Why Dolly Parton Doesn’t Regret Not Letting Elvis Presley Cover Her Song

Many music fans know Elvis Presley wanted to cover one of Dolly Parton’s songs, but she turned him down. She was very upset about it at the time. But years later, she explained why she doesn’t regret saying no to the King of Rock and Roll.

Dolly Parton wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’

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The songwriter wrote “I Will Always Love You” in 1973 about her mentor and duet partner, Porter Wagoner. Parton sang with him on The Porter Wagoner Show for five years. She then went on to have her solo career. But first, she wrote a song to explain her decision to Wagoner better.

“There was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going,” Parton told CMT in 2011. “I thought, ‘Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’… so I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ‘I Will Always Love You.’”

Other artists later wanted to cover the song. But she had to turn down Presley.

Dolly Parton turned down Elvis Presley and cried

Dolly Parton performs at the Dominion Theatre in London in a sparkly white top and big, blond, curly hair. She's strumming a guitar and singing into a microphone.
Dolly Parton | Pete Still/Redferns

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Presley wanted to cover Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and she was excited about it. “So I was so excited, I told everybody,” Parton said on the Living and Learning with Reba McEntire podcast. “They had called me that Elvis was recording it and if I wanted to come to the studio. Elvis wanted to meet me and all that.”

But her feelings changed when he asked for half of the publishing deal. She turned him down, but it wasn’t easy.

“I cried all night,” she said. “Oh, I just pictured Elvis, like, singing it. And I know that Elvis loved it … but it’s true. I said no.” Whitney Houston ended up covering the song instead.

Why Dolly Parton doesn’t regret not letting him cover her song

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Parton still gets asked about her decision. “It wasn’t about me saying no to Elvis,” she told Billboard in 2020. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do ‘cause I loved Elvis, and it wasn’t about him. It was about that song had already, that was my number one copyright ‘cause I had a number one record on it.”

She then explained why she said no. “It was only when he asked for half the portion on a song that was my most important copyright at the time, and I said ‘I can’t give you that,’” Parton said.

The songwriter said if it had been a new song she would have considered it. “Some people say it was a dumb idea, but I say it’s not. ‘Cause, it wasn’t about that. These are just me protecting my things,” she said. 

It sounds like Parton is at peace with her decision. The song still got another life with Houston’s iconic cover.