What an all-time great Dolly Parton story.
She’s been friends with actress Jane Fonda for quite some time now, ever since they co-starred in the iconic 9 to 5 film back in 1980.
And back in 2017, Jane stopped by The Late Late Show with James Corden, where he asked about her time going on tour with Dolly years ago.
Dolly wanted to show her what life was like on the road, and their first stop sounded like an incredible experience in and of itself, as Dolly had Jane sing backup for her at a Grand Ole Opry performance:
“You know how the trip started? She had me fly to Nashville and had me sing backup for her at the Grand Ole Opry.”
But that’s nowhere near the best part of the story…
After they finished their Opry duties, Dolly wanted to give Jane a taste of life in Appalachia and what she knew growing up.
So they made a pit stop at Dolly’s cousins house in the Ozarks, which is an obviously different mountain region from where Dolly grew up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, but for all intents and purposes here, it’s close enough.
They pulled Mrs. Dolly’s tour bus right up to the moonshine still for Jane’s first taste of white lightning:
“But then we went on her tour bus, and one of the first stops was at her cousins still in the Ozarks, because she wanted me to know what really good white lightning was like.
And she said, the only good stuff has been put through a filter like three times. She said, ‘My cousins is four times.'”
But if you’ve ever tried real moonshine from a holler (sorry, not the stuff you can buy at a liquor store), then you probably know it doesn’t take long to start feeling it.
I mean, it’s pure alcohol and nothing more or less if we’re talking about traditional, basic moonshine, so it makes sense… some would even call it medicinal, but I digress.
And as is exemplified in this story perfectly, you have to know somebody to get the good stuff… somebody like Dolly Parton, apparently:
“And so she taught me how to put your thumb in the jug and hoist it up, and I didn’t know I was drunk. I was drunk for 10 days and I didn’t know it until I got home!’
When it’s really good, you don’t know.”
Ain’t that the truth.
She went on to say that Dolly’s husband Carl Dean put together a little video montage of their travels after the tour ended, which Jane hilariously summed up like so:
“All I can tell you is, her husband edited a video of the trip for us, and when I look at that video, I realize we had no idea that we were as drunk as we were.
But it was really fun, it was.”
And after hearing this story, I have a new bucket list item… drink moonshine in the mountains with Dolly Parton.
Can you even imagine?
I truly do not think it can get any better than that…
Dolly’s Dad Made Moonshine
Dolly’s dad, Robert, actually made his own moonshine to supplement her families income way back when she lived in a one-room house with her parents and 11 siblings.
In her book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, Dolly says her mom, who was a very strict Christian, hated that he did that:
“My daddy made moonshine for a while, and Mama didn’t like that.
He didn’t really want to do it, but people make moonshine in the mountains because they need the income. So Daddy did that for a time, and so did a lot of my relatives.”
And that sort of thing is another trade that’s really not all that uncommon. Though it’s less and less popular in today’s day and age, because you can legally buy alcohol at liquor stores now, tons of people did it illegally in the mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina during prohibition, mainly.
Stella Parton, Dolly’s sister, said that their dad would also hide whiskey in the house “to let off his own steam”.
But Dolly’s mom, Avie Lee, also hated that, and told all of her kids that it was a sin to drink alcohol and their dad “was going straight to hell” for doing so.
This ultimately led Dolly and her siblings to be even more curious about it, so one Sunday, they stole some of their dad’s whiskey and drank it… get this… on their way to church. Somehow, neither one of their parents ever found out about it.
And apparently, just a taste of it wasn’t enough. Some of Dolly’s brothers, along with an older brother of one of their friends, decided to set up their own still and used their mom’s fruit jars to store it.
Eventually, their dad did find out about that, and put a stop to it immediately, according to a passage in the book Smart Blonde: The Life of Dolly Parton:
“The scheme had been concocted with the older brother of a friend who could see its commercial possibilities and was happy to provide technical advice and assistance in constructing the still.
The girls were also struck by the fact that the boys were carrying on some of the coarser customs just like the men, chewing tobacco, spitting, and cursing.”
Dolly even wrote a song called “Daddy’s Moonshine Still” that was included on her 1971 album, Joshua, and was inspired by her experience growing up: