Outside of her songwriting, country music icon Dolly Parton is best known for her sweetness and positivity. The 74-year-old living legend is a famous philanthropist who often donates to good causes. It’s hard to imagine Parton ever having an unkind word for anyone.
But in Parton’s recently published new memoir Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (as she wrote with Ron K. Oermann), she explains that her relationship with her longtime songwriting partner, Porter Wagoner, was certainly not always sweet and light. In fact, Parton and Wagoner often bumped heads when writing together – especially when it came to business matters.
Parton and Wagoner had a roller coaster with a professional relationship
Parton and Wagoner began working together in 1967 when she began appearing Porter Wagoner Show on a regular basis. Soon they started writing together and the songwriting couple released several duet albums.
In her new memoir, Parton explains that she actually took the lead in many of the duo’s songwriting efforts, despite being newer to the company. Wagoner was not known as a songwriter when they started working as a couple.
“I helped him a little bit get into it,” Parton explains, adding that she helped him with lots of songs for which she did not receive official credit.
But while Wagoner and Parton had professional chemistry, their relationship was often filled.
“Sometimes it was easy, sometimes not,” Parton writes Song record. “We were both very bullheaded.” She explains that she could never figure out if they were “too similar” or “too different” to get along.
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The duo began to hit their heads more and more over the years
About her professional relationship with Wagoner, Parton writes in her memoir: “When we wrote together, it was sometimes fun, and sometimes it would be based on whether we fought or not.” While she will always be grateful to him and find “a lot of joy” in their work together, there were also many “ups and downs” as the years went by.
The last song they wrote together was “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me”, in 1974 – their only duet that ironically came to No. 1 – and at the time, they fought more often than they did together.
Perhaps the problem was that their working relationship had simply run its course. Parton had originally planned to write with Wagoner for five years, but by then it had been around seven.
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Parton said Wagoner could be ‘aggressive’
According to Parton, Wagoner at times had an unstable temperament. She suspected that his dominant behavior towards her was somewhat related to her gender – but she was not about to return.
“He had a bad temper, and when it blazed, it blazed,” Parton writes Dolly Parton, song counter. “But when he was in a good mood, he was a joy.”
She adds that Wagoner sometimes even scared her when his temper flared up.
“Porter was very aggressive in his temperament and he tried to scare me,” the 74-year-old reveals. “I think many times he did.”
Parton still explains that she did not want to be pushed around “just because she was a girl.” And with a father and six brothers at home, she was “used to men”.
“I did not fold like some women, which is why I just wanted to fight back,” Parton claims.
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The country icon wrote ‘I will always love you’ as a tribute to the end of her professional relationship with Wagoner
Over time, Wagoner wanted to gain more control over Parton’s music career. She claims in her new memoir that his professional jealousy began to affect their working conditions.
Finally, Parton decided it was finally time to spread his wings and go out alone for a full-fledged solo career.
Of course, the country singer backed out of her partnership with Wagoner the best way she knew how: with a song. She wrote the 1974 No. 1 smash hit “I Will Always Love You” – now in the Grammy Hall of Fame – about trying to free herself from Wagoner’s experimental control.
Every lyric in that song, Parton explains, “came straight from the bottom [her] heart.”
“He was trying to control something that can’t be controlled,” she writes of Wagoner, “and it made him miserable and me miserable.”
Wagoner himself produced the song – even Parton says it was the “best song she had ever written” – and the couple continued to work together occasionally until they parted ways in 1975.