Vera Lynn: Why I love Dolly Parton

'Her lyrics and voice are like mine – although we do dress differently, of course'

I've liked country music for as long as I can remember, especially the songs of Dolly Parton. Her lyrics are similar to mine: simple, expressive, from the heart. Our voices are in the same kind of register, too. And, like me, Dolly sings with clear diction. Of course, we dress differently and our accents are poles apart, but Dolly's songs – and those of other country singers – have always seemed like a natural fit for me.

In the mid-1970s, I even decided to make my own country album. I put the idea to my record company, thinking we'd just go into the studio in the UK and make a novelty album. But instead, they suggested I go to Nashville. I was flabbergasted. I hadn't expected that at all. So in 1977, I went to Nashville and spent six weeks working with the producer Owen Bradley and the Jordanaires, who had been Elvis Presley's backing singers.

It was wonderful. They were very nice chaps, friendly and helpful. They'd heard about me and had listened to some of my music. They had a very different way of working, though: rather than recording everything live, they would lay down the music first, then add the vocals. I remember doing a kind of audition for them: the Jordanaires needed to hear how I sang, so they could tailor their backing to my style. Musically, it was a nice change: it felt natural and easy.

I didn't meet Dolly while I was in Nashville. We were just too busy working. But I did go out to some of the honkytonks and I spent a night at the Grand Ole Opry. When we'd finished the recordings, we all took a boat out on the Mississippi to play them back. We were sitting having dinner, just casually listening to the tapes, when suddenly all around us these big fish started jumping out of the water. It was so funny. I suppose it was the vibrations: the music was tickling them. But to me, it seemed as if they were enjoying the album. It felt like a good sign, anyway.

Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn, the 'Forces Sweetheart'. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe for the Guardian Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe/Guardian

Dolly in brief

Born: Dolly Parton, 19 January 1946

Way in: Islands in the Stream, her 1983 duet with Kenny Rogers.

Key work: Coat of Many Colours (1971)

Dolly Parton in three words: Tennessee. Jolene. Dollywood.

• Vera Lynn: National Treasure – The Ultimate Collection is out on 2 June to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.


Intervew by Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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