Interview: Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt Reflect on ‘Trio’ Projects
Nearly 30 years after Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt released their original collaborative album, Trio, in March of 1987, fans now have the chance to hear from the threesome one more time: The Complete Trio Collection -- featuring remastered songs and rare and unreleased material -- is out now. On a conference call with The Boot and a number of other media outlets, the three music legends discussed the making of their new three-disc set, their process for finding and choosing songs and Trio's enduring legacy.
Before Trio, 1999's Trio II or The Complete Trio Collection could exist, of course, Harris, Parton and Ronstadt had to decide what songs they would record. Sessions took place in 1985, 1986, 1993, 1994 and 1998.
"Emmy and Dolly are great songwriters, so that helps," Ronstadt says, adding jokingly, "Emmy also stays up a whole lot later than either one of us put together, so she finds all the great songwriters and gets all the good songs before the rest of us got the chance to hear them."
"I'm a song finder," Harris agrees. "It was kind of left to the producers and us to just make suggestions ... I don't think there was ever any disagreement about who should play on the records."
It wasn't just about finding good musicians, though -- it was about finding the right ones for the project.
"I think there are also great musicians that are ... great onstage, and some that are great in the studio -- and then there are those that are great onstage and [in] the studio," Parton explains. "So, usually, they try to pick the greatest of the great pickers that really record well and are familiar with the studio."
George Massenburg produced both Trio and Trio II, which begs the question: How do you produce an album by three living legends? In short, with a light touch.
"George was just great and listening and carrying -- what he referred to as 'carrying out our whims,'" Ronstadt notes. "The music ideas came from us, and he'd keep us from ... going off and going nine different directions ... George was really an invaluable part of it, in that especially that he didn't interfere with us."
Given that it's been 17 years since Trio II -- not to mention almost 30 since Trio -- some of the music assembled for The Complete Trio Collection was a surprise even to Harris, Parton and Ronstadt.
"It was a nice surprise to hear them," Harris admits. "As soon as I heard them, I went, 'Oh yeah, I remember we did that,' but I didn't remember how great it was ... It's like a Christmas present you forgot to open."
It was a labor of love to select Trio and Trio II's tracks so many years ago -- "We tried to pick a song that we loved so much that, if we couldn't do it, it would make us kind of sick," Ronstadt recalls -- but when it came time to pick The Complete Trio Collection's bonus material ... well, that was easier.
"Everything went on. That's sort of the point," Harris says. "There were these beautiful gems that, for one reason or the other, hadn't found their place on the original releases."
Adds Ronstadt, "A lot of them weren't finished, too. A lot of them were just spontaneous."
"We just felt like, this is it -- this is everything that we did -- and I don't think there was a dud in any of them," concludes Harris.
Ultimately, a lot of what the Trio albums boil down to is community -- "a lot of those songs are ... just shared sorrows or shared problems," Ronstadt says, with Harris adding, "Some shared joys" -- and that community, especially between Harris, Parton and Ronstadt, is something that will continue.
"I know, for me, this will always stand as one of the great musical ... things that I've ever done in my entire life," says Parton. "I've never been prouder of anything. I love these girls like sisters, but what we did as a trio, really, I think is going to stand up long after we're gone ...
"We're bound together at the song," she adds.
The Complete Trio Collection, produced by Harris, features remastered versions of Trio and Trio II, plus a third disc of unreleased songs and alternate takes; it is available for purchase via iTunes and Amazon. Additionally, a single disc featuring a mix of songs from the three-disc set, My Dear Companion: Selections From the Trio Collection; a double-LP set of The Complete Trio Collection‘s bonus material on vinyl; and Trio II on vinyl for the first time have all been released.
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