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Porter Wagoner 'loves' Dolly; Bitter lawsuit long forgotten

By MARK SCHWED

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Porter Wagoner wants his fans to know he loves Dolly Parton.

The Grand Ole Opry star sued Miss Parton, his former duet partner, in the mid-1970s for nearly all the gold in California, claiming she had not lived up to their recording contract. The lawsuit eventually was settled and Wagoner got to record an album with Miss Parton at the peak of her career.

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'The true story of that thing never did develop. When you get involved in litigation with attorneys, man, they drag you down in the mud,' Wagoner said, pausing to puff a cigarette in his Nashville office. 'They make you look like bitter enemies. I have nothing against Dolly. I love the woman.

'I think she was terrific for me. I recorded a lot of No. 1 duets with her. I helped her build her career and took a lot of pride in it. I gave seven years of my energy and all my power in the business was directed toward her.

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'I love the woman. I'm not bitter that she left me. That's what she and I worked for. She's a beautiful lady. We had a difference in a litigation of contract.'

But Wagoner at that time virtually quit the recording business for 2 years.

'I'd like for you to tell my fans the true reason I took off. It's not because I was in mourning over the Porter-Dolly split,' he said. 'A lot of people took it that way. They thought I was going to kill myself. That's so far from the truth it's unbelievable.

'I had spent 23 years of my life on the road. I needed a rest. I was all burned out. I went to the lake, spent time in the recording studio and stayed out of the limelight.'

After the hiatus, Wagoner reformed his Wagon Masters Band, recorded an album in Los Angeles called 'Viva, Porter Wagoner,' and dusted off his rhinestone-spangled 'Nudie' suits at a time when many in country music had traded cowboy hats for designer jeans and silk shirts.

For years, Wagoner's trademarks were his blond pompadour and flashy, heavily embroidered suits. Although he's traded the pomp for a curly 'do,' he still struts on stage wearing an elaborate 40-pound, $5,000 rhinestone-loaded creation from the hand of Nudie of Hollywood.

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'If they make something prettier, I'll go with that,' he said. 'Oh, yeah, I can take 'em off on my taxes. But I think they're beautiful on stage. I'm not knocking the people who wear blue jeans on stage. For me, that wouldn't be showmanship. That's my craft.'

One of the first things he did was bring the 'godfather of soul,' James Brown, to the Grand Ole Opry.

'It ruffled a lot of feathers in Nashville,' he said. 'You know what? It didn't surprise me at all. I thought it was a great thing for the Grand Ole Opry. It was a great thing for country music.

'James Brown is the king of soul. Roy Acuff is the king of country music. I'd hate to think that Roy Acuff could not appear anywhere because he's that great a man. I'd hate to feel James Brown could not appear anywhere because he's also that great a man.'

Wagoner, who turns 50 on Aug. 13, said he could retire now and live comfortably, but he'd rather entertain.

'I didn't start in the music business to make money. I want to contribute to the music business and put something back into it so I'll be known as the man that was great for country music and a great entertainer. During the next few years I'm going to devote all my energies to Porter Wagoner.

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'It's not that I'm getting selfish now that I'm getting close to the big 5-0. I just want to do some things for my career.'

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