Country music fans would remember her hits such as "Daddy's Hands," "Love Someone Like Me," "You Really Me Going," "Are You Ever Gonna Love Me." Holly Dunn was one of the faces of country music from the mid-80s right into the late 90s. Known for her songwriting prowess, Dunn had often co-written her songs with her brother and one of Nashville's most sought after songwriter Chris Waters. Other than her own songs, Dunn has also written songs for Cristy Lane, Louise Mandrell, and Joe Diffie.
Over the course of her career, she has had released 9 albums, three of which were released by Warner Brothers Nashville. During her active years in country music, she scoed 2 #1 Billboard country hits, 8 top 10 songs, and she has gotten to sing recorded duets with Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Michael Martin Murphy.
In the year 2003, Dunn decided to release her first Gospel album "Full Circle." The album features Dunn tackling the hymns of the Church, some Southern Gospel favorites, and her own originals. One of the album cuts "Devil Stand Back" remains a favorite amongst her legion of fans. After which, she retired from the music business to devote herself to her other love -- art.
Recently, Dunn has been diagnosed with cancer and she is currently receiving treatments. We are extremely honored to catch up with her for this exclusive and rare interview.
Q: Holly, being a big fan of your music, this interview truly is an honor. You have had quite a string of hits, what for you were some of your most memorable experiences when you were having all those hit records?
Well, just having a song you wrote and recorded become a hit is pretty memorable all by itself! Seriously though, hit records open so many doors to so many experiences its hard to boil them all down, however, meeting and working with many of my musical heroes was a real thrill. I got to invite Dolly, and Emmy Lou into the studio to record with me. Plus so many others along the way. Attending the Grammy Awards as a nominee 3 times was awesome. Being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry was very meaningful to me. Getting to see the world and be paid for it is pretty hard to beat also! Having success also allowed me to do things for my family that I would have never been able to do otherwise. I still remember the day I called my parents and told them I had paid off my college loan and they didn't have to take care of it. That was a very good day!
Q: I think what set you apart from many of the other female country artists then was that you and your brother Chris Waters not only co-wrote many of your songs but he also got to produce for you. Was it difficult then to have your own compositions on your albums?
Actually, Chris and I tried to be really fair about what songs we picked for my album projects. We knew how many awesome song writers there are in Nashville, and made a point not to load my albums with just "our" songs. We wanted to take advantage of that incredible brain trust of writers on Music Row and not limit ourselves. I think most of my projects were about 50/50 our songs and songs from other writers.
Q: With so many hit records from "Daddy's Hands," "You Really Had Me Going" to "Maybe I Mean Yes" to "No Love Have I," do you have a favorite song of your own? And do you still listen to your own albums?
I listen to my albums very, very rarely, but when I do I'm struck by how well most of the material still holds up. I especially love the simple, almost bluegrass productions on the first 3 or 4 projects. Of course, "Daddy's Hands" brought me the most success, and it was written for my Dad specifically, so I will always be very grateful and attached to that one. I think that most singers will tell you however, that their favorite songs weren't necessarily the singles. One song that was a single, but never really got to see the light of day was "No One Takes the Train Anymore" from my greatest hits CD, "Milestones." My brother Chris wrote that one and it is a gorgeous song in every way, but failed to get the airplay it deserved. I did my vocal in one seamless take and I have always been very proud of that in this day of Pro Tools!
Q: In 2003 you released your final album "Full Circle," which was a Gospel record. Why a Gospel record? What does God and the Christian faith mean to you?
Because my dad was a Church of Christ minister, I really learned to sing in church. Also, at family get together's we would sing from the hymnal and harmonize together. Everyone on both sides of the family could sing really well and it was just very natural for us to sing together. I loved those times when I was a kid, and I never lost my love of the old hymns, so it just seemed like the right thing to do to leave my career singing the songs that I first sang as a child. My faith is everything to me, even more so now that I am going thru a serious health crisis. I don't know how anyone lives a life devoid of a higher power and the assurance of that unconditional love.
Q: After that, you left the music business. Why? What did you do after that?
I left the business because it was clear that radio had moved on and wasn't interested in anything new from me. Without radio's support, it just gets harder and harder to keep the wheels turning in a music career. Hit records are the engine that drives the train. I was still in my early 40's and had a lot of other interests, and wanted to put my creative energy into pursuing the field of fine arts. My mother was a wonderful oil painter, and growing up I had an equal love affair with music and art. I used to carry art supplies on tour and would draw and paint whenever I could. I also had a love affair for the southwest, namely Santa Fe, and had always wanted to live out there. It just seemed like the right time to close out one chapter and start another. I pretty much left Nashville and never looked back. Now I co-own a gallery in Santa Fe with world renowned contemporary southwestern artist Amado Pena. The Pena+Dunn Gallery.
Q: Do you still write and sing now? Any thoughts of recording another album? Maybe an album just for your fans?
I don't write songs anymore. Those creative juices go into my artwork. I do sing some around the house and occasionally at church, but that's the extent of it. I have no plans to ever record again.
Q: Recently, you have not been physically well. Can you elaborate more about your situation now? How can your fans pray for you?
Back in March of this year, I was diagnosed with a rare,very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. If you read the statistics, it is very bleak. Good thing I don't believe in statistics! I had surgery and now I am having chemo treatments. I have since grown more tumors and it is going to be more of a battle than I anticipated, but I have a huge faith in the healing power of God and the healing power within me that originates from my God. I look towards a future when I am completely healed and cancer free. I ask for prayers of strength and courage as this journey continues.
Q: In such times of difficulty, what gives you strength and hope?
My faith is my rock. But I also draw tremendous strength from my family and my family of friends who have gathered around me in total support. Being a Christian, I know that no matter how this chapter ends, I will be OK. Either upright walking on this earth or safe in my Savior's arms.