Dolly Parton Admits When She Wrote Romantic Songs for Her Duo With Porter Wagoner, ‘Some Were Based in Love’

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner had a complicated relationship. Together, they made one of country music’s most successful duos. But, behind the scenes, their partnership was often contentious. Still, the “Jolene” singer admits she and Wagoner maintained a passionate, serious relationship while they worked together — “a marriage, of a sort.” So when it came to writing love songs for the pair, Parton pulled her inspiration from different places.

Country singer Dolly Parton with her collaborator Porter Wagoner on the set of his TV show in 1967. Mr. Wagoner is wearing a Nudie Suit designed by Nudie Cohn of Nudie's Rodeo Tailors.
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1967 | by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Fans often thought Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were having an affair

During the height of their partnership, it wasn’t uncommon for fans to think Parton and Wagoner shared a romantic connection. And their repertoire of romantic songs didn’t help the rumor mill.

“With any romantic duet, people always think the singers are having an affair,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “Country fans especially assume that. And when you work that closely with someone, you do have a relationship. And it is based in passion. You have to experience emotions if you’re going to sing a song like ‘Lost Forever in Your Kiss.’ You’re living with these people, day in and day out.”

Dolly Parton on writing love songs for Porter Wagoner and the true nature of their relationship

The truth is “Porter and I did nothing but fight.” So Parton would often have to channel someone else, or another relationship, when she sat down to write a love song.

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“When I would write love songs, it wasn’t so much about Porter,” she wrote. “Some were. Some were based on love. But people always assume it. And you do have a love affair, of a sort.”

“But whether it’s a love affair or not, you’re all in, in the relationship,” she continued. “Whether it’s sexual or whether it’s just passionate, you are connected. It’s a love-hate relationship. It is a marriage, of a sort. And if people think that you are ‘doing it,’ that helps sell the duets. So who’s going to admit whether it’s true or not?”

Where Dolly Parton gets her songwriting inspiration from

So where does Parton get her inspiration from, if not her duo partners? For one, the “Dumb Blonde” singer’s husband, Carl Dean, has inspired several songs, like “The Last One to Touch Me.”

“I can’t even sing that song without crying, because I think about my husband,” she wrote. “I’m sure that when I wrote it, I was thinking about Carl. You’re together when you’re in your young life. You’re together through prosperity. You’re together through sickness and health, through poverty and wealth, until death. Most people don’t get that far.”

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But Parton’s also written about plenty of subjects, romance included, that she has no personal experience with. She has a “big imagination” that lends itself perfectly to songwriting.

“When I was young, we didn’t go to the movies, so I just created my own stories,” she wrote. “It’s kind of embedded in me to make up songs and stories. I’d read something in a book or hear something and think, ‘What would happen next? What kind of story would that turn out to be?’”