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Don Henley Opens Up About Working With Vince Gill, Dolly Parton

Don Henley Cass County
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Don Henley‘s recent solo album, Cass County, includes collaborations with some of country music’s most influential artists, including Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton and Vince Gill. In an interview with Taste of Country, Henley opens up about working with both Gill and Parton.

Henley explains that Gill was the perfect choice to sing with him on a song called “No, Thank You,” which Henley wrote with Buck Owens in mind.

“I thought, ‘Who would be great to sing and play guitar on this?’ And so I called up my friend Vince Gill, and I said, ‘Vince, I got a song here that’s kind of a tribute to Buck Owens, and I need somebody to sing the high harmony part,'” Henley recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, you’ve come to the right place, because when I was growing up, Don Rich was my hero. I always wanted to be Don Rich.’ I said, ‘Well, get on down here to the studio, then, and bring your guitar with you.’

“So he came down, he played rhythm guitar on that track, and then he sang that part perfectly, put all the little vocal inflections — you can hear the bent notes and stuff, just like Don Rich would have done it,” Henley continues. “I was so tickled and so pleased with that.”

And while recording with Gill was a treat, the founding Eagles member says that one of the highlights of recording Cass County was singing “When I Stop Dreaming” with Parton.

“She came in, and she listened to the song for a minute, and she said, ‘I know this song … Me and Porter [Wagoner] used to do this song. I know it well,” Henley recounts. “So she went out to the microphone, she sang it a couple of times, and she came back into the control room, and she said, ‘You know, the key is a little high for me.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, that’s the key we’ve got it recorded in,’ and she goes, ‘Well, then I guess I’ll just have to rare back and get it.’ [Laughs]. And she did, about two takes later.”

Adds Henley, “I love her voice up in that register, where she has to strain a little bit and it gets that little hoarseness in it. It’s really sexy. It’s really hot. And she just killed it. And then she was gone. Me and my production team just stood there in silence for a while, saying, ‘What just happened here?’ It’s like somebody came in and sprinkled pixie dust in the studio, and then left.”

The 68-year-old Henley remains in awe of Parton’s undeniable gift.

“I think she’s a national treasure. I think she is one of the last really authentic country music singers that we have today,” he suggests. “There is so much in that voice. She’s a petite little person, but when she opens her mouth to sing and that voice comes out, you hear her region of America, and you hear the suffering and the hardship, and you also hear the love and the compassion. There are so many colors and textures and meanings encompassed in that voice. It’s just all there.”

Purchase Cass County on Amazon or iTunes.

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