The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

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"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
Single by The Band
from the album The Band
A-side "Up on Cripple Creek"
Released September 22, 1969
Recorded 1969
Genre Roots rock, Southern rock, Americana
Length 3:33
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer(s) John Simon
The Band also released a live album named for and featuring the song.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is a song by The Band, recorded in 1969 and released on their self-titled second album. Joan Baez's cover of the song was a top-five chart hit in late 1971.

Creation and recording[edit]

The song was written by Robbie Robertson. According to Rob Bowman's liner notes to the 2000 reissue of The Band's second album, The Band, it has been viewed as a concept album, with the songs focusing on peoples, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana.[citation needed] The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and the suffering of white Southerners.[1]

Robertson stated that he had the music to the song in his head but at first had no idea what it was to be about. Then the concept came to him and he did further research. Levon Helm, a native of Arkansas, has stated that he assisted in the research for the lyrics.[2] In his 1993 book This Wheel's on Fire, Helm writes "Robbie and I worked on 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' up in Woodstock. I remember taking him to the library so he could research the history and geography of the era and make General Robert E. Lee come out with all due respect."

The Band frequently performed the song in concert, and it is included on the group's live albums Rock of Ages (1972) and Before the Flood (1974). The song was included in the concert on Thanksgiving Day 1976 which was recorded in the documentary film about the concert, The Last Waltz, as well as the soundtrack album from the film.

The last time the song was performed by Helm was in The Last Waltz (1976). Helm refused to play the song after 1976.


It was #245 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.[2] Pitchfork Media named it the forty-second best song of the Sixties.[3] The song is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll" and Time Magazine's All-Time 100.[4][5] [6]

Ralph J. Gleason (in the review in Rolling Stone (US edition only) of October 1969) explains why this song has such an impact on listeners:

Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is The Red Badge of Courage. It's a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn't some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.

The lyrics of the song discuss the destruction of the Danville rail line that carried supplies for the Confederate army at Petersburg.[7]

The song has become a part of the ideology of Lost Cause of the Confederacy[8] reflecting the perception of the South prostrate in defeat.[6]

Joan Baez cover[edit]

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
Single by Joan Baez
from the album Blessed Are...
B-side "When Time Is Stolen"
Released August 1971
Genre Folk
Label Vanguard
Writer(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer(s) Norbert Putnam
Certification Gold
Joan Baez singles chronology
"Sweet Sir Galahad"
"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
"Love Song to a Stranger"

The most successful English-language cover of the song was a version by Joan Baez released in 1971, which peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US in October that year and spent five weeks atop the easy listening chart.[9] Billboard ranked it as the No. 20 song for 1971.[10] The version reached number six in the pop charts in the UK in October 1971. The song became a Gold record.

Baez's version made some changes to the song lyrics from the original.[11] Baez later told Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder that she initially learned the song by listening to the recording on the Band's album, and had never seen the printed lyrics at the time she recorded it, and thus sang the lyrics as she'd (mis)heard them. In more recent years in her concerts, Baez has performed the song as originally written by Robertson.[12]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly singles charts[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
Canada RPM[13] 3
UK 6
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 1
U.S. Cashbox Top 100[14] 3

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1971) Position
Canada[15] 39
UK[16] 83
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[17] 20
U.S. Cash Box[18] 21

Other cover versions[edit]

Johnny Cash covered the song on his 1975 album John R. Cash. Old-time musician Jimmy Arnold recorded the song on his album Southern Soul, which was composed of songs associated with the Southern side of the Civil War. A fairly large-scale orchestrated version of the song appears on the 1971 concept album California '99 by Jimmie Haskell, with lead vocal by Jimmy Witherspoon. Others to record versions include Don Rich, Steve Young, John Denver, The Allman Brothers Band, Derek Warfield. Charlie Daniels Band, Big Country, Dave Brockie Experience, Richie Havens, Black Crowes, Jerry Garcia Band, Sophie B. Hawkins, Legion of Mary (band), and Zac Brown Band have included covers on live albums.

Glen Hansard (of The Frames and The Swell Season), accompanied by Lisa Hannigan and John Smith, covered the song in July 2012 for The A.V. Club‍‍ '​‍s A.V. Undercover: Summer Break series.[19]

The 1972 song "Am Tag als Conny Kramer starb" (English: On the Day that Conny Kramer Died) which uses the tune of the song was a number-one hit in West Germany for singer Juliane Werding. The lyrics are about a young man dying because of his drug addiction. In 1986, the German band Die Goldenen Zitronen made a parody version of this song with the title "Am Tag als Thomas Anders starb" (English: On the Day that Thomas Anders Died).

Personnel on The Band version[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marcus, Greil (2010-10-19). Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. PublicAffairs. pp. 73–. ISBN 9781586489199. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down : Rolling Stone". Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  3. ^ "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s: Part Four: #60-21", Pitchfork Media, August 17, 2006
  4. ^ "InfoPlease Almanac". Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  5. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (2011-10-24). "100 Greatest Popular Songs: TIME List of Best Music | Entertainment | 'Tightrope' |". Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  6. ^ a b Prince, K. Michael (2004-01). Rally 'round the Flag, Boys!: South Carolina and the Confederate Flag. Univ of South Carolina Press. pp. 50–. ISBN 9781570035272. Retrieved 4 July 2015.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Bailey, Frankie Y.; Green, Alice P. (2011). Wicked Danville: Liquor and Lawlessness in a Southside Virginia City. The History Press. pp. 103–. ISBN 9781609490379. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Wetta, Frank J.; Novelli, Martin A. (2013-09-11). The Long Reconstruction: The Post-Civil War South in History, Film, and Memory. Routledge. pp. 145–. ISBN 9781136331862. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  9. ^ The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition, 1996
  10. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1971
  11. ^ The Last Waltz of The Band Neil Minturn - 2005- Page 85 "be more familiar to some in Joan Baez's version. Hoskyns remarks of Baez's cover: "Two years later, Joan Baez recorded a terrible version of 'Dixie' that seemed to turn Robert E. Lee into a steamboat, but it made "
  12. ^ Kurt Loder (1983). "Joan Baez: The Rolling Stone Interview". Rolling Stone 4/14/83 (issue # 393)/4
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan & John Smith cover The Band". Retrieved April 6, 2013. 

External links[edit]