The Appalachian Mountain Men That Inspired Dolly Parton’s First No. 1 Hit, “Joshua” and More of Her Yodeling

By 1970, Dolly Parton finally broke into the top 10 on the Country chart with her cover of Jimmie Rodger’s “Mule Skinner Blues (Yodel No. 8),” which peaked at No. 3. A year later, she released her gospel album The Golden Streets Of Glory, followed two months later by her seventh album, Joshua, featuring songs inspired by her Appalachian upbringing.

The title track wasn’t about one man in particular, but several reclusive characters Parton knew of when she was a little girl. “I based the character on two or three mountain men I knew as a kid, reclusive people who lived alone way back in the mountains,” said Parton of the song in her 2020 book Songteller. “I just kind of built the story around them.”

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Mountain Man

In the song, Parton’s lyrics revolve around one recluse, in particular, named Joshua, who is known as being a mean and vicious man. She seeks him out and treks to his hidden shack in the mountains to find out if all the stories about him are true.

Well, a good ways down the railroad track
There was this little old rundown shack
And in it lived a man I’d never seen
Folks said he was a mean and a vicious man
And you better not set foot on his land
But I didn’t think nobody could be that mean

So I took me out walking down the railroad track
I was a-gonna go down to that little old shack
And just find out if all them things I’d heard was true
There was a big black dog laying out in the yard
And it growled at me and I swallowed hard
And I heard somebody say, “well, who are you?”
Oh, and there he stood in the door of that shack
And his beard and his hair was long and black
And he was the biggest man I’d ever seen

[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know Dolly Parton Wrote With Her Uncle Bill Owens for Other Artists]

When he spoke his voice was low and deep
But he just didn’t frighten me
‘Cause somehow I just knew he wasn’t mean
He said, “What you doing snooping ’round my place?”
Then I saw a smile come across his face
So I smiled back and I told him who I was
He said come on in and pull you up a chair
You might as well since you already here
And he said, “You can call me Joshua

Though Parton was far from being an orphan in real life with 11 siblings and a large extended family, she sings from the perspective of one to relate to the man’s loneliness in “Joshua.” As the song progresses, she befriends him, falls in love, and moves into his mountain shack.

We talked ’til the sun was clean out of sight
And we still talkin’ when it come daylight
And there was just so much we had to say
I’d spent my life in an orphan’s home
And just like him I was all alone
So I said, “Yeah, ” when he asked if I’d stay
Oh, we grew closer as time went on
And that little old shack it was a happy home
And we just couldn’t help but fall in love
That big black dog and that little old shack
Sitting down by the railroad track
It’s plenty good enough for me and Joshua

“I love the story of this song,” added Parton, “but I also love its little musical arrangement.”

LOS ANGELES – CIRCA 1985: Country singer Dolly Parton performs onstage circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Yodeling Dolly

Towards the end of “Joshua,” Parton showed off more of her yodeling skills, which she also shared on her previous hit “Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8).”

Joshua, Joshua
Why you’re just what I’ve been looking for
Joshua, Joshua
You ain’t gonna be lonesome anymore
No no

Yodel-a-he-ho la-he-he-he-he-he
Pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa

“Joshua” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart by February 1971 and earned Parton her first Grammy nomination in the Best Country Female category, which she lost to Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”

Parton’s second No. 1 hit followed in 1973 with another one-name character called “Jolene.”

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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