Alanna Nash
September 13, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When Dolly Parton agreed to sing harmony vocals on ”Waitin’ for the Phone to Ring,” a song on Patty Loveless’ new album, it was more than an old veteran lending a helping hand to a younger artist. It was the renewal of an off-and-on friendship that extends back nearly 20 years.

Parton and Loveless first met back in 1972, when Loveless was Patty Ramey, an ambitious 15-year-old trying to break into the music business. A fan of Porter Wagoner’s syndicated television show, Loveless sought out the country legend’s help and was introduced to Parton, his costar. ”She was just like the person I thought she was on TV,” Loveless remembers. ”Warm and sweet.”

The two hung out together occasionally but gradually lost touch before becoming reacquainted in 1986 at a rehearsal for the Country Music Association Awards. Parton at first didn’t recognize ”Patty Loveless,” who had just recorded her first album, until she found out she was also ”Patty Ramey.” ”What!” Parton exclaimed. ”I’ve known this kid since she was a kid. I can’t believe this!”

Although the two still don’t see each other that often, they have worked together twice in the past year. Loveless sang backup on Parton’s Eagle When She Flies album, and now Parton has returned the favor. ”I was a little bit scared, because I thought the part might be too high for her,” Loveless says. ”But when she got in that studio and she got behind that microphone, she just nailed it. I always was in awe of Dolly and I still am.”

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