“Long Black Veil” is a 1959 country ballad. Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin composed the song, and Lefty Frizzell recorded it.
Recorded by Frizzell and produced by Don Law in Nashville in 1959, the track occupied the number 6th spot on Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Through its course, the song became Frizzell’s best-performing single in five years.
According to the writers, the inspiration for this song came from three stories. First is the recording of “God Walks These Hills With Me” by Red Foley. Second is a contemporary newspaper report about the murder of a priest that was unsolved. The third is the legend of a mysterious veiled woman who regularly visited Rudolph Valentino’s grave. It was an “instant folk song” as Danny said it.
From the point of view of an executed man who was falsely accused of murder is its beginning. On the night of the murder, he was having an affair with his best friend’s wife. Rather than admitting the truth, he chose to die and take his secret to his grave. No alibis were given. Wearing a long black veil and enduring a wailing wind, the woman visits his grave site to mourn.
On the original recording of Frizzel, we could hear Wilkin playing the piano. From interviews, “Long Black Veil” was Frizzell’s way of leaving behind his honky-tonk style. It was a purposeful move toward the then-current popularity of folk-styled material and the burgeoning Nashville sound.
Johnny Cash Cover
Other than Lefty, Johnny Cash also performed the song. On the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show in 1969, he had a duet of it with Joni Mitchell. On landmark albums by Johnny Cash and The Band in 1968, the song also appeared. Furthermore, the Dave Matthews Band performed the song live with Emmylou Harris at a Johnny Cash tribute concert. Early in Joan Baez’s career, she included the song “Long Black Veil” into her live collection. Then, she recorded it two times.
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