At the time, I was completely taken by Bob Dylan. During the previous cold winter while incarcerated in Pottstown, PA, I had spent most of my free time listening to the early Dylan albums on headphones at the school library. John Wesley Harding came out that winter and I played the grooves off my copy.
Music From Big Pink had just been released in July. When we saw it at Roberts, Johnny suggested that I give it a try. He knew that the musicians in The Band had backed Dylan a few years earlier. That fact along with the weird Dylan painting on the cover was enough of a reason to bring the album home. Within a few spins, I knew it was a very special record. I became a huge fan of The Band and remain one to this day. (I was lucky to see them live twice in the next two years----but that's a story for another Blog entry.)
Among the Dylan and Band originals on the album was a cover of Long Black Veil. Although I didn't know anything about the song at the time and was initially more interested in the Dylan compositions on the album, it is a song that I have now loved for almost 40 years. Written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, it was first recorded by Lefty Frizzell. In 1959, his version reached #6 on the country charts. Since then, it has been recorded by The Band, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, The Birds, Emmylou Harris, and Bruce Springsteen among others.
The song is the story of a man who was hanged for a murder he did not commit because his alibi would have revealed his affair with his best friend's wife. Written from the point of view of the dead man, it has all the elements of a perfect country song. It is simple in lyric and story, but also very sad and moving because of this point of view. Consider this verse:
The scaffold was high and eternity near
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold winds moan
In a long black veil she cries over my bones
The Band's version of this song is incredible. Rick Danko's haunting lead vocal mixes with Hudson's funeral home organ parts to capture the essence of the song. It is an essential country song that you should have on your playlist.