"They're Led Zeppelin - and I got the balloons!": It turns out Dolly Parton has wanted to go into the studio with Jimmy Page for decades

Dolly Parton studio portrait, plus Jimmy Page onstage at the 2023 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame show
(Image credit: Dollly Parton: Butterfly Records | Jimmy Page: Mike Coppola)

Unless you've been hiding at the bottom of the sea for the last few months, you'll be aware that Dolly Parton's Rockstar album has been been the subject of much excitement. And it all started with that controversial Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nomination. 

"I’m not expecting that I’ll get in," said Parton. "But if I do, I’ll immediately, next year, have to put out a great rock'n'roll album – which I’ve wanted to do for years, like a Linda Ronstadt or Heart kind of thing. So this may have been just a God-wink for me to go ahead and do that. It’s just nice to be nominated."

In the wake of her actual induction, Parton was more effusive. "I'm a rock star now!" she proclaimed. "That's what they say! That was such an honour. I'm making an album too because I have to live up to all that hype!"

The almost universal love for Parton is such that any hoots of derision were distant, but they were there if you listened hard enough. Parton? A rock album? And she's wanted to do it for years? Yeah, right.

Well, she has.

Back in early 2001, Parton was on the promotional trail for her second bluegrass album, Little Sparrow, and she spoke to US Weekly. Perhaps surprisingly, the subject of Led Zeppelin came up.

"I love Led Zeppelin," responded Parton. "I want Jimmy Page to come into the studio for my next album. If I love a song and it just burns in me, well, I'll find a way to do it. At my age, it's like I'm not doing it for any reason other than I just feel like it. People ain't buying my damn records anyway, so why can't I at least take a chance if I'm paying for the studio session?"

Of course, Parton would go on to record her first version of Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven on the following year's Halos & Horns album, and she raised the possibility of a collaboration once more in an interview with Mojo in May 2008.

"Alison and Robert are great," said Dolly, referring to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand project, released the previous year. "I probably should have got to sing a song with them. I didn't even know they were doing an album until it was almost done; if I'd have known about it, I'd have said, Hey, don't you have a trio that we could do on that? 

"I'm not going out looking for it, but I'm open to anything. Anything's possible. Who knows? They're Led Zeppelin - and I got the balloons!"

In interviews ahead of her Rock Hall induction, Parton again talked up the idea of a collaboration on the album, telling Pollstar, "I’m trying to see if Robert Plant might sing on it. Maybe Jimmy Page might do the pick-up part on it."

Sadly, the collaboration never came to pass, but the A-List of Rockstar contributors – including Steven Tyler, Elton John, Sting, Steve Perry, Ann Wilson, John Fogerty, Kid Rock, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Frampton, Rob Halford, Pat Benatar, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – is some compensation. 

Read our exclusive interview with Dolly Parton about the making of Rockstar in the new issue of Classic Rock.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.