Don Warden, Steel Player and Dolly Parton's 'Mr. Everything,' Dead at 87

Former Parton manager also played steel in Porter Wagoner's band

Don Warden played steel guitar with Porter Wagoner's band before becoming Dolly Parton's manager. Credit: Elmer Williams/Getty

Don Warden, who worked as Dolly Parton's manager and played steel guitar as a founding member of the Porter Wagoner Trio, has died. According to a tribute post from the entertainer on Parton's official website, Warden died on March 11th. He was 87.

A 2008 inductee into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, Warden was also a Grand Ole Opry member beginning in 1957. He first met Parton when the singer joined TV's Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. She would go to affectionately refer to him as "Mr. Everything." "He was like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends," Parton writes. "I feel like a piece of my heart is missing today. Certainly a huge piece of my life is gone. Rest in peace Don and know for sure that I will always love you."

In 1974, Warden left the Porter Wagoner Show, the same year Parton famously departed the series and began her crossover success into pop music. His role as the singer's "Mr. Everything" would stretch over the next five decades, until health concerns led to his retirement. At 2008 concert at her Dollywood theme park, Parton honored him with the Angel Award, marking the last time the two would share a stage together.

Warden, who was born into a musical family in Mountain Grove, Missouri, on March 27th, 1929, began his music career in high school, forming his band, the Rhythm Rangers, in which he sang and played steel guitar. An afternoon radio show on KWPM-AM in West Plains, Missouri, led to a spot on the iconic Louisiana Hayride, where the group backed the Wilburn Brothers and Red Sovine. After two years in the Army and another brief stint with the Hayride in 1953, he returned to Missouri to attend flight school. While visiting his parents' home in West Plains, Missouri, he traveled to a radio station in nearby Springfield where met another West Plains resident, Porter Wagoner. Along with Speedy Haworth, the three formed the Porter Wagoner Trio. He began performing on the syndicated Porter Wagoner Show in 1960.

In her 1994 autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Parton wrote of Warden's influence: "Anybody who knows him – and he knows everybody – looks up to him. At one time there was even a T-shirt being sold around Nashville that read 'I KNOW DON WARDEN.' People are still calling me and asking, 'How can I get one of those Don Warden T-shirts?' Sometimes it feels like people are only using me to get to Don."