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The true story behind Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'


Everybody likes to think of Dolly Parton’s classic song ‘Jolene’ in the abstract because why would you write a song about someone in such a specific way? It’s bold, to say the least, but Dolly Parton is known for being bold. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that her song, ‘Jolene’ was written about a real person.

Apparently, Parton wrote the song about a redheaded bank teller who had a crush on her husband. She says of writing the song and the story behind it, “She got this terrible crush on my husband… And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us – when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.'”

Even though she put some humour into it, the situation clearly irked her at least a little—enough to write the song, at least. She continues, “She had everything I didn’t, like legs – you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have… So no matter how beautiful a woman might be, you’re always threatened by certain… You’re always threatened by other women, period.”

However, when it comes to getting inspired for the actual song, she didn’t use the real bank teller’s name. In fact, the whole thing had a bit more of a wholesome inspiration behind it.

She says, “One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl – she was probably 8 years old at the time… And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”

Even though the track originally started out with its inspiration from a bit of tension, it seems that there was a bit of distance from the animosity, and a great song came out of it.

If you want to revisit the song Dolly Parton wrote about a real person, you can listen to ‘Jolene’ down below.