CNBC Meets

Dolly Parton: The time I turned down Elvis

Why Elvis didn't cover Dolly Parton's song
Why Elvis didn't cover Dolly Parton's song
Got my business sense from my Dad: Parton
Got my business sense from my Dad: Parton
The sadness behind the 'Coat of Many Colors' track
The sadness behind the 'Coat of Many Colors' track
'I wanted to make it' in music: Parton
'I wanted to make it' in music: Parton

For Dolly Parton, turning down Elvis Presley's offer to cover her music was one of the first "really hard business decisions" she had to make, the global country superstar told CNBC Meets.

In 1974, Parton released one of her iconic songs "I Will Always Love You"; a song that not only garnered millions of dollars in sales of her own recording but earned her even more thanks to versions by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and, most famously, Whitney Houston.

It's no wonder that shortly after Parton's song became a chart-topper, the King of Rock and Roll wanted to put out his own version of the track. While Parton was delighted by the prospect of Elvis covering her record, it was the future of the song's publishing rights that drove her to say no.

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"(Elvis) had wanted to record it and I had been invited to come down to the studio to hear him and it was a couple of days before and Colonel Tom Parker – who was (Presley's) manager at the time – called and said 'Now you know Elvis don't record anything unless we get half the publishing'," Parton told CNBC Meets' Tania Bryer.

"And I said 'well this has already been a hit for me and this is in my publishing company and I can't give you half of it', and he said 'well then we can't do it.'"

"And I said well, 'I am really sorry to hear that because I already told everybody Elvis was doing my song' but I thought you know, I can't do it. And I didn't. So I thought: 'Well, it was just one of those first really hard business decisions I had to make.'"

Dolly Parton
Brendon Thorne | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Even though Parton knew in her heart that she had to protect her business ventures, she went on to tell CNBC that she wished she could have heard the rock legend sing the track.

By holding on to her publishing rights however, the singer-songwriter went on to earn estimated millions in royalties from the song — something that may not have been the case if Elvis and his manager had their way.

Parton's original hit topped the country charts twice, once in 1974 and once when it was re-released in 1982, in time for it to feature on the soundtrack of her film "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".

Houston's 1992 cover version, for the soundtrack of the movie "The Bodyguard", rocketed to the top of the charts, going platinum in many markets worldwide, and is now seen as one of the most successful records in music history.

Country singers Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner perform onstage in circa 1967 in Nashville.
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer | Getty Images

While "I Will Always Love You" is often interpreted by many as romantic, Parton's original hit was actually about the ending of her professional partnership with mentor Porter Wagoner, who invited her to become a featured performer on his TV show back in 1967.

Despite the turbulence in their friendship, including Wagoner suing Parton, the country megastar told CNBC that they remained good friends until Wagoner passed away in 2007.

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"Taking all of her hardships in life from different moments and really making them into great art (is something Dolly) was so good at," musician LeAnn Rimes, told CNBC Meets.

"And taking the situation with Porter Wagoner and turning it into that (I Will Always Love You) song; it truly is one of the greatest songs of all time."

CNBC Meets: Dolly Parton will premiere in EMEA markets on June 1, at 22:00 BST.