What about your two brothers?
I was the only girl, and I was the baby, so a lot of attention went toward me.
Were they very protective of you?
Ooooh, uh-huh. Are you kidding? The disadvantage of growing up with two boys is that you can't do anything. If they saw me with a boy, it was like . . . "Who's that?'' I was totally like "Oh, God, please, just go away.'' The advantage was that I knew all the raps [laughs]. I knew all the shit that guys could lay on you from A to Z. I got to hear how guys talk about girls.
It's not pretty.
[Howling] It's not. It's so ugly. Then I'd think, "I wonder if Sheila knows they're talking about her like this?'' They're going: "I had her the other night.'' "Well, I had her last night.'' "Well, I had her last week.''
So I got to hear how men really think about women – which left me with not much to be disillusioned about. Guys would walk up to me, and I'd go [folds her arms and frowns], "And what do you have to say?'' [Laughs] I wasn't goin' for a lot of bullshit. You know, my brother had one girl outside, one upstairs, one in the basement - and all three of these girls would be waiting. Me - "You kept me waiting too long, see ya later.'' I knew it was a trip.
When you decided to start your recording career, how did you proceed?
I did showcases and invited record-company people. People were interested in me from the time I was fifteen - it was kinda like they were just waiting for me to grow up. Everybody put their bids in. So I sat down with my managers and my parents, and I remember this long, drawn-out meeting. "What are you gonna do? Who are you going to go with?'' I remember stopping the meeting and saying, "I gotta take a break.'' I went into another room and sat in a chair, and my mother came in after me and said, "You know, this is very difficult, but I'm going to tell you the truth: You should go where you are going to get the best out of it.'' Meaning, let's say a company offers you a contract, and they're saying: "Whitney, you can choose the songs. You can produce the songs. You can do whatever the hell you want to do.'' As opposed to Arista, with Clive Davis saying: "We'll give you this amount of money, and we'll sit down, and as far as the songs you want to do, I will help you. I will say: `Whitney, this song has potential. This song doesn't.''' So my mother was saying to me, "You're eighteen years old. You need guidance.'' Clive was the person who guided me.
Did it bother you that many people saw Clive Davis as the Svengali behind your early career?
Sometimes it did when critics would say that Clive told me what to do and how to do it, because that's all bullshit. I don't like it when they see me as this little person who doesn't know what to do with herself - like I have no idea what I want, like I'm just a puppet and Clive's got the strings. That's bullshit. That's demeaning to me, because that ain't how it is, and it never was. And never will be.
I wouldn't be with anybody who didn't respect my opinion. Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do. You can't make me sing something I don't want to sing. That's not what makes me and Clive click, because if it was, I'd have left Arista a long time ago. Clive and I work well together. We basically like the same things, which, thank God, allowed us to get along all these years. We get on each other's nerves sometimes, but we've been together ten years now. Anybody can get on anybody's nerves over that long a time.
Were you surprised that the first album got so large?
You know, it gets to the point where the first couple of million you go, "Oh, thank you, Jesus!'' [Laughs] I mean, let's face it, you make a record, you want people to buy your record - period. Anybody who tells you "I'm makin' a record 'cause I want to be creative'' is a fucking liar. They want to sell records. As it went on – and it went on – I took a very humble attitude. I was not going to say, "Hey, I sold 13 million records – check that shit out.'' My mother always told me, "Before the fall goeth pride.''
I'm still the same way. With "I Will Always Love You,'' I had no idea. I knew the song was incredible. I knew I had sung the shit out of it. But I had no idea that that record would sell so much, so fast.
In one week the album sold over a million copies.
Oh, man, it was like "What's happening?'' I really think people were hungry for something that just had a melody and some good lyrics.
I talked to Dolly Parton by phone not too long ago. She said to me [imitates Parton's accent]: "Whitney, I just want to tell you something. I'm just so honored that you did my song. I just don't know what to tell you, girl.'' I said, "Well, Dolly, you wrote a beautiful song.'' And she said: "Yeah, but it never did that well for me. It did well for you because you put all that stuff into it.''
You just crushed it.
I think Dolly Parton is a hell of a writer and a hell of a singer. I was so concerned when I sang her song how she'd feel about it, in terms of the arrangement, my licks, my flavor. When she said she was floored, that meant so much to me.
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