“Dolly Parton is tickling my beard! I thought: ‘Well, this is off to a good start!’”: how Rob Halford ended up appearing on Dolly Parton’s new rock album

Dolly Parton and Rob Halford duetting at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

The cover of Classic Rock 321

(Image credit: Future)

In the brand new issue of Classic Rock magazine, we talk to Dolly Parton about her star-studded rock album, Rockstar. As if the idea of a country legend making a rock album wasn’t enough, she’s enlisted a host of famous rock musicians to appear on it.

One of these guests is Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford, who duets with Dolly on the track Bygones. Geographically and culturally, it’s a long way from the Midlands metal circuit to country music’s epicentre in Nashville, but with Rob and Dolly Parton’s joint vocals marking one of the high points of the Rockstar album, the Priest frontman says they share more common ground than you might think. This is how one of the year’s most unlikely collaborations happened. 

Lightning bolt page divider

How did your collaboration with Dolly come about?

I think it’s because we both like to sparkle, with what we wear [laughs]. It goes back to the amazing moment Priest was finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2022. Journalists kept asking me: “Who are you looking forward to meeting?” I told them: “I want a selfie with Dolly Parton.” 

We met for the first time at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. She came out looking absolutely fantastic, and started tickling my beard. It was like the first time I met Madonna – I nearly had my cock out because she wanted to see all my tattoos. Now Dolly Parton is tickling my beard! So I thought: “Well, this is off to a good start…”

How did you end up joining her on stage that night at the Hall Of Fame?

She asked me: “Do you know Jolene?”’ I love it. So we ended up singing Jolene side-by-side. It’s mad. After the show, she was swarmed. Everybody wanted to get close to Dolly, she’s like a Beatle. A few days later, she sent me a note: “Hey Rob, I just wanted to thank you for Jolene. You sure have a great voice.” And I just had that feeling: “Something’s going to happen here.” I go back to my great-grandmother, who was a clairvoyant. Sure enough, not long later, we get communication from Dolly: “I’m putting this album together. Would you consider singing on it with me?” And my head is blowing up while I’m reading this. I was all in.

Were you a Dolly fan in your youth?

Yeah. My first recollections of Dolly go all the way back. I think everybody on the planet knew of this remarkable woman. I remember her being on British television and just being so engaging. When she performs, even if you’re not a country fan, there’s something about her personality that draws you in. Not only as a musician, but as a humanitarian, a staunch supporter of LGBTQ+ people, right from day one – even when you didn’t talk about that. And visually she’s as unique as Lemmy.  

What did you think when you first heard Bygones?

When they sent me the demo, it was just immediate. It was in my world – it wasn’t metal, but it was a tough song, and when you crank it up it’s roaring. And it’s a wonderful lyric. She’s talking about overcoming the past and how love is stronger than yelling at each other – although I think people that are in love do yell at each other, and that’s a healthy relationship. It’s this great message that love always rises and wins. But the words of her songs have a tremendous reach beyond the initial subject matter. You could also put that song on the world stage – y’know, it could be about politics, government, war, anything. 

What are your memories of recording your vocal?

She did all the work remotely. I went to my local studio here in Phoenix, told them I needed three hours. Dolly and her producer/co-writer Kent said: “We’re not gonna tell you what to do, because you know who you are.” But they kept calling me from Nashville! I would do a take, then Dolly would call me and say: “How’s it going? Can I hear something?” “No, Dolly, hang on a minute, I’ll get back to you.” I get to the end of the session, and she’s calling me again: “I want to hear something!” I say: “I’ll send you the files in a minute.” She says: “Let me hear something now!” So we had to put it on the speakers, and she’s going: “Woo-hoo”’ She’s got this infectious laugh: “I love it, send me the files!” Eventually they sent me the final mix, and I just couldn’t believe it, this Black Country yam yam belting it out with Dolly Parton.”  

Have you ever been to Dollywood?

Dolly asked me that and I told her: “No, but me and Thomas [Rob’s partner] were talking about it last night.” And she says: “You’ve got to come – I’ll put you in the Dolly Suite!” I’ve got to do it, haven’t I?

The brand new issue of Classic Rock is out now. Order it online and have it delivered straight to your door.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.