The country superstar celebrates her 70th birthday on Tuesday
In 1977, TIME sent correspondent Jean Vallely out on the road with Dolly Parton, as the country star—who turns 70 on Tuesday—made her way around the nation. Parton had swapped out her Travelin’ Family Band for the more rock-friendly Gypsy Fever Band, and was aiming for crossover stardom. She traveled in a bus with two bathrooms and 11 berths, plus a closet for 20 costumes and four wigs. But, as the dispatch made clear, she hadn’t left her country roots behind.
As Parton said back then, “I don’t want to leave the country. I want to take the country with me.”
Here’s what Vallely had to say about one concert in Battle Creek, Mich.:
A Dolly Parton concert is a treat, like a hot-fudge sundae after a month of dieting. As the lights come up, the band tears into Jackie Wilson’s old rhythm-and-blues specialty Higher and Higher. Dolly is backstage strutting about, slapping her thighs, her hands, an amplifier, anything. Suddenly, on cue, she leaps onstage and takes Higher and Higher even higher.
Those who have never seen Dolly gasp. That mountain of a teased blond wig and the hot-pink, jeweled jumpsuit are spectacular. Only five feet tall, she totters atop five-inch gold heels. Swinging into All I Can Do, she catches the eyes of the people in the front rows and plays to them, talking, teasing.
Next comes Jolene, which has a haunting Ghost Riders in the Sky flavor. People recognize this song, a big hit for Dolly in 1973. “This is about a woman who tried to steal my man,” Dolly cries out. “She pulled my wig off and almost beat me to death with it. I fought that woman like a wildcat. I had another wig, but I didn’t want another man.” People love it. The flash of Instamatic cameras is almost as blinding as Dolly’s finery. It is not a Nikon crowd.
To change the beat, Dolly heads for a tall stool. Hoisting a leg, she pauses. “You know, these britches weren’t always this tight—only since I got into them.” That draws whoops but she cries out, “Let’s hear it for the britches that held up!” The folks let her hear it.
Reflecting on her career, Parton remarked that, “When I sit back in my rocker, I want to have done it all.” Nearly four decades later, she’s still at it–and that rocking chair remains empty.
Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: On the Rock Road With Dolly Parton