March 1987: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt Team Up for 'Trio'

An autographed copy of the 'Trio' album
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Robert Alexander/Getty Images

On March 2, 1987, three superstars - two of them huge on the country charts, the third best known for her work in pop but with a history of bouncing from one musical genre to the next - released their first album as a threesome, giving it a title that instantly informed consumers just how many individuals were in the group: Trio.

Read More: November 1980: Dolly Parton Blows Up with '9 to 5'

The mutual admiration society between Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt stretched back more than a decade before they finally managed to enter the studio to record an album together. Indeed, they’d taken a shot at trying to do such an album in the ‘70s, even recording a few songs here and there, but things got problematic because all three of them were on different record labels. As a result, some of the songs managed to make it onto their individual albums, but that’s as far as it got at the time.

Having mentioned this, we know you’re probably curious, so if you’d like to check out some of those tracks, here’s where to find them:

“Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” (Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl, 1979)
“Evangeline” and “Mr. Sandman” (Emmylou Harris, Evangeline, 1981)
“My Blue Tears” (Linda Ronstadt, Get Closer, 1982)
“Palms of Victory” (Emmylou Harris, Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems, 2007)

Mind you, there are plenty of other occasions where one of them covered a song by one of the others, and there were also instances where two of the three worked together, like when Emmylou joined Linda to cover Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You” for Linda’s 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel, or when Dolly joined Linda for a cover of “I Will Never Marry” for Linda’s 1977 album Simple Dreams.

It took until January 1986, however, for all three of them to find their way into the studio and finally begin recording the album that would become Trio.

Produced by George Massenburg and recorded variously at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, Woodland Studios in Nashville, and The Complex in West Los Angeles, Trio featured a unique mixture of songs, most of which were covers. In addition to a version of “To Know Him is to Love Him,” by Phil Spector’s early group The Teddybears, the threesome also tacked tunes by Jimmie Rodgers (“Hobo’s Meditation”), Linda Thompson (“Telling Me Lies”), and Kate McGarrigle (“I’ve Had Enough”), among others, and the album closes with two traditional tunes: “Rosewood Casket” and “Farther Along.”

The critical reaction was as positive as you’d expect from an album by three of the most acclaimed pop artists of their era, and the album performed extremely well on the charts, too: in addition to the anticipated topping of the Billboard country albums chart, it also hit No. 6 on the Billboard 200. Unsurprisingly, it also provided the group with a whole lot of country airplay, delivering four Top 10 singles: “To Know Him is to Love Him” topped the chart, “Telling Me Lies” hit No. 3, “Those Memories of You” climbed to No. 5, and “Wildflowers” found its way to No. 6. Beyond that, the album won the Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and it was also nominated for Album of the Year, with “Telling Me Lies” nominated for Best Country Song.

Alas, it would be another dozen years before the world was privy to the sequel album, Trio II, which was released in 1999, but what’s most annoying about the album is that it was actually recorded in 1994 because...

Ah, but that’s a story for another time. For now, just listen to the first Trio album. It’s got plenty of wonderful tunes to hold you over ‘til we get around to telling the Trio II tale.

 

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