Dolly Parton. Picture: Live Nation

Two things immediately stand out about Dolly Parton. First, the 67-year-old country queen remains one of the hardest working people in showbiz.

And second, her journey - from being the fourth of 12 children in a poor but proud family, scraping by in the Great Smoky Mountains through to success in Nashville's country scene, before crossing over into global pop fame and a film career - is one of the more remarkable in the annals of music history.

In many ways, by going from 70s country hit Jolene to 80s movie tie-in smash 9 to 5, Parton set the template for today's genre-hopping, multi-media superstars, most notably America's current sweetheart, Taylor Swift.

"Well, I don't know if there are too many similarities," Parton says from Nashville with a twang more Appalachian than a banjo string.

"I just know that I am very proud of her. I think she is so talented, so classy, she represents country so well. I think she's a great example of what a young woman can be."

While Parton maintains Patsy Cline completed the crossover from country to pop before she did, the buxom blonde bombshell believes Swift will follow her lead into movies. Since making her debut in the hit comedy 9 to 5 in 1980, Parton has starred in a slew of Hollywood movies including Rhinestone, Steel Magnolias, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Straight Talk.

"I think Taylor is going to do whatever she wants to do," Parton says. "She's not only talented, she's also a beautiful girl, she would do great in the movies too. I'll be surprised if she doesn't turn out to be a movie star as well."

The flipside of Swift is Miley Cyrus, who literally took a wrecking ball to pop culture in 2013 with her barely clothed body of twerk. Parton is Cyrus' godmother, so you won't find her badmouthing the attention-seeking 21-year-old.

"I think she's just trying to push the envelope, so to speak, away from that Hannah Montana image and I think she's going to be just fine. I'm very proud of her as well."

Parton has pushed a few envelopes herself, whether it be through physical augmentation ("It takes a lot of money to look this cheap," she quips in concert) or eschewing an established country career for pop fame with the 1977 single Here You Come Again.

"I know when I was starting out, I had to try to do it my way," Parton says. "And the same with today, whether it's Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, everybody has to do it according to what they feel their needs are and what they're trying to accomplish."

Ironically, when her pop career began to lose its sparkle in the late 80s, Parton returned to her country roots and the bluegrass sounds of the Appalachian Mountains.

Her latest, and 42nd, studio album, Blue Smoke - the title refers to both bluegrass and her beloved Smokies - will be released in Australasia on January 31 to let fans hear the new songs before her tour kicks off in New Zealand a week later.

Alongside bluegrass makeovers of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's All Right and Bon Jovi's Lay Your Hands on Me, are duets with fellow veterans Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers.

"I kind of have a connection with all these old fellas," laughs Parton, who met Nelson when they both came to Nashville in 1964. (She also met her husband of 47 years, Carl Dean, on her first day in the country capital.)

Thirty years after scoring a massive hit with the Bee Gees-penned Islands in the Stream, Parton re-teams with Rogers on the poignant You Can't Make Old Friends, which also features on his latest album.

"That particular song right now sums up our relationship," Parton says. "We're both older folks now and our friendship has been so strong through all these years. When we did this song we both were very emotional, it really just rang so true to us."

Despite trying to turn back the clock with her various nips and tucks - but never denying she's had some work done - Parton is happy to look back on her storied career.

Her personal highlights include becoming a member of Nashville country music institution, the Grand Ole Opry, in 1969 and receiving the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006 for her contribution to the arts. Then there's her charity work with the Im agination Library, which promotes childhood literacy.

"If you can read, you can learn about anything you want to learn about," she says.

Parton's feet remain grounded in the dirt floor of her family home in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

"I'm fortunate enough to see my childhood dreams come true," she says. "I am just very proud of every single thing and every fan and every record bought and every ticket sold."

Parton says that while she works hard, she's seen other musicians "just as talented or more so" work equally as hard and not make it.

"As you get older, you get a little more mellow and you reflect and really realise just how fortunate you've been," she says. "You can call it luck or whatever, but I do believe there is a certain amount of good luck, good fortune or the stars being lined up properly.

"I think it was what God meant for me to do and I try not to let him down and try not to let myself down and try not to let my fans down. You've got to work hard if you're going to keep going."

Parton continues to tirelessly entertain her fans. The world tour for Blue Smoke runs from January 24 until July, with a Perth Arena date in February.

"When we first came to Australia almost 30 years ago, we were shocked by how friendly, how sweet and how similar the people are to the people in the Smoky Mountains," she says.

"They were just like my own people.

"Of course, it's an unusual part of the world," Parton adds, letting out one of her trademark sweet Southern laughs. "You've got some of the weirdest animals and insects I've seen."

Dolly Parton plays Perth Arena on February 27. Tickets from Ticketek. Blue Smoke is released on January 31.

The West Australian

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