“More Money Than I’d Ever Seen” — Dolly Parton On Working For Porter Wagoner And Why She Eventually Left His Show

Dolly Parton country music
Vijat Mohindra

Porter Wagoner famously gave Dolly Parton her first real start in show business.

She joined the Porter Wagoner Show in 1967, and was a staple on the program until she left in 1974 to pursue a much bigger, more fulfilling solo career.

Of course, she wrote one of the greatest songs of all-time “I Will Always Love You” about their professional break-up, which became very personal very quickly after Dolly left. Porter ended up filing a lawsuit against her, and Dolly owed money to her former boss for three years after leaving his show.

Porter filed a $3 million lawsuit against her in 1979, alleging a breach of contract, and eventually, it was settled out of court. The two eventually reconciled, but things got pretty nasty between them for quite some time.

And in the 2003 movie Dolly Parton: Platinum Blonde, Dolly spoke pretty candidly about the fact that she wanted “big time management” and a worldwide career, which is something she couldn’t achieve if she stayed on the show after her five-year contract:

“I wanted to have big time management. I wanted to get in movies by that time. I wanted to do everything that a body could do as an entertainer.

I wanted to be worldwide. I thought, well, if I’m gonna be a star, why not be a big star?”

I’m sure all of that was compounded by the fact that she had started making $60,000 with Porter, which at the time, was obviously way more money than she’d ever seen or really heard of in her life. Dolly grew up dirt poor in the hills of east Tennessee, so it was a pretty sweet payday for a young woman back then.

But apparently, Porter rarely ever gave her a raise, and she felt it was unfair that he was making so much money off of her, because she became the star of the show very quickly, obviously, and she never saw any of that extra money:

“I started working for Porter for $60,000 a year. That was what the deal was, and that was more money than I’d ever seen or heard tale of.

But the thing is, Porter didn’t raise me very much, but that was one of the reasons I had to go, because I was part of his group. He was making all the big money too because of me.”

And to attempt to keep her from leaving, Porter tried to convince Dolly that her label at the time, RCA, would drop her if she left his show, which wasn’t true at all:

“Porter had tried to convince me, and had told me over and over, ‘They’re gonna drop you as son as you leave the show, they’re not gonna want you at RCA.’

So before I had left Porter’s show, I flew up to New York from Nashville on my own, made appointments with some of the main people at RCA. I said, ‘Well, I’m here to say that I’m going out on my own. I’m going to be leaving the ‘Porter Wagner Show.’

I’m going to make a big change here. I’m gonna get some pop producers, I’m want to try to bridge the gap from country.’ They were very excited, they got totally behind me.”

And of course, that eventually led to the aforementioned lawsuit, but Dolly wanted to talk to Porter about her decision, though she knew he was way past “listening to what I have to say,” so she penned “I Will Always Love You” for him:

“I knew that it was going to be damaging, and I didn’t want that. I thought, well how am I ever gonna tell this man how I feel? I thought, well I write songs, he won’t listen to me, he’s way past listening to what I have to say.

So I wrote this song, and it came totally from the bottom of my broken heart.”

She went on to say that she’s always been keen on the actual “business side” of the music business too, which is also the reason why she turned down Elvis from recording “I Will Always Love You,” which you should read more about HERE.

Dolly never wanted to be “hick rich,” and blow all of her money like she saw so many of her friends do, who also came form humble beginnings and din’t really know anything about the business.

It’s clearly served her well over the years, and she’s built a name and brand for herself that most people could only ever dream about:

“I was always aware of the fact that this was the music business, and I was interested in the business end of the business. and I was not one of those, I didn’t want to just get ‘hick rich,’ like so many of my hick friends did, you know?

A bunch of hicks coming straight out of the mountains, you just get all of this quick money and you blow it all and you spend it all. I wanted to be wise with it.”

And I’ll leave you with this incredible performance Dolly did of “I Will Always Love You” on the Porter Wagoner Show back in the 70’s… it’s one of my favorites:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock