Can you even imagine the The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll recording the Queen of Country Music’s most iconic song?
Well, it almost happened…
Dolly Parton stopped by The Howard Stern Show yesterday ahead of the release of her rock and roll album Rockstar today, and she told the heartbreaking story of having to turn Elvis down when he wanted to record “I Will Always Love You.”
Back in 1974, Dolly had planned to go in and meet Elvis after his producer invited her to the studio session and told her Elvis wanted to meet, and she was of course thrilled and “out of my mind with excitement”:
“Well, I was so excited that Elvis was gonna record the song, and Elvis’ producer at the time, he had called and asked me to come down to the studio.
He said Elvis wants to meet you, and he’s gonna record ‘I Will Always Love You,’ and I was out of my mind with excitement, of course.
I mean, just me thinking about Elvis singing my song…”
Though, a phone call with his infamous manager Colonel Tom Parker the day before changed everything… he told her Elvis didn’t record anything without full, or at least 50%, of the publishing rights.
Meaning, Dolly would have to give up not only her most important song, but a helluva lot of money, too, and she refused to do it:
“And it was the night before, the afternoon before the session the next day, that Colonel Tom had called and said, ‘You know, we don’t record anything with Elvis unless we have the publishing, or at least half the publishing.’
And I said, ‘Well that’s not possible, because that is my most important copyright. I’ve got my own publishing company, and I can’t do that.’
He said ‘Well, at least you gotta give us half.’ And I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ And he said, ‘Well then we can’t record it.'”
I think it speaks volumes about her character to be able to say no and stand her ground, but of course, it ultimately paid off when Whitney Houston recorded a wildly successful version herself.
Dolly says she of course “cried all night” after having to turn Elvis down (or his slimy manager, I should really say):
“Of course, I cried all night about that.
But it was only after Whitney record I was so thankful that I had made that choice, because I made a lot of money off of Whitney’s.”
Dolly first released the song as a stand alone single in 1974, when it peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart later that year, and then rereleased it October 1982, with a re-recording for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.
Unlike almost every other artist in the music industry, or a lot of them at least, Dolly has always maintained full ownership of her publishing rights, with the exception of a very small handful in her catalog that she doesn’t own outright.
It’s a brilliant move from a business standpoint, and she started the company (Owe-Par) in 1966 at the age of 20, along with her late Uncle Bill. Her estimated royalty income is between $6 million and $8 million for iconic songs like the one we’re talking about today, “I Will Always Love You,” and “Jolene,” among plenty of others.
She’s also mentioned before that she might’ve considered giving Elvis the rights if it was a different song he wanted to record, but she just couldn’t give that one up, knowing what a special and important it was.
I mean, she was over the moon to have Elvis cover it, obviously, and told everyone she knew he was going to sing it. But at the end of the day, she had to follow her gut and couldn’t let that one go if she wouldn’t be maintaining the rights:
“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.
It’s my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart but I had to turn him down.”
I can’t even imagine being in that position (or ultimately turning Elvis down), and I think most people would’ve caved to him and just let him have it. But Dolly wanted to give all the rights to her catalog to her family one day, and couldn’t venture from that no matter how bad she wanted him to sing it.
Hell, Dolly Parton might’ve been the one and only woman on planet earth that ever turned Elvis down for anything…
While we’ll never know how successful Elvis’ version could have (and likely would have) been, Dolly still doubles down on the sentiment, saying that it’s still one of the hardest things she’s ever done:
“That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do because I loved Elvis.”
It just makes you wonder what could’ve been if he ever got his hands on it…
And Dolly still does, too, saying:
“He would have sung it great. Can you imagine Elvis singing ‘I Will Always Love You’?”
I can, and it would’ve been nothing short of spectacular, I’m sure.