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Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” came out in 1973 as the lead single of the album of the same name. At that time, Parton and her husband Carl Dean had been married for seven years. In a recent interview, the “Jolene” singer answered what Dean thought of the song then, and how the couple joke about the song now. 

How Carl Dean felt about ‘Jolene’ when Dolly Parton first wrote the song

“Jolene” tells the story of a woman who’s worried about her man leaving her for another woman who’s prettier than her. Unlike many country songs about cheating, the song is a plea from the woman in the relationship to the woman she’s worried her partner will leave her for. It’s not angry, it’s desperate—a refreshing twist on an old trope. 

When the song came out, fans couldn’t help but link it back to Parton’s husband, Carl Dean.  

In a conversation with The One Show on BBC, Parton spoke about how her husband felt about “Jolene” when it first came out.  

“He was a little embarrassed when I wrote the song ‘Jolene’ because, actually, it wasn’t as serious [as it seems],” Parton said, laughing, “I was just jealous ’cause she was a beautiful woman and he was just flirtin’.”

“So it gave me a great idea for a song,” she continued. “There’s always a Jolene in somebody’s life. There’s always someone prettier than you, somebody, you know, maybe you fear that they’re better.”

The inspiration for ‘Jolene’

As the story goes, “Jolene” was inspired by a pretty bank teller who was flirting with Dean shortly after he and Parton got married. Apparently, Dean was flirted back, and kept finding his way to the bank.  

“I wrote that [song] years ago when my husband … was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be,” Parton said in an appearance at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival. “I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry.”


Dolly Parton Initially Wouldn’t Go Out With Husband Carl Dean, but Said He Could Babysit With Her

But, all’s well that ends well. 

“Had it not been for that woman, I would never have written ‘Jolene’, and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene,” said Parton.

While the situation at the bank inspired the contents of the song, an interaction with a fan inspired the name. 

“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably eight years old at the time,” Parton told NPR. “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.’”

Today, Dolly and Carl joke about ‘Jolene’

“Jolene” came out 50 years ago. A lot has changed between now and then for the couple. Today, they joke about the song and the flirty woman at the bank.  

“I just joke about it now,” Parton told The One Show. “I look at him and I say, ‘Every time I see you over there in that La-Z-Boy chair, snorin’ and sleepin’, I think, where is Jolene when you need her? You can have him now Jolene!'”