“They had called me to say that Elvis was recording it and asked if I wanted to come to the studio,” recalled Dolly on a recent episode of the podcast “Living & Learning With Reba McEntire“. “Elvis wanted to meet me!”
By the mid-1970s, Dolly had already established herself as a hitmaking singer and songwriter, but the idea of working with Elvis thrilled her. “There are a lot of people I admire and respect. I loved Elvis,” she said.
But the night before Elvis was scheduled to go into the studio, Dolly received a call from his manager, Col. Tom Parker, who wanted Dolly to sign over half of the rights to “I Will Always Love You.”
“It was the most important copyright I had in my publishing company,” Dolly explained. “I told him, ‘I can’t give it to you, I’m going to leave that to my family.’ And he said, ‘Well, then we can’t do it.’ ”
THE RIGHT CHOICE
Dolly was heartbroken. “I [had been] so excited that I told everyone [Elvis] was going to do it,” she said. “I cried all night because I had just pictured Elvis singing it. I knew he loved it.”
Some might have called her crazy for refusing to give her song to Elvis, but Dolly, 74, credits her upbringing in rural Tennessee with teaching her to stand up for herself. “I’ve had to go up against many a good ole boy,” she admitted. “I’ve let a lot of what people call ‘good deals’ go by, because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice things I thought that would entail. You’ve got to learn to stand up and live with the decisions you make.”
Of course, Dolly made the right choice. Almost 20 years later, Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Her version set a record for the best-selling single by a woman in music history — making Dolly millions and ensuring the financial future of her family.
Years later, Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, confirmed to Dolly that the King never forgot “I Will Always Love You.” “She said, ‘Elvis sang that song to me after we divorced,’” Dolly remembered. “So I know how much he loved it, and that touched me.”