Dolly Parton’s Uncle Bill Owens, Who Got Her First Music Job, Passes at 85

Dolly Parton’s Uncle Bill Owens, Who Got Her First Music Job, Passes at 85

Just a few short months after her brother, Randy died, Dolly Parton is suffering another loss, as her Uncle Bill Owens has died at the age of 85.

Dolly shared, “I’ve lost my beloved Uncle Bill Owens. I knew my heart would break when he passed, and it did. I’ll start this eulogy by saying I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been there. He was there… there in my young years to encourage me to keep playing my guitar, to keep writing my songs, to keep practicing my singing. And he was there to help build my confidence standing on stage where he was always standing behind me or close beside me with his big ol’ red Gretsch guitar.

He was there to take me around to all of the local shows, got me my first job on the ‘Cas Walker Show.’ He took me back-&-forth to Nashville through the years, walked up-&-down the streets with me, knocking on doors to get me signed up to labels or publishing companies.

It’s really hard to say or to know for sure what all you owe somebody for your success. But I can tell you for sure that I owe Uncle Billy an awful lot.

Uncle Bill was so many things. He loved the music, loved to play, loved his guitar and loved to write and sing. He wrote great songs, at least 800 of them through the years. We wrote several songs together, the biggest one being ‘Put It Off Until Tomorrow.’ We won our first big award on that one back in 1966. It was the BMI Song of the Year.

He wrote songs that were recorded by Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner,Ricky Skaggs, Kris Kristofferson and many others. He also traveled the road with many big artists playing his guitar, including playing on stage with me in my early years in Nashville.

Uncle Bill worked at Dollywood from the time we opened in the family show for many years. He was funny, friendly and generous. He always had a kind word for everybody and gave good advice to young people starting in the business.

He joined forces with Dollywood, The American Chestnut Foundation, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and The American Eagle Foundation to bring back the endangered chestnut tree to the Great Smoky Mountain area. That was his passion.

He also championed the cause of protecting the natural environment at Dollywood in 1986. During that time, he took it upon himself, with his wife Sandy, to plant 70,000 trees on the Park property.

I bet a lot of our own relatives don’t even know all of the great things that Uncle Bill did behind the scenes through his life. But the greatest thing he ever did for me was to help me see my dreams come true and for that I will be forever grateful. I’m sure that Uncle Bill’s friends, fans, his wife Sandy, his kids, grandkids and great grandkids will join me when I say that we will always love you. Rest in peace, Uncle Bill.”



(Billy Earl Owens: Sept. 28, 1935-April 7, 2021) 

Headline Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Additional Photo Courtesy of Dolly Parton

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