There’s a new Dolly Parton biography out on A&E Sunday, April 12, that spends considerable time on the origins of some of Parton’s biggest hits. One of those is “I Will Always Love You,” which was certainly a hit for Parton. The 1974 single charted No. 1 on the U.S. country charts and was certified gold by the RIAA, which means it sold at least 500,000 copies. It charted at No. 1 again in 1982 when Parton re-recorded it for the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.
But the song absolutely exploded when Whitney Houston recorded it for her 1992 soundtrack for The Bodyguard. It was certified 8x platinum, has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and spent 14 weeks at No. 1. Here’s what you need to know about what Parton thinks of Houston’s version and how the song came about in the first place.
Elvis Wanted to Record I Will Always Love You
According to Parton’s A&E biography, Elvis wanted to cover the song soon after it came out, but she said no because she wanted to keep the copywrite — which turned out to be a very lucrative business decision.
“Elvis’s manager wanted to have the portion on that song and I wouldn’t allow it because that was my most important copywrite. Broke my heart ’cause Elvis didn’t get to sing it, but I had to hold onto it,” says Parton. “Elvis loved this song. In fact, [his wife] Priscilla [Presley] had told me that when she and Elvis were leaving the courthouse after their divorce, he was singing that to her walking out. She said he did love it.”
One of Parton’s session musicians, Lloyd Green, adds that keeping “I Will Always Love You” for herself was “one of the great career decisions that Dolly made in her life ’cause Elvis was Elvis, for God’s sake, but she said no and that demonstrated her astuteness as a businesswoman. That was a great chess move.”
Parton Loves Whitney Houston’s Version
Parton has no problem with the 1992 version released by Whitney Houston. First off, she says it was incredible. Second, it was a completely new interpretation of the song. And third, it made Parton a lot of money.
“I thought [Houston’s version] was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever heard. I’d never even believed my little song could be done like that. People would say, ‘Well, she claims it’s her record,’ and I said, ‘It is her record! It’s my song, but it’s most definitely her record. It didn’t sound like that when I had it.’ She made me rich,” says Parton with a laugh.
Parton Wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ For Porter Wagoner
Parton and Wagoner’s accounts of how “I Will Always Love You” came about differ, but the bottom line is that Parton wrote the song at the end of her partnership with him.
Wagoner claimed that he told Parton she needed to “write a song about the most identifiable subject on earth — love.” So she left and came back two days later with “I Will Always Love You,” which he told her at the time, “Dolly, that song will make you more money and more fame than all the other songs put together.”
Parton maintains she wrote the song as a response to the fact that Wagoner was no longer listening to her and she needed to end their partnership.
“‘I Will Always Love You’ is that signature song that when I was leaving The Porter Wagoner Show, trying to make sense of that [idea of] ‘I appreciate you and I wish you well and I thank you for loving me and all that, but I’ve gotta go,” says Parton.
Parton’s biographer Lydia Hamessley adds, “I think Dolly’s version of the events are more likely to be true, which is that she was trying to make a break from Porter, he wouldn’t listen and the only way she could get through to him was to write a song.”
Incidentally, Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” one of her other biggest hits, on the same night.
The Dolly Parton A&E biography airs Sunday, April 12 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by Willie Nelson: American Outlander, a special concert that pays tribute to Nelson’s seven-decades-long career.