Dolly Parton Reveals the Inspiration for Her Song ‘Applejack’: ‘He Stunk Like Crazy’

While many of Dolly Parton‘s songs are entirely made up by her “big imagination,” many still are inspired by real people and events. “Applejack” falls into the latter category. The song is a wildly popular Parton classic that tells the story of a man named Jackson Taylor who loves to play the banjo. Parton based the character off of two real men she knew who played some mean banjo themselves.

Dolly Parton playing banjo and singing for a live audience.
Dolly Parton | LGI Stock/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s ‘Applejack’

“Applejack” came out in 1977 on the New Harvest … First Gathering collection. On the recording, Parton is joined by such country classics as Kitty Wells, Grandpa Jones, Carl & Pearl Butler, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, and Minnie Pearl, as well as her parents.

Now I’d go down to AppleJack’s almost everyday
We’d sit and we’d drink applejack that old AppleJack had made
Then he’d take his banjo down then he’d ask me if I’d sing
And he would play the banjo and I’d play my tambourine

Play a song for me AppleJack, AppleJack
Play a song for me and I’ll sing
Play a song for me AppleJack, AppleJack
Play a song, let your banjo ring

Dolly Parton’s ‘Applejack’

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“The recording session for the song was such a fun thing,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “The guy that was doing Applejack’s voice was Bob Ferguson, a wonderful man who was a producer at RCA who’d worked with Porter [Wagoner] and me. The rest of the stars loved the song and loved being part of what I was doing.”

“I was a new, progressive person, but I loved the older folks, so I just had to get them on that song,” she continued. “That was a very fun day for all of us.”

Dolly Parton’s great uncle Philip

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In her book, Parton writes that she based the character of Applejack on two people. The first was her great uncle, who taught Parton how to play the banjo.

“My [great] uncle Philip, Grandpa Jake’s brother, played the tar out of that old clawhammer banjo,” she wrote. “He’s the one who taught me how to play in that old clawhammer style.”

The second inspiration for Applejack

The second person who inspired the character of Applejack is a little closer to the man in the song.

“There was another man named Perry Lindsey, an old guy we called ‘Sawdust,'” wrote Parton. “He lived up in the woods, and he played the banjo. He had a bunch of old hunting dogs, and he stunk like crazy, but I would sneak off to his place.”

Parton’s mother told her not to visit Lindsey, but she couldn’t help herself.

“I was so intrigued, because I’d heard him playing the banjo and just loved how he played,” she wrote. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just hold my nose and go.'”

“Neither one of them was named Applejack,” Parton continued. “I just created my own little person to tell that story.”