When Dolly Parton writes a song, it’s her song — no exceptions. Not even for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Parton was asked during an appearance on BBC 2 Radio whether it was true that she wouldn’t let Elvis Presley record a version of her 1974 hit “I Will Always Love You.”
“I wouldn’t let Colonel Tom Parker [record the song],” she clarified. Parker, a Dutch-born carnival barker turned music impresario, was Presley’s longtime manager and known and often criticized for his cutthroat business style.
Parton went on to note that Presley had a deep admiration for the track.
“See, Elvis loved the song. In fact, I talked to Priscilla [Presley] not very long ago,” Parton said. “She said to me, ‘You know, Elvis sang that song to me when we walked down the courthouse steps when we got divorced. He was singing to me ‘I Will Always Love You.’”
The “Jolene” singer recalled that Presley “loved the song” and had crafted his own take on it. She was so ecstatic about the idea that she initially agreed to watch the “Love Me Tender” artist as he laid down the track. However, one last-moment snag forced her to call off the whole project.
“(T)he night before (the recording session), Colonel Tom Parker calls me and says, ‘Well, you know we don’t record anything with Elvis unless we have publishing on it, or at least half the publishing,’” Parton remembered. “Well, I said, because I had a No. 1 song on it, I said, ‘This is the most important copyright in my whole publishing company, and I can’t do that.’”
Parton had already snagged the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with the original 1974 single, but her sentiment that the track was the most important copyright she owned proved prescient many years later.
In 1992, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” cover for the soundtrack of “The Bodyguard” launched the song into a whole new level of fame. Houston’s rendition spent a then-record 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became a cultural phenomenon.
In a 2006 interview with CMT, the “Islands in the Stream” artist spoke about the hard decision she made to refuse Parker’s amendment regarding Presley’s recording and how it worked out in her favor in the end.
“I said [to Parker of the decision], ‘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,’” she said. “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.”