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Long Black Veil

"The Long Black Veil" redirects here. For the Chieftains album, see The Long Black Veil (album).
"Long Black Veil"
Single by Lefty Frizzell
B-side "When It Rains The Blues"
Released April 20, 1959 (US)
Format 7"
Recorded March 3, 1959
Genre Country
Length 3:05
Label Columbia Records 4-41384
Writer(s) Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill
Producer(s) Don Law
Lefty Frizzell singles chronology

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"Long Black Veil" is a 1959 country ballad, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.

A saga song, "Long Black Veil" is told from the point of view of an executed man falsely accused of murder. He refuses to provide an alibi, since on the night of the murder he was having an affair with his best friend's wife, and would rather die and take their secret to his grave than admit the truth. The chorus describes the woman's mourning visits to his gravesite, wearing a long black veil and enduring a wailing wind.


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."

Wilkin played piano on the original recording by Frizzell. 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.

Legal effect

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to the song in the case United States v. Dayton, 604 F.2d 931, 935 n.3 (5th Cir. 1979). This case concerned the proper procedures trial court judges must take when accepting a guilty plea, and identified "the two most dangerous" pitfalls of a guilty plea as coerced pleas and ignorant pleas. In describing a modification made to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs acceptance of pleas, the court explained that the change required that "the defendant be made aware of what might happen as a result of his plea, and that the court be satisfied that a factual basis existed for it." It dropped a footnote at this point which stated, "This change was doubtless effected to avoid such circumstances as are recounted in 'The Long Black Veil.'"


Recorded in Nashville in 1959 by Lefty Frizzell and produced by Don Law, the single reached No. 6 on Billboard Hot C&W Sides chart. In the process, the song became Frizzell's best-performing single in five years.

Cover versions

"Long Black Veil" has become a standard and has been covered by a variety of artists in country, folk and rock styles. The biggest cover version was a No. 26 country hit by Sammi Smith in 1974.

Johnny Cash performed the song on the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show (TV series) in 1969, duetting with Joni Mitchell. The song has also 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 appears on David Allan Coe's 1984 compilation 20 Greatest Hits and on Marianne Faithfull's Rich Kid Blues, recorded in 1971 but shelved until 1985.[1]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded a version for the 1986 covers album Kicking Against the Pricks.

The song was performed by Bruce Springsteen on his 2006 Seeger Sessions Band Tour.[2] The chorus is frequently sung by Bruce Hornsby during live performances of his song "White Wheeled Limousine", including the version on the retrospective box set Intersections (1985-2005).

Mick Jagger recorded a version with The Chieftains for that group's 1995 album of the same name. Mike Ness, principal songwriter and guitarist of punk-rock band Social Distortion, covered the song on his 1999 debut solo album Cheating at Solitaire. Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice cover this song on the 2000 Pizza Tapes recordings.

It has been covered by Harry Manx, including a version on the compilation Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, and in October 2009, by Rosanne Cash on her album The List. A version by Scottish rock band Nazareth was never released on an album, but is played at live concerts[3]

On the 2011 album Rancho Alto by Jason Boland & the Stragglers, the song "False Accuser's Lament" is a follow up to "Long Black Veil'", describing a witness's view of the events and the role that he played.

Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead performed the song several times, with a variety of musicians, in his rotating line-ups of Phil Lesh and Friends at his venue Terrapin Crossroads. Jamey Johnson has covered the song on tour.[4] Black Rebel Motorcycle Club occasionally perform the song during their live shows.[5] The Black Crowes have covered the song, for instance during their December 17, 2010 performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco.

Hit singles

Tracks on hit albums

Other versions


  1. ^ a b "Rich Kid Blues". Discogs. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  2. ^ "Long Black Veil - Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions". YouTube. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Nazareth - Long Black Veil (Ekaterinburg, 29.10.2008)". YouTube. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  4. ^ "Jamey Johnson Long Black Veil July 4th picnic at Billy Bob's Fort Worth Texas". YouTube. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  5. ^ "BRMC "Long Black Veil/A Fine Way To Lose" @ High Noon Saloon". YouTube. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  6. ^ May 4, 1964, The Tangent, Palo Alto, CA, The Grateful Dead Family Discography, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  7. ^ Johnny Williams and The Jokers - The Long Black Veil, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  8. ^ The Move - The BBC Sessions, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  9. ^ The Byrds - Live In Boston 1969, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  10. ^ Guitars 101 Forum discloses the "unnamed" track 3 of that recording. Track 3 is Long Black Veil. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  11. ^ Bill Monroe And His Blue Grass Boys - Kentucky Bluegrass, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  12. ^ Hank Williams Jr. With The Mike Curb Congregation, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Baby Opaque - Fugue In Cow Minor, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  15. ^ The Proclaimers - King Of The Road, Discogs, retrieved 15 June 2014 
  16. ^ Don Walser: Official Website,, retrieved 16 June 2014 
  17. ^ Sally Timms - Cowboy Sally, Discogs, retrieved 16 June 2014 
  18. ^ Jason & The Scorchers - Wildfires + Misfires, Discogs, retrieved 18 June 2014 
  19. ^ Bastard Sons Of Johnny Cash - Distance Between, Discogs, retrieved 18 June 2014 
  20. ^ Deadstring Brothers - Deadstring Brothers, Bloodshot Records, retrieved 18 June 2014 
  21. ^ Jon Langford And The Pine Valley Cosmanauts, Discogs, retrieved 18 June 2014 
  22. ^ Discogs, retrieved 18 June 2014 
  23. ^ Tim O'Brien - Fiddler's Green, Discogs, retrieved 13 July 2014 
  24. ^ Charming Hostess - Punch, Discogs, retrieved 13 July 2014 
  25. ^ Various - Like A Version Two, Discogs, retrieved 6 September 2014 

External links