The Story of the Time Dolly Parton Turned Down Elvis

To say something is the greatest of all time is a pretty bold statement, especially when talking about the greatest love song and singles of all time. But Dolly Parton's classic, "I Will Always Love You", had such a massive commercial success and left such an indelible cultural imprint across the world that I think it's fair to give the song that accolade.

Ironically, this great love song isn't about romantic love. Parton penned it about the end of her professional relationship with her longtime musical partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. It was a rough split, but in the end, it was done out of love and she gifted him the prettiest song out there.  

The first time you listen to this classic song it better be Dolly's original version and not The Bodyguard Soundtrack. That's right, Dolly was way before Whitney Houston's version of the song on The Bodyguard, which Houston co-starred with Kevin Costner. Houston's version ended up spending 14 weeks at number one on the billboard hot 100 charts.

Parton released "I Will Always Love You" in 1974 on the album Jolene, and it became a number one hit on the billboards. She originally recorded the song at RCA's Studio B in Nashville. It was even featured in her film in which she starred opposite Burt Reynolds, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She made millions in royalties from the song, and it ultimately cemented her legend in country music. Interestingly, Parton almost gave up the hit to another music legend, Elvis.

After the song was released in 1974, Elvis made a play to record it himself. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, approached Dolly with an offer that would have taken half of her songwriting rights. Parton was torn.

"I was desperate for Elvis to sing my song and I'd told everyone he was going to sing it, but I couldn't let that happen," Parton revealed in an interview with Event magazine. "It's my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart but I had to turn him down,"

The singer recalled the difficult decision in an interview with CMT as well.

"I said, 'I'm really sorry,' and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it's like, 'Oh, my God ... Elvis Presley.' And other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I mean, hell, I'd give him all of it.' I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says, 'Don't do that.' And I just didn't do it, and they just didn't do it. But I always wondered what it would sound like. I know he'd kill it. Don't you? He would have killed it. But anyway, so he didn't. Then when Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.

Sometimes it's best to go with your gut feeling.

In 1982, Parton re-recorded the song, and, again, it hit number one. Parton was the first artist to reach number one on the country charts in separate decades for the same song. Parton recorded yet another version with Vince Gill in 1995 for the album Something Special and the two singers were awarded "Vocal Event of the Year" at the 1996 CMAs. Did we mention she's also sung the duet with Carrie Underwood?

"I Will Always Love You" remains a poignant love song 40 years later. And Parton had nothing but love for its subject until the end. Shortly before Wagoner's death in 2007, Parton gave him a personal performance of the song at his 50th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. You can watch that performance in the video below.


This post was originally published on February 12, 2016.

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The Story of the Time Dolly Parton Turned Down Elvis