Dolly Parton's “Kentucky Gambler” Sang by Merle Haggard 1

The Song Written by the Sweet Dolly Parton

On December 21, 1974, Dolly Parton placed three different songs on Billboard’s country singles chart as a writer. Those songs were Porter Wagoner’s “Carolina Moonshiner”, her own “Love Is Like A Butterfly”, and Merle Haggard’s “Kentucky Gambler”. When Merle’s release topped the chart a month later, it became Dolly’s only No. 1 single as a writer on someone else’s record.

Other Parton songs that found success with different artists include Emmylou Harris’ “To Daddy”, Zella Lehr’s “Two Doors Down”, and Waylon Jennings’ “Waltz Me To Heaven”. “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” which was a hit twice. Bill Phillips scored a No. 6 peak with his original version in 1966, and The Kendalls’ cover which came in at No. 9 in 1980.

Story Behind the Song

“Kentucky Gambler” is a song Dolly Parton wrote based on the story of her Grandpa. As a child, she had been told that her grandfather was quite a gambler. He would go off gambling and lose what little money he had accumulated.

Years later, Merle Haggard would experience that addiction. On several occasions, he lost over $100,000 in a single evening playing blackjack in Nevada casinos. Haggard claims that he went through a period in his life where he really thought that he was a professional gambler. He had a tremendous streak of luck that lasted about three years and had a secret gambling account at the bank that nobody knew about. In that account, at its peak, was close to $300,000. Coincidentally, Dolly’s song “Kentucky Gambler” came along right about the time that Haggard lost the $300,000 in the account, plus another $300,000. Parton’s song accurately described the period that Merle was going through.

Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard first met Dolly Parton when he performed in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee in the early 1960s. She was billed as “local talent.” They reunited when Parton and her Travelin’ Family Band shared the bill with Haggard on a series of show dates in ’74 to ’75. Parton didn’t write “Kentucky Gambler” particularly for Merle and wasn’t on the road with him when she wrote it. However, she happened to be touring with Haggard at the time he recorded the song.

As it turned out, Merle became infatuated with Dolly on that series of tours and actually fell in love with her. He composed the song “Always Wanting You” for her.