Dolly Parton, “There you are again”
Armin Steiner can’t say enough good things about Dolly Parton. He had never worked with her before she came to LA to record this month’s classic track, “Here You Come Again”, but Steiner had certainly worked with his fair share of stars, such as Neil Diamond. and Barbra Streisand, while working for The Entertainment Company, and producers Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin. Still, Parton made an indelible impression.
âAs a human being – forget his great artistic gifts – he’s one of the most charming people we’ve ever had in the entertainment industry,â Steiner said. âAs a human being, she is extraordinary. And she has such a beautiful voice, an incredibly identifiable sound, an identifiable diction; she is an excellent writer and an excellent interpreter of words. You believed what she was singing. It’s all part of talent and of being human. It’s part of the God-given talent you were born with. It is not something you can teach.
Parton was a country music star ever since his first full album, Hello, I am Dolly reached number 11 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart in 1967, but its management had been trying to get it to the pop charts for a year before turning to Gary Klein to produce the album Here you are Again, named after the title track written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Steiner says the project had all the right ingredients: âA great song, great lyrics, a singer who just nailed the vocals because it was just in her best vocal range. The character matched his personality perfectly.
In a 1993 interview for Modern drummer, Parton recalled that during her early days of recording in Nashville, she encountered a lot of chauvinistic men in the music business, which made it difficult for her to express herself creatively. According to Steiner, by the time she walked into Sound Lab Studios to record “Here You Come Again”, she had become comfortable enough to assert herself.
For example, Parton urged producer Gary Klein to add a steel guitar, but to keep the song from sounding too country. Musician Al Perkins was hired to play subtle steel on the track. The idea was to interest pop listeners without losing its country base.
The rhythm section of the track included Dean Parks (guitar), David Foster (keyboards), David Hungate (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums). The track opens with Foster’s Fender Rhodes. He recalls the session as quite revolutionary:
âI played Fender Rhodes on the basic track,â says Foster. âThen I had the idea of ââduplicating the exact same part on the acoustic piano, something that I had – or to my knowledge, no one – had ever done before. It became an interesting sound that, years later, became the original âpush of a buttonâ sound on many synthesizers, which some even called âFosterizedâ. âIn addition, I remember that while waiting to layer the acoustic piano, no music was playing in my headphones and the op [second engineer] suddenly realized that he still had all the In Record tracks and he ended up erasing about the first 20 seconds of the master, âFoster continues. “They must have gone to an earlier take, put them together, and then I did my overdub acoustic piano part.”
Steiner captured the track via the custom Quad Eight console he built and designed. âIt was a wonderful probing machine,â he says. He says he originally had Stephens tape recorders, and when they became unreliable he switched to Studer 800s. However, he doesn’t remember what he had when he cut this song.
Steiner recalls that the band recorded live with Parton, and although his vocals may have been intended as a scratch, at least parts were saved for the finale. He said that the “Here You Come Again” intervals were difficult to sing, but they suited his voice perfectly.
Keltner agrees; he remembers hearing a really good scratching voice during that session and wonders if maybe it was the one that ended up being the keeper.
There was “nothing to record Parton’s voice,” Steiner says. âHe was perfectly chiseled. He says he probably used a Neumann M49 microphone. âA real singer doesn’t need all the BS we use today,â Steiner says. âWe didn’t have Pro Tools to tune and all the gyrations we have today that we use to record. “
âI even very rarely use the limitation for vocals,â Steiner continues.
âThere was magic between Dolly and Keltner,â Steiner says. âShe had such respect for him and she also loved him very much. They had such a good rapport. Keltner laughs when he remembers a story from that time. He says he still wore ripped jeans back then. âShe saw the holes in them, and then one day she came up with holes in her designer jeans with the rhinestone encrusted holes around them. Just something you’d think Dolly would do.
âHe was a pretty amazing person,â Keltner continues. âShe wasn’t a pop star yet, but she was a big star and she liked to act like that, but she did it in a cute way. She was very down to earth.
The backing vocals were voiced by Parton, Nick DeCaro and possibly Gary Klein, Steiner says. A small section of strings was also doubled after the song was cut, arranged by Nick DeCaro, brother of Frank DeCaro, the guitarist. Steiner said there were probably only a few mics on the ceiling. âBack then we didn’t have big sections,â Steiner explains. âIt didn’t take a lot, just a little color. Steiner says what he remembers the most about the track is how easy it was to record.
“In my career, the best and most meaningful records were the ones made with the fewest problems and the least aggravation,” says Steiner. âYou knew that in the first three or four bars you had something special. That was especially true for the R&B stuff that I did with Motown for years and years, when Holland-Dozier-Holland came up or Smokey Robinson or one of the great writers and bands. You knew from the first bars that it was a hit record. You could tell from the feel and the hook of the song that it was a hit album. Just the opening in the keyboard of ‘Here You Come Again’ is enough attraction for the ear to know that it is something special.
Steiner laughs remembering Parton’s arrival at 20th Century Fox. She was there making the movie Rhinestones with Sylvester Stallone and his team teasing him saying, “You don’t know Dolly Parton.”
âI said, ‘Okay, that’s fine,’â he said. “She walked out on stage after I finished the date and gave me a big hug and everyone was standing there with their mouths open because they didn’t believe me.”
As Steiner reflects on the making of “Here You Come Again”, he says the groundbreaking pop song was a great achievement for Parton. The single, recorded in June 1977 and released the following September, rose to third on the Billboard 100 charts and won Parton the award for best female country voice at the 1979 Grammy Awards.
âAnd I’m just glad I was sort of a small part of that,â Steiner says. âIt was just one of those things that got you thinking, ‘Those were the best days in the recording industry. I had the privilege of being in the right place at the right time.