A huge star, a household name, a hometown hero. Dolly Parton is about as big as it gets in terms of star power. And there is one man who knew that long before she did, long before she wrote dozens of hit songs, long before Dolly became a theme park.
There is one man behind that blond hair and sequins who helped Dolly get started, her Uncle Bill.
She even included him in a recent performance at Dollywood. "And this is my Uncle Bill right here. This is the man that I wouldn't be here today, I wouldn't be a star if it hadn't been for him carrying me around to Nashville," says Dolly.
Bill Owens knew his niece had talent at a very young age. "She was washing dishes and singing," says Bill.
"I'd rather sing than wash dishes to this day," says Dolly.
"People say, 'You didn't really know she could (sing).' I said, 'Yes, I did.' I told you that every day," says Bill.
"You did. You sure did. He encouraged me a lot," says Dolly.
Uncle Bill didn't take no for an answer. "I ain't a bit bashful. I'll walk right in on the President this evening. It wouldn't bother me a bit," says Bill.
And Cas Walker took notice. Dolly performed on his show that aired on WBIR. Uncle Bill also helped get her on a local radio station.
"Down here at WIVK, we'd go over there and after they'd go off the air, I'd talk to Claude Tomlinson and them guys and say, 'Please we got some new songs. We got to get them on tape.' And they'd do it," says Bill.
At the age of 13, Dolly recorded her first single, a song she wrote with her Uncle Bill, called "Puppy Love."
"I was working with Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis down in Lake Charles, Louisiana and I found a little old studio there," says Bill. "It was a man that had a TV repair shop, but he had some microphones in the back room so that was her first studio."
Uncle Bill took her to sing at county fairs, too.
"Later on in life, he took me back and forth to Nashville, knocking on doors, trying to get people to sign me up," says Dolly.
He knew what he was doing. Uncle Bill grew up in music. "I started off in church. My daddy was a preacher. People in church, they're so nice to you. They'll let you think that you're really good whether you are or not," says Bill.
He still performs at Dollywood to this day with other Dolly kinfolk, and he loves performing.
"It's my drug. I get higher on that than anybody can get high on anything," says Bill.
He has another passion, though, restoring the American Chestnut tree. "We found the cure, but it's going to take a whole lot of time and money to get them back to where they used to be," says Bill.
And Dolly helps out the cause, too. She recently filmed a public service announcement. Bill and Dolly are quite the duo.
"I actually owe Bill more than anything else," says Dolly.
"I'm real proud of her," says Bill.
And they both hold East Tennessee close to their hearts.
"It's home. It's where I grew up. I just love these mountains. It's a wonderful place to have a business. So glad to have Uncle Bill representing me up here," says Dolly.
"Everybody's just like your neighbors. I don't care how far away they live. 50 miles away they are still like your neighbors and friends and family," says Bill.
Uncle Bill, has an eye for talent, an ear for a good song, and a heart for Dolly.
"I didn't know she was going to be that pretty. She was just a little ole' girl, like a towheaded girl," says Bill.
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.