“That’s Stuff I’m Leaving For My Family” – Dolly Parton On Not Letting Elvis Presley Record “I Will Always Love You”

Dolly Parton country music

The cover song that could have been.

You’d probably struggle to find two names in the music world bigger than Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley. Both artists have meant so much to their respective genres, and the 78-year-old country singer continues to leave her mark on music in 2024.

In case you missed it, a reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was included on Beyonce’s new “non-country” country album Cowboy Carter. Fans had been speculating that Beyonce could include Dolly’s hit song on her project ever since Parton herself teased that she wanted the pop/R&B superstar to cover “Jolene.”

That she did, and though she put her own spin on it by changing up the verses of the song, she kept the chorus and melody virtually the same. Beyonce’s version has been viewed in a good light, especially by Dolly Parton. That might have to do with the fact that Dolly still received the full writing credit for the song, even though much of the lyrics were changed.

But that’s how Dolly rolls. You want to cover her song? Go for it, but just know that she’s going to maintain the song’s rights when you do it. She doesn’t mess around when it comes to that kind of stuff, and that was made evident when she denied the King of Rock and Roll himself when he was interested in recording “I Will Always Love You.”

Not only is Parton a phenomenal singer and songwriter, she’s also one hell of a businesswoman. At one point in time, Elvis Presley wanted to record and publish his own version of Dolly’s 1974 number one hit “I Will Always Love You,” and Dolly was more than honored. There was just one problem, as she told AXS TV in an interview:

“Elvis loved the song. That was when he and Priscilla were having their problems. He had sung that to her on the day of their divorce…

During that time, it’s no fault of Elvis, he loved the song. But Tom Parker, his manager, he made some wise decisions evidently. So he knew what he was doing. Elvis was ready to record it, I told my friends and people that he was recording it. And they were in town to do the recording, they had invited me down to the session. 

Colonel Tom Parker calls me the day before and says, ‘Now you do know that Elvis is recording your song and you do know that Elvis don’t record anything that he doesn’t publish, or at least get half of the publishing on.'”

Parton goes on to say that she was somewhat shocked by that revelation, and knew that she wanted to retain the full rights to the song, even if Elvis would only go on with the recording if he could get half of the publishing. The country music star was put in a tough position, but she ultimately put her foot down:

“I said, ‘I can’t do that. This song’s already been a hit for me, and this song is in my publishing company. And obviously this is going to be one of my most important copyrights, and I can’t give you half the publishing.’ That’s stuff I’m leaving for my family. And he said, ‘Well we can’t record the song.’

I just knew that was not right. If I didn’t have my own publishing company, had the song not already been a hit, it might have been different. But I couldn’t let someone have half of a song that had already been number one.”

The guts it must have taken to turn down Elvis Presley. Without a doubt, it took a lot, but Dolly Parton handled it like a professional. And when another similar opportunity rolled around in 1992 when Whitney Houston wanted to cover the same song, Parton still insisted that she maintain the rights if Houston were to cover it. So that’s what happened, and as they say, the rest is history.

By that, I mean Dolly got paid a lot of royalty checks for the success of Houston’s cover, and she’ll experience the same thing with Beyonce’s version of “Jolene.” It’s safe to say that Dolly Parton knows what she’s doing, and the country star talked more about her thought process behind keeping her full publishing rights in the interview below:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock