Dolly Parton was moving in a pop direction with her 18th solo effort, New Harvest…First Gathering, but she shared her love of traditional country music with this tune about an apple farmer who also picked a mean banjo. To drive home the old-school influence, she's backed by an array of country legends, including Roy Acuff, Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells, Louis "Grandpa" Jones, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Chet Atkins, and Minnie Pearl. She's also joined by her parents, Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton, and her brother Randy Parton.
"The rest of the stars loved the song and loved being part of what I was doing," Dolly noted in her 2020 book, Songteller. "I was a new, progressive person, but I loved the older folks, so I just had to get them on that song. That was a very fun day for all of us."
Dolly based the title character on two people. One was her great uncle Philip Owens, a banjo teacher who taught her how to play in "that old clawhammer style." The other was an old man named Perry Lindsey, nicknamed "Sawdust," that she knew from her childhood in the mountains of East Tennessee. "He had a bunch of old hunting dogs, and he stunk like crazy, but I would sneak off to his place," Dolly recalled in Songteller. "Mama said, 'Don't go up there.' But I was so intrigued, because I'd heard him playing the banjo and just loved how he played. I thought, 'Well, I'll just hold my nose and go.' Neither one of them was named Applejack. I just created my own little person to tell that story."
The album marked a number of firsts for Dolly: It was her first self-produced album, her first #1 on the Country Albums chart, and her first album without input from her former mentor, Porter Wagoner. It was also her first album to break into the top half of the genre-spanning Billboard 200 chart, where it peaked at #71.
This was released as a single in Europe but failed to chart.