Porter was more than his flashy, rhinestone-covered cowboy suits. At it's peak, his syndicated television show attracted over three million viewers an episode. And when that national exposure combined with Porter's showmanship and the overwhelming talent of his new "girl singer" in 1967, it was the perfect storm and launched Dolly Parton's career.
Porter helped Dolly find her stage persona. Porter deliberately sang duet after duet with Dolly so that his television audience would warm up to her (something they were not quick to do, due to the fact that the audience loved Norma Jean, the "girl singer" that Dolly replaced).
Since it was Porter's show and Dolly was ON Porter's show, Porter controlled Dolly. No doubt this created tension between them, but it made Dolly a better entertainer. Eventually, better than Porter.
Dolly talks about how singing an "S" helped her realize that it was time to leave Porter's show.
You see, when she and Porter began singing duets in 1967, if there was an "S" at the end of a phrase, Dolly would drop out and Porter would sing it, so that it wouldn't sound like a pack of snakes invaded the recording studio with all the "S's" being heard.
Then, something happened.
They never discussed it, but somewhere in the middle of her seven year run, Porter started dropping out and Dolly started singing the "S." It was Porter's show, but Dolly was becoming the show's star. She knew it was time to go.
Leaving wasn't easy. There were hurt feelings - - between Dolly and Porter as well as between Dolly and country music fans. Everyone thought she was abandoning Porter, the man who had given her all her success. But Dolly had more than paid her dues to Porter. She appreciated all that he had done for her, but it was time for her to follow her own dreams.
That's when she wrote this song. To explain why she was leaving. To the fans, but mostly to Porter.
And this clip of Dolly singing the song to Porter at the celebration of Porter Wagoner's 50th anniversary on the Grand Ole Opry is the perfect way to remember him today.
Here's Dolly singing, "I Will Always Love You."
You may prefer Whitney Houston's version of this song, but for me and for most Southerners, we want to hear Dolly sing her song. It's a "Dance with the one that brung you" kind of thing.
P.S. At Dolly's concert here in Chicago a few years ago, a local Dolly Parton drag queen attended the concert and brought with her a man dressed as Kenny Rogers and another man dressed as Porter Wagoner.
In the middle of the concert, Dolly said, "I hear that Porter and Kenny and Dolly are in the house tonight," and in seconds the house lights bumped a little bit and the three impersonators stood up just rows in front of me.
Dolly saw them in the audience and said...
"Lord, I've gone so far, I've met myself comin' back!"