“My heart just started to beat so fast and then when she got into ‘I Will Always Love You,’ when that opened up, and I realised that was my song, it was the most overwhelming thing,” Parton told Oprah Winfrey in a new episode of The Oprah Conversation on Apple TV+.
The country music legend explained that, at the time, she just happened to hear it on the radio as she was driving from her office in downtown Nashville to her home in Brentwood, Tennessee.
“I was shot so full of adrenaline and energy, I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would wreck, so I pulled over quick as I could to listen to that whole song,” Parton told Winfrey. “I could not believe how she did that. I mean, how beautiful it was that my little song had turned into that, so that was a major, major thing.”
Parton crafted the ballad back in 1973, as a goodbye letter to her mentor and duet partner, Porter Wagoner. The two regularly performed together on his TV show in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but Parton eventually decided to go solo. She took the song to the top of the country music chart in 1974 and then, after it was featured in her movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, again in 1982.
Not long before that memorable drive, Parton had received a call from Kevin Costner, who was producing and starring in an upcoming movie with Houston called The Bodyguard. He wanted to use her song for the 1992 drama, and Parton told him she’d be honoured.
“So David Foster was going to produce it and so I called David up,” Parton explained. “I said, ‘Now, David, make sure that they do the last verse, because I did it as a recitation and a lot of people say, ‘I can’t recite. I can’t do recitation,’ so they leave out. Linda Ronstadt had recorded it and left that whole verse out. I said, ‘Make sure that if you record this song, that you put that verse in.”
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Parton didn’t hear anything for months.
“I didn’t know if they had done it or whatever,” she said.
Cut to that beautiful moment with Parton cruising in her Cadillac. Houston had even done the last verse.
The new take on the song was, of course, a phenomenon. The track spent 14 weeks at the top of the charts, and it was a hit worldwide. It reentered the charts in February 2012, after Houston died tragically at the age of 48.
Parton has revealed in previous interviews that the one and only Elvis Presley, of whom she was a fan, almost recorded the song, too. He didn’t after his manager, Col. Tom Parker, demanded that the singer also get half of the publishing rights. Parton said no, thinking of her family and how their inheritance would be affected.
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“I said, ‘I’m really sorry,’ and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God… Elvis Presley.’ And other people were saying, ‘You’re nuts. It’s Elvis Presley. I mean, hell, I’d give him all of it,” Parton told CMT in July 2006. “I said, ‘I can’t do that. Something in my heart says, ‘Don’t do that.’”
Still, Parton said she’s long wondered how Presley would have sounded on the song. She suspects he would’ve “killed it.”
“But anyway, so he didn’t,” she told the network. “Then when Whitney’s came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.”
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