NASHVILLE, Tennessee. () – Country composer Bill Owens, a mentor and early partner in songwriting for his niece Dolly Parton and helped kick-start her career in country music, has died. He was 85.
Parton’s publicist on Wednesday confirmed his death, and Parton wrote a lengthy eulogy for his uncle, saying, “I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t there.”
At the age of 10, Owens helped Parton get her first radio appearance on the radio show “Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour” in Knoxville, Tennessee. He invited her to practice guitar, and often drove her to a local show where she could play.
“It’s really hard to say or know exactly what you owe someone for your success,” Parton wrote of his uncle. “But I can tell you for sure that I owe Uncle Billy so much.”
They wrote songs together, including Parton’s first single, “Puppy Love,” which was released in 1959, when Parton was only 13 years old. Owens eventually began taking her to Nashville to perform songs to record companies and publishers.
Owens and Parton were signed as composers by Fred Foster, the country’s legendary producer, his record company Combine Music, and Foster signed Parton as an artist for his label Monument Records in 1965.
Parton and Owens wrote the song “Put It Off into Tomorrow”, which would become a top 10 hit for Bill Phillips. Parton also sings backup vocals in this recording. It was named BMI Song of the Year in 1966. Phillips would also record another song he wrote called “The Company You Keep.”
Owens wrote songs recorded by Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs and Kris Kristofferson. He was also a musician on tour and supported Parton in her early years in Nashville.
Owens also worked at Parton Amusement Park in Dollywood as an artist, and his passion was to restore the original chestnut tree in the Great Smoky Mountains. Parton said he and his wife Sandy planted 70,000 trees on Dollywood’s estate during their lifetime.
“He was funny, friendly and generous,” Parton said. “He always had a kind word for everyone and advised young people starting out in the field.”