"Long Black Veil" is a 1959 country ballad about a man suspected of murder. The alleged refuses to provide an alibi, because he was having an affair with his best friend's wife at the time, and would rather die than reveal this. Subsequently, he is executed by hanging, taking their secret to the grave. The chorus describes the woman's mourning visits to his gravesite in her long black veil. The song is sung from the point of view of the executed man.
Originally recorded in Nashville in 1959 by Lefty Frizzell and produced by Don Law, it reached #6 on the U.S. Country chart. The song was written by composer and singer Danny Dill with Marijohn Wilkin in a folk music style in 1959. Wilkin also played piano on the original recording by Frizzell.
The writers later stated that they drew on three sources for their inspiration: Red Foley's recording of "God Walks These Hills With Me"; a contemporary newspaper report about the unsolved murder of a priest; and the legend of a mysterious veiled woman who regularly visited Rudolph Valentino's grave. Dill himself called it an "instant folksong".
The song was a departure from Frizzell's previous honky tonk style and was a deliberate move toward the current popularity of folk-styled material and the burgeoning Nashville sound. It has become a 'standard' and has been covered by a variety of artists in country, folk and rock styles. It appeared on landmark albums by Johnny Cash and The Band in 1968 (see list below), and charted again in 1999 with the Dave Matthews Band, who performed the song live with Emmylou Harris at a Johnny Cash tribute concert. Early in her career, Joan Baez incorporated the song into her live repertoire, and recorded it twice (see list below). The song was performed by Bruce Springsteen on his 2006 Seeger Sessions Band Tour. The chorus is frequently sung by Bruce Hornsby during live performances of his song White Wheeled Limousine.
Selected list of recorded versions
- 1959 Lefty Frizzell, US Country single #6
- 1960 The Country Gentlemen, Country Songs, Old and New
- 1960 Carl Mann
- 1962 The Kingston Trio, New Frontier
- 1962 Burl Ives, The Versatile Burl Ives!
- 1963 Jerry & Sarah, Top of the Tangent, Palo Alto 02-02-1963 Jerry Garcia and his first wife Sarah.
- 1963 Joan Baez, Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2
- 1968 Wolfe Tones, Rights Of Man
- 1965 Johnny Cash, Orange Blossom Special
- 1968 Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison - US Pop album #13, US Country album #1, UK album #1
- 1968 The Band, Music from Big Pink - US Pop album #30
- 1969 The Byrds, Boston Tea Party, live recording - citation
- 1970 Joan Baez, (I Live) One Day at a Time
- 1970 Bill Monroe, Kentucky Bluegrass
- 1970 Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash 1970
- 1972 New Riders of the Purple Sage, Gypsy Cowboy
- 1974 Sammi Smith - US Country single #26
- 1980 Jimmy Ellis aka Orion
- 1984 Marianne Faithfull, Rich Kid Blues - originally recorded 1971
- 1984 Baby Opaque featuring Ian Mackaye. MP3
- 1986 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Kicking Against the Pricks
- 1988 The Proclaimers
- 1992 Michael Nesmith
- 1995 Don Walser, The Archive Series Volume 2
- 1995 The Chieftains with Mick Jagger (vocal), The Long Black Veil
- 1995 Don Williams, Borrowed Tales
- 1999 Mike Ness, Cheating at Solitaire
- 1999 Dave Matthews Band, Listener Supported - US Pop album #15. (It also appears on the 2004 album, The Gorge (6-Disc Special Edition).)
- 2000 Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Tony Rice, The Pizza Tapes - originally recorded in 1993
- 2000 Daryle Singletary That's Why I Sing This Way
- 2000 John Duffey, Always In Style: A Collection
- 2002 Jason & The Scorchers, Wildfires + Misfires
- 2003 Johnny Cash, Unearthed
- 2003 The Pine Valley Cosmonauts (vocals by Sally Timms & Edith Frost), The Executioner's Last Songs: Volumes 2 & 3
- 2003 Rob Coffinshaker "Fairytales from the Dungeon" single.
- 2004 Ani Difranco, Gillian Welch and Greg Brown, Live in Madison, WI
- 2004 The Stranglers, single
- 2005 Tim O'Brien, "Fiddler's Green"
- 2006 Mike Connolly
- 2006 Crooked Fingers, Like a Version 2 (Australia)
- 2007 Uncle Douglas "Joe" St. Pierre
- 2007 Stoney LaRue, Live At Billy Bob's Texas
- 2007 David Gray,"a thousand miles behind" live USA
- 2007 Professor Louis and the Crowmatix (The Spirit of Woodstock)
- 2008 Diamanda Galás, "Guilty Guilty Guilty"
- The Stanley Brothers
- John Anderson
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Ledoux
- Banks & Shane
- Steve Wynn & Concrete Blonde
- Bob Dylan