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Dolly Parton fans know her for her iconic voice, sparkling personality, and long list of hits that have withstood the test of time. This week, however, we turn our attention to a significant moment in her career that transpired four decades ago. A moment that not only reshaped Parton’s path but also brought to life one of the most adored songs in country music history, “I Will Always Love You.”
In February 1974, a shockwave coursed through the country music realm when Dolly Parton decided to sever her seven-year-long professional tie with Porter Wagoner. For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Parton’s trajectory into stardom catapulted in 1967 when Wagoner, already a major figure in the industry, welcomed the relatively unknown Parton into the fold of his weekly TV show.
The magic between them was undeniable. Over the next six years, their duets like “The Last Thing on My Mind” and “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” graced the airwaves and cemented their place as a country music power duo.
But the stage lights often cast shadows, and the duo’s relationship was not without its turbulent moments. A 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times revealed a glimpse into the dynamics of their partnership. Parton characterized Wagoner as having strong chauvinistic tendencies, attributing their frequent clashes to his domineering ways and her own indomitable spirit.
“I don’t mean this in a bad way … but he was very much a male chauvinist pig,” she said in an interview. “He was in charge, and it was his show, but he was also very strong-willed,” Parton said. “That’s why we fought like crazy, because I wouldn’t put up with a bunch of stuff.”
In 1974, Parton felt the pull towards independence, and her departure from the show became imminent. This decision wasn’t made lightly. It was packed with emotion and complexity, which Parton channeled into the heart-wrenching ballad, “I Will Always Love You.” This song, meant as a heartfelt farewell, eventually became her way of making Wagoner understand her need to leave. His reaction? Tears, an offer to produce the record, and a heartfelt performance on his show as they parted ways.
But, as is often the case with legendary tales, the drama didn’t end there. Wagoner later sued Parton for a staggering $3 million, claiming breach of contract. This legal battle birthed rumors and tabloid stories, some even speculating on an affair. Thankfully, the lawsuit found its resolution out of court, and the duo reconciled, even sharing a stage in 1988.
The song “I Will Always Love You,” however, outshone all the controversies. It became one of Parton’s defining hits, and in 1992, Whitney Houston’s rendition propelled it to even loftier heights, making it an international sensation with over 20 million copies sold.
Interestingly, Elvis Presley almost got his hands on the iconic track. The excitement of a Presley-Parton collaboration, however, fizzled when Elvis’s manager demanded a hefty slice of the song’s royalties. Parton’s refusal, a gutsy move for a female artist of her era, has since become a tale of inspiration for young artists.
Looking back, the Parton-Wagoner story reminds us that behind every great song, there’s often a long list of stories, emotions, and history waiting to be discovered. Listen to Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton sing “Just Someone I Used To Know” in the video below.