By the time Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt released their supergroup album Trio in 1987, the collaboration between them had been a decade in the making. The three longtime friends and admirers of each other first got together to record an album in the mid-1970s, but were held up by scheduling difficulties and their individual recording contracts with different labels.
The History of the Trio
"It was such an exciting idea that everybody got bent out of shape over it," Dolly Parton told Cashbox about Trio's release, which found the album landing the top spot on the Billboard country charts for five weeks. "All the managers and all the record labels and everybody had a different idea of what we should do."
The release of Trio was its own triumph in more ways than one. The acoustic sound is a stark contrast to the glossiness of most 1980s country, even contemporary neotraditionalists like George Strait and Randy Travis. Its combination of old-time classics and new originals (including the breakout hit "Wildflowers," written by Dolly Parton) is the result of a recording process in which the three women were adamant about their creative agency.
"We deliberately did not invite anyone else to make suggestions," Ronstadt noted. "We wanted to do what we wanted to do."
Trio II, released in 1999, features more experimentation than the first album, including a cover of the Neil Young environmental ballad "After the Gold Rush" and the vocal peaks and valleys of "High Sierra." Scheduling difficulties continued to impact the Trio's ability to work together -- including the iconic album cover featuring their childhood photos, reportedly the result of not being able to find a time where Ronstadt, Harris and Parton could all commit to a photoshoot.
Despite this, both albums are a testament not only to the friendship between the three women, but also to their incredible talent and influence. Billboard noted that neotraditional country was able to thrive a decade later because the women of Trio "kept it alive" throughout the 1970s, an impact that's clear today in the subgenre's revival by Tyler Childers and Colter Wall. The women's commitment to collaboration in the face of industry difficulties is also echoed in today's all-female indie folk supergroup boygenius, who often perform in custom matching jackets that evoke Trio's cover.
In 2016, Parton, Ronstadt, and Harris celebrated their legacy with the release of The Complete Trio Collection, a remastered compilation of both Trio albums and 20 alternate takes and unreleased material. In 2007, the group's recording of "Palms of Victory" was also featured on the Emmylou Harris box set Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems.
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