Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris have three careers unparalleled in music history. Together they have sold over 200 million albums worldwide and performed for decades in front of countless fans around the globe. It’s no surprise that when their three voices united to release their debut collaboration, the results were remarkable. The threesome released two albums together, Trio (1987) and Trio II (1999), which have combined to sell more than five million copies worldwide and win three Grammy Awards. Both of these classic albums have been newly remastered for a three-CD collection packed with rare and unreleased music. Produced by Harris, The Complete Trio Collection will be available on September 9th for a list price of $29.98.
On the same date, a single-disc set will also be available entitled My Dear Companion: Selections From The Trio Collection, featuring a mix of songs taken from the three-disc set, as will Farther Along, a double-LP set of all of the bonus material from The Complete Trio Collection. Trio II will also be released on vinyl for the first time.
Even though Parton, Ronstadt, and Harris began recording together in the 1970’s, a full album proved elusive. When the stars aligned and the friends were finally able to record a full album, a powerhouse sound of country and Americana was born. The results were remarkable. Trio arrived in 1987 and sold more than four million copies, won two Grammy Awards, and topped the country album chart for five consecutive weeks. Among the standout tracks are “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” “Wildflowers,” and “Farther Along.”
It would be more than a decade before the group released a follow-up but when Trio II arrived in 1999, it did not disappoint. The album won a Grammy Award and peaked in the Top Five of the country album chart. It sold more than one million copies worldwide, thanks to the strength of tracks like “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” the Carter family’s “Lover’s Return” and a cover of Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush.”
The bonus disc is loaded with 20 songs, including alternate takes of album tracks like “I’ve Had Enough,” “Making Plans” and “My Dear Companion.” Also featured are 11 completely unreleased recordings from the trio spanning both album sessions, including “Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” “Pleasant As May,” “Are You Tired of Me,” and the gospel standard “Softly And Tenderly”. Among the unreleased material is also an alternate version of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” featuring Parton on lead vocals and a stunning acapella version of “Calling All My Children Home.”
Not to put you on the spot, but how did you ladies pick the songs for the album without hurting feelings?
Emmylou Harris: Linda, why don’t you answer that because Dolly and I always answer this question. (Laughs)
Dolly Parton: Yes, and we want to hear your side of the story. (Laughs)
Linda Ronstadt: Well, Emmy and Dolly are both such great songwriters, so that helps. Emmy also stays up a whole lot later than either one of us, so she finds all the great songwriters and gets all of the great songs. She would bring to the project so many great songs for us to listen to and from there we would just decide which ones resonated. It was just a mutual selection. But to answer your question, Emmy is the song finder.
EH: Yes, it’s true: I’m the song finder. But that’s an interesting question. It was up to us and the producers to make suggestions, but I really don’t think there was ever any disagreement as to what we should use on the records.
What about deciding what musicians to use for the records?
DP: Keep in mind that there are songs that are great on stage and some that are great in the studio, but then there are those that are great both on stage and in the studio. Linda and Emmy had always worked with great musicians and they know great musicians, so they were the ones that brought all of the great musicians. Even the musicians themselves knew who would sound great on which songs.
LR: It just kind of fell into place. There were never any rocky roads with the musicians or us.
This is a question for Linda. Will your health issues have an impact on doing any live performances as the trio to promote the new album?
LR: I can’t sing a note to start with and second of all, it’s kind of hard to walk, so I don’t think I’ll be doing any touring. No chance.
EH: Yeah, I think we can put that to bed right now.
DP: Well it would be wonderful if we could, but we always have our memories. We’ll always have our music.
Why did it take 10 years to release this Trio record?
EH: I don’t mean to pawn this off on anyone, but the person who was working on this album for the past 10 years is a fellow by the name of James Austin. I’m sure there were difficulties and problems that Dolly could explain, but we had this person that was just so committed to this project. He stuck with it for ten years, gathered all of the unreleased material, kept in touch with all of us and wanted our input. He wanted to know what we thought and what we wanted included or not included. He was doing all of the heavy lifting. Why did it take 10 years? It wasn’t because of me or Dolly or Linda and certainly not because of James Austin. He was working all of the time. It was a real labor of love with him. He’s the patron saint of the complete Trio collection.
DP: We’re 30 years into this project! We had the first Trio, the second Trio, and now all the scraps.
LR: I was happy to find out all of those songs were still there!
EH: I would listen to those old songs and think, “Oh, I remember when we did that!” but I didn’t remember how great they were.
LR: They were so much better than what I remembered.
EH: It was like a great Christmas gift that you forgot to open.
DP: (Laughs) That’s so cute! I can speak for all three of us when I say that we all take such great pride in this. This will always stand as one of the greatest musical things I’ve ever done. I’ve never been prouder of anything and I love these girls like sisters. What we did as a trio is going to stand up long after we are all gone.
EM: When we’re gone.
LR: It’s been one of my favorite musical experiences ever!
EM: Mine too, so it’s unanimous!
DP: (Laughs) Yay! That’s why we are the trio.
At this point in your lives, do you care if any of the songs get radio play?
LR: Whether they were commercial or not didn’t matter.
DP: (Laughs) That’s for sure!
LR: It was more about three women getting together and talking about their troubles and taking a very feminine slant in a community-kind of way. A lot of the songs are like that. They are shared problems.
LH: And shared joy.
DP: As songwriters, we tried to write all of those emotions. I think you feel the joy in these songs and the stories. That’s what makes the kind of music that we love so special.
EH: We love all of these songs so much that the joy of just being able to sing them I think comes through on this record.
Which song off of the album is your mutual favorite?
LR: “Jesus Is Calling” is the opening song to a movie called “The Trip To Bountiful”. I thought it was the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Some of us are religious and some of us are not – I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one is which.
EH: Cynthia Clawson sings the beautiful song during the movie credits and we just stole it, but I stole it with her blessing. I did call her and tell her what we were planning. We were just so inspired by it.
DP: That particular song was a song I grew up singing all of my life. I come from a very religious background – my grandpa was a preacher – and that song was just a staple for us.
EH: See, I attended an Episcopal church that just didn’t seem to allow any melodies.
DP: Well I’m no holy roller but I’ll teach you those songs! (Laughs)
LR: The last time I was in church they were singing Gregorian chants! So for me the song is about profound homesickness.
EH: Well, that’s what the movie is about.
LR: We all want to go home, but when we do there’s weird problems. (Laughs)
DP: There’s always that longing to go home in our souls. In country music, those mountain songs and that way of life, that’s all you really got. We have our faith and hope, so many of our songs have that mournful tenderness.
EH: That’s why they are so wonderful to sing.
LR: They are so profound.
EH: Yeah, they go right to the heart.
How do your three voices blend so perfectly together?
EH: Linda, we want to know what you think?
DP: Yeah, what do you think Linda? (Laughs)
LR: We’re all used to singing with a lot of other good singers. We’re professionals and we have that privilege, but when the three of us sing together it sounds special. Each of us can duet and the three of us can sing together. Each of our voices has a special characteristic that fills out the sound. My favorite combination is when Emmy starts singing lead and then I come in with the low harmony and Dolly comes in on the top. It’s so beautiful.
EH: The song actually tells us which way to try it.
DP: It’s fun experimenting. I would say, “Hey, I can do that too!”
EH: There are times when we had to say to Linda, “You’re not singing enough lead.” She was thinking we wouldn’t notice.
LR: Well some of the traditional material was not my strong suit, but I can do harmonies pretty well. My voice kind of helps everything blend. It’s a very thick voice.
DP: Yeah, but we did have to hammer Linda on the head to sing those country tunes.
EH: It all worked out because we found other songs for Linda to sing lead on.
The 3 of you seem so close. How will you keep that closeness going forward since you won’t be performing together?
DP: We’re always going to be friends first of all. Plus, Emmy and I work all of the time and Linda is one of the greatest producers ever. Even though she says she can’t sing anymore, I bet she can sing better than she says. But…she may end up producing something for Emmy and I. Who knows what could happen.
EH: Just the fact that we’re friends and we will always have this album which will live long after we’re gone. We’re just going to have to keep going on with our lives and be grateful that we had this chance.
DP: We’re bound together like a song.