Dolly Parton Didn’t Write ‘Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man’ About Her Father — Here’s Who It’s Really About

Article Highlights:

  • Reverend Jake Owens, the man the song is about
  • Dolly Parton on writing “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man”
  • How Brother Jake felt about the song
Dolly Parton sits in a rocking chair as she speaks into a microphone.
Dolly Parton | Rick Diamond/Getty Images for SiriusXM

“Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man” is one of Dolly Parton‘s most classic songs. While the man the song is about is a real person, he wasn’t the “Jolene” singer’s father. He was her grandfather, Reverend Jake Owens. Parton wrote the song with her aunt, Dorothy Jo, who actually was the daughter of Jake. So the song is about her father, not Parton’s. Here’s what the Queen of Country has to say about writing the song and her “Holy Roller” preacher grandpa.

The kind of preacher Reverend Jake Owens was

In the “Dumb Blonde” singer’s 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, she reminisces about growing up in her grandfather’s church.

“I often talk about my grandpa, the Reverend Jake Owens, ‘Brother Jake,’” she wrote. “He was a Pentecostal, ‘Holy Roller’ preacher, and allowed us to express ourselves, to make that ‘Joyful Noise,’ as he called it. We would sing gospel songs, but he didn’t require us to. If I’d written a song with my guitar, I could get up and sing that. We even had a little band in our church, made up of our family members. You were allowed to get up and just express your gifts. If my grandpa thought you had a gift that was God-given, it didn’t have to be just a sacred song.”

It was in this church that Parton really got to explore her talents as a songwriter.

“The music that was born out of that church kind of shaped and molded my whole career—sometimes in ways that I don’t even understand,” she wrote.

Dolly Parton on writing ‘Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man’ with her Aunt Dorothy Jo

Jake Owens was the father of Parton’s mother and her aunt Dorothy Jo. Dorothy Jo was a frequent songwriting partner for the Queen of Country.

“One night, Dorothy Jo and I were writing, and we were talking about Jake, my grandpa, and about him being a preacher,” wrote Parton. “I said, ‘Let’s write a song about him,’ and that became ‘Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man.’ It’s about her daddy, my granddaddy.”

RELATED: Why Dolly Parton’s Father Once Cussed out a Preacher

The two were sure to feature lyrics from the old songs they used to sing in Jake’s church — “Because I love doing that, finding a way to include and incorporate a lot of public-domain songs that everybody knows. It had some really good lines in it.”

Other than including lines from old songs, “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man” basically tells the story of Jake Owens.

“He preached about Hell so hot that you could feel the heat,” she wrote. “We had fun writing it, knowing that it was about Grandpa. We figured it was going to memorialize him forever.”

The song ended up being one of Parton and Porter Wagoner‘s most successful duets.

Dolly Parton’s Grandpa Jake was honored to be the subject of ‘Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man’

RELATED: Dolly Parton Says Her Father Was Ashamed of Being Illiterate, but She Thought the World of Him

“Daddy Was an Old Town Preacher Man” is a song that’s loved by many, still to this day. But Grandpa Jake loved it most of all.

“While Grandpa Jake was still alive, he started to get childish in his older years,” wrote Parton. “He’d just walk up to people and say, ‘You know that song ‘Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man’? That’s about me!’ It was just so cute and childlike. He’d just walk up to anyone, saying, ‘That’s about me!’ And I loved that.”