Dolly Parton
Country Weekly
April 15, 1997
Porter Wagoner:  The Truth About Dolly & Me
By Rick Haydan

Porter Wagoner's life is forever linked to Dolly Parton's.

      After replacing Norma Jean on The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967, Dolly became Porter's most famous duet partner and then left him to achieve superstardom on her own.
      "I loved Dolly then, and I love her now," Porter says.  "She's one of the nicest people I've met in my life."
      There was a time that statement would have been hard to believe.  After seven years together on Porter's road show and TV program — and 21 hit duets — they had developed a close business and personal relation ship that went sour with the breakup.
      The intensity of the relationship was such that its end inspired Dolly to write the classic "I Will Always Love You."  The hurt feelings came out in a lawsuit, later settled.
      Porter now says the press blew the dispute out of proportion.
      "Dolly had reached the point where she was ready to go out on her own," he says.  "That was something we both had worked toward.  But then, the lawyers got involved — and whenever that happens, they stir things up."
      When they first met, Porter was the superstar and Dolly was one of a couple dozen women he interviewed as his new "girl singer."
      "She was just a really nice-looking girl, nothing outstanding about her at the time," Porter says.  "I was impressed with her songwriting.  She wrote a lot of songs about home, about Daddy's workin' boots and those type things and Mama's old black kettle.  They weren't great commercial songs, but they were well written and they were about subjects she knew about at that time back in East Tennessee."

      Dolly's looks played only a small role in getting her hired, Porter says.
      "Norma Jean, the girl that was leaving, was more of a household, housewife-looking girl, a very pretty, very clean, very wholesome look," Porter says.  "And, Dolly was a blonde and looked quite different from that . . . At that time she was dressing down more."
      When Norma Jean left to marry her childhood sweetheart, the audiences didn't make it easy on Dolly, Porter says.
      "The first time she went out, Norma Jean was supposed to be there and she wasn't," Porter says.  "Dolly was her replacement and the people didn't like it at all.  They were very mad at Dolly.  They didn't like the way she sang or anything.  That was a devastating moment for her I'm sure.
      "We talked about it after the show that night.  We were going to another concert up into Pennsylvania, and I told her what we need to do."
      Porter told Dolly:  "Tonight, instead of sleeping, we need you to stay up and work on a couple of duets we can do to open your part of the show, and then I'll stay out there out there with you while you're talking to the people.
      "We learned 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' and another song called 'The Last Thing on My Mind,' which we wound up recording, and it became the first record we released."
      They worked together until 1974, when Dolly went solo.  She had been increasingly unhappy with working for Porter, but once she left, it was his turn to seethe.
      "Part of my agreement with Dolly has been that when she went out on her own and was no longer part of my show, I'd get a percentage of what she made for the next five years," Porter says.

      To him, the arrangement was fair — he had produced Dolly's records without pay and had split the profits on the duets 50-50, though she was the newcomer and he the established star.
      "We had it in writing that once she left, it was time for me to be paid for some of the things I'd done for her," he says.
      Five years after Dolly left, Porter sued her.  He claimed payments had not been made.  Dolly later said she thought the payments had been made.  The two settled out of court the following year.  Time helped heal the wounds, and today they speak kindly about each other.
      In her 1994 autobiography, Dolly:  My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Dolly wrote:  "Porter and I have outlived a lot of the hurt and bitterness we both felt and can once again share a stage from time to time when we work together.
      "There is no question he did a great deal for me and for country music.  So, thank you, Porter Wagoner, for all the good you have brought me and forgive me for the bad, as I have forgiven you.
      "It's like the old saying, 'As good as you are and as bad as I am, I'm as good as you are, as bad as I am.'"