Long Black Veil (song)

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"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
"Cigarettes And Coffee Blues"
"Long Black Veil"
"Forbidden Lovers"

"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[edit]

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 changed 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[edit]

"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). David Allan Coe recorded it. It is available on his 1984 compilation "20 Greatest Hits". The song appeared on Marianne Faithfull's Rich Kid Blues, recorded in 1971, but shelved until 1985.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded a cover version of this song for the 1986 album Kicking Against the Pricks.

The song was performed by Bruce Springsteen on his 2006 Seeger Sessions Band Tour[citation needed]. The chorus is frequently sung by Bruce Hornsby during live performances of his song "White Wheeled Limousine"[citation needed]. It was covered in September 2009 by Harry Manx on his album "Bread and Buddha" and more recently, 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[citation needed].

Mick Jagger also recorded a version of "Long Black Veil" with The Chieftains for that group's album of the same name. The ending of the Kings of Leon song "Cold Desert" is also influenced by "Long Black Veil".[citation needed].

Mike Ness, principal songwriter and guitarist of punk-rock band Social Distortion also covered a version of "Long Black Veil" on his debut solo album Cheating at Solitaire.

On the 2011 album by Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Rancho Alto, the song 'False Accuser's Lament' is a follow up to the song, from a witness' view of the events and his role that was 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.

Recently Jamey Johnson has been covering the song on tour as well.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club occasionally perform the song during their live shows.

The Black Crowes have covered this song, for instance, during their December 17, 2010 performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco, Ca.

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman cover this song on "The Pizza Tapes" recordings.

Hit singles[edit]

Tracks on hit albums[edit]

Other Versions[edit]


  1. ^ Guitars 101 Forum discloses the "unnamed" track 3 of that recording. Track 3 is Long Black Veil. Retrieved 28 July 2013.

External links[edit]