BIG SKY, Montana — Jim Salestrom agreed to participate in a Dolly Parton CBS TV holiday special called “Holly Dolly Christmas,” recorded last year in Nashville on Nov. 13.
“They knew I was coming through,” the former Kearney resident said of Parton’s production team. “They also needed a person who could wear a choir robe and could sing along with the choir. She wrote this beautiful song called ‘I Still Believe.’ It was during COVID and we had to test negative or we couldn’t do it.”
Since Salestrom was available and tested negative, he joined the production.
“I’ve been in her band, off and on, since 1979,” he said in an interview from his home in Montana. “There wasn’t a lot of time for chitchat or a lot of time for hanging out. Nobody wanted to get too close to anybody because it was that time during the pandemic when people were still pretty apprehensive.”
At one point, Dolly turned to Salestrom and said, “JimBob, where are ya headed?”
“I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m just passing through,’” he said. “We were on our way from Colorado to our home in Florida. So then she said, ‘Ain’t that the truth. We’re all just passing through.’ She takes what you say and just makes it more profound. So that became the name of the book.”
For years before his performance with Parton, Salestrom worked on a book of memoirs, gathering stories, memories and experiences from his decades as a singer/songwriter. He grew up in Kearney, formed a band with his brother called Timberline and went on to perform with Parton, John Denver, Livingston Taylor, Susy Bogguss, Michael Martin Murphy and Pure Prairie League.
“Just Passing Through: Stories From the Road, A Singer/Songwriter’s Life,” by Salestrom and published by Field of Daisies Press, is now available.
The motivation for the book came from a road trip he took with his daughter nearly 15 years ago.
“My daughter Cassie and I were driving from Colorado up to Montana,” Salestrom said. “She had just graduated from college and she started asking me some questions about my childhood. I had this little tape recorder. As I turned it on to record our conversation I thought, boy, there’s a lot of stories from the road that I could tell about being in Timberline and then playing in Dolly Parton’s band, along with experiences with John Denver.”
The project began growing in size and scope. Once he decided to commit his experiences to print, it took about five or six years until Salestrom finally could hold the book in his hands.
“She’s been up here now for 15 years,” he said of his daughter, Cassie. “She has a wonderful job working in Big Sky, Montana, and she married the love of her life. They just had a baby. I thought that I had better stick with this book and get it done. I have a tendency to procrastinate.”
The book starts with Salestrom’s memories of a 2011 concert with Parton in Melbourne, Australia. Salestrom wrote about hearing a female voice through his in-ear monitors, only to realize that he heard Parton praying backstage at the start of the performance. He always understood that Parton led a strong spiritual life, but listening to her pray reinforced that image of her.
He writes: “I did not know that she prayed out loud before each show. I consider that a real testimony, so to speak, of her character and how she feels about going out to perform for more than 20,000 fans at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. I think that story sums up a lot of the ways I feel about Dolly.”
“Just Passing Through” tells stories of growing up in Kearney and his travels to the West with his family. He also writes about the time he stood backstage with Denver at Red Rocks and listened to a new song, “Rocky Mountain High.”
Salestrom worked with an editor in North Carolina, Tom Davis, who helped organize the chapters of “Just Passing Through.”
“I cannot believe how much work there is in putting together a book,” Salestrom said. “There’s an awful lot of work required. Every step of the way, my wife, Pam, the poor darling, had to read it. We both read it and we both put it together, trying to find a way to make it cohesive.”
Rusty Edwards, a good friend of Salestrom, said about the book, “If you have heard the songs of Jim Salestrom, it should be no surprise that he is a superb storyteller. This new book is a bio, but it feels like he’s telling his stories right to the reader. Great times with dozens of musicians, and especially Dolly Parton and John Denver. He is also a beautiful human being with a huge heart. I planned on reading one chapter and then saving the rest for a trip to the mountains. But once I started reading it, it was hard to put down.”
In all of his stories, Salestrom decided not to tell any embarrassing or hurtful stories.
“I’ve had such a charmed life,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky to get to play with so many different people and do so many things that most people don’t get to do, like performing on the ‘Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson and two HBO Specials. In the book there are some behind-the-scene stories about those things.”
Salestrom wrote stories about the people who work for the stars.
“I think that makes the book more interesting.” he said. “When some people write books about working with famous people, they want to focus on the famous person. I tried not to do that. First of all, I respect their privacy and I respect the things that they let me do with them. It’s not my place to tell their stories, but I sure had a lot of fun doing things with people who worked with the famous people.”