"Suck it in, girls!" exhorted a camera-ready Dolly Parton, calling to attention the two figures flanking her--Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris--as the first television interview in a publicity blitz centered on their new album got under way Wednesday.
Parton hardly needed to heed her own advice, cutting a stunningly sleek figure in a black jumpsuit. In the elevator of the Hollywood building where the three singers were ensconced much of the day, one stranger couldn't help blurting out, "How did you lose all that weight?"
That was also the second-favorite question of the dozens of journalists who, one after the other, queried Parton, Harris and Ronstadt via satellite. (Parton's characteristic answer: "I just pulled my head out of the lard bucket for a change.")
The threesome was squeezing two months' worth of publicity into three days, aided by the satellite technology that in effect allowed them to do a national television tour without leaving the small Hollywood studio. For 3 1/2 hours they sat before two cameras, listening to their unseen questioners through earphones concealed in their coifs.
Then the party relocated to the West Hollywood office of Ronstadt's manager, Peter Asher, for another four hours of in-person radio and television interviews. The trio planned to meet the print media on Thursday, and the grueling blitz climaxes with this evening's "Tonight Show" appearance.
The top question of the day was: "What took you so long?"
This query addressed the real matter at hand: A mostly acoustic album in a traditional country vein recorded jointly by the three crooners. The LP, "Trio," was released last week after roughly 10 years' worth of promises from the three stars.
The answer to that question was twofold: (a) Everyone wanted to wait until the conditions seemed right, and (b) having careers of their own and all, they haven't had a lot of opportunities to drop everything and drop into the studio together.
Even now that they've made the album, it's still rare that their paths intersect for reasons either professional or social.
But when stars collide. . . .
"We got the record company to pay for us visiting with each other," bragged Parton to a television interviewer, waxing pragmatic about their reasons for subjecting themselves to such an onslaught of nonstop media madness.
And Parton may not have been kidding about that. Indeed, the women seemed to be learning as much about one another during the barrage of quickie journalistic interchanges as were the questioners.
"It's really been fascinating for me to sit with them in interviews," offered Parton between beamed-out satellite chats, "because I'm learning a lot about the 'Trio' project just from their point of view. In fact, I'm getting more of a bead on the inside of them and the way they feel about music, period, not just this album."
High spirits prevailed throughout the first day. The women interacted for the cameras as naturally as they harmonize and trade off lead vocals on the album. No one got in anyone else's way, and Harris and Ronstadt proved every bit as chatty as the more publicly vivacious Parton.
"If I were doing this on my own, I would be a mess by now," admitted Harris. "But it's nice with the three of us. One carries the baton for a while, and then passes it on to another one and they do a lap--it's sort of like being in a relay."
"Yeah!" agreed Ronstadt--with hair colored a violet shade, certainly the most cosmopolitan looking of the three. "We all basically have similar opinions about stuff, so it's OK if we finish each other's sentences once in a while."
"And each other's lunch," added Harris, scarfing down the last of a salad before submitting herself to another interrogation in the next room.
"We're quite funny, really, because everybody's got such a different point of view on so many things," said Parton. "But it's never anything that offends anybody else. It just gives you something else to talk about or laugh about or cry about. . . . We're typical girls. We really get into some soap operas. . . .
"I know, when we were doing this album, one of the big things was--and I don't think Emmylou would mind my saying this--she was going through some real bad times over custody of a child.
"She'd just married again, and there were a lot of problems, and she was just broken at heart because she was having to go back and forth to the courtroom and things like that. So we were trying to comfort her and there were times when she was all upset when things weren't going right, and then some days things were looking better and she'd be all excited. We were trying to encourage her and give her strength.
"Then there were some problems in Linda's family at the time, some tragedy, and so she was in a bad place. We were real supportive of one another. We're real friends. . . . (That's) not just for the radio and for the paper and the television. It's sincere."
Faced with the question of whether the friendship has its roots strictly in the music, no one volunteered to make such a distinction.
"What brought Linda and I together, our first friendship bond, was that Dolly Parton was our favorite singer," said Harris. "And we were inspired by what Dolly represents --not only her voice, but at that point Dolly was singing true Dolly music, which is a very pure kind of music."
(Those waiting for a return to more "true Dolly music" may not have to wait long. She's signed a new record deal with CBS--after 20 years with RCA--that allows her the right to release both pop and "pure" country albums yearly, "rather than screw up my music like I have by trying to combine them," she says).
The subdued traditionalism of "Trio" may not have fit in at all with the trends of country music had the three recorded it 10 years ago as planned, but its timing would seem to be just about right now--and Parton, of course, may be happiest of all about that. "What's selling today is what I used to try so hard to make a living off of 15 and 20 years ago," said Dolly.
Not all the TV interviewers who faced the trio seemed in imminent danger of becoming avid country music buffs, though.
"What'd that guy call you this morning?" asked Parton, recalling the early mishaps of Trio Publicity Blitz Day One as if it all happened a long time ago.
" Emily -lou!" said Harris with a laugh. But, she added, the interviewer in question isn't in bad company. "George Jones says Emma -lou."