The Story Behind Dolly Parton’s “Joshua”

Wagoner was instrumental in securing Parton a contract with RCA, and while their duets found immediate acceptance, it took somewhat longer for Dolly’s solo records to take hold. She didn’t reach the Top Ten until her seventh RCA release, “Mule Skinner Blues” in the summer of 1970. “Joshua,” her next single, debuted on December 12th and took her all the way to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart February 6, 1971. This record didn’t quite make the Billboard Hot 100, but reached #108 on the “Bubbling Under” pop chart. Like her later song “Applejack,” “Joshua” was written about a reclusive man from her youth. They were two entirely different songs, although written about the same hermit-like fellow who lived alone and entertained the locals by playing the banjo. This man was a very special friend to Dolly as a child. “Applejack” is much more true-to-life than “Joshua” though, in that “Joshua’s” storyline featured a love interest between the song’s narrator and the title character (written as a younger person), when in real life there was no such romance between Parton and the old man.

“Applejack” (although never released as a single) did serve an important and specific purpose for Dolly. It was included on the “New Harvest…..First Gathering” album, her first record after signing with new management in Los Angeles. This move to the West Coast generated a lot of controversy regarding her career direction. Parton’s departure from Porter Wagoner back in Nashville had been less than amicable, and Dolly was concerned for the opinions of the industry as a whole, as well as that of her fans. Almost as if to prove that she was holding on to her country roots, Dolly featured appearances by country legends Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins and Grandpa Jones on the studio recording of “Applejack.” 

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