential listening, as a bonus the beautifully compiled package comprehensive liner notes, with an extraordinary overview of the entire Trio output from former Rolling Stone Press editor Holly George-Warren.