For today’s edition of Country Catalyst, the recurring special feature that’s designed to bring new fans to country music, we have a quintessential tearful story-song, something that’s always been a mainstay of the genre. First recorded in 1959 by country star Lefty Frizzell in a departure from his usual honky-tonk style, “Long Black Veil” was the mournful tale of a guy who took a secret to the grave, leaving behind a heartbroken lady, haunted by guilt.
The song was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, a talented pair who wrote or co-wrote many hit songs through the years and also performed individually from time to time. In fact, Wilkin played piano on Frizzell’s record and later recorded her own revised version in keeping with the old country music tradition known as an ‘answer’ song.
As for Frizzell, even though he’d had several chart-topping honky-tonk records in the past he was overdue for a hit, and this one not only did very well but also helped him show a softer, more pop-oriented style. Within a few years he would rocket to the top of the charts with his Grammy-nominated “Saginaw, Michigan,” a song that completed his transition.
Meanwhile, “Long Black Veil” was becoming a country standard, with notable early versions by Johnny Cash, The Band, and the Kingston Trio. As the years passed it was covered by countless others, including David Allan Coe, Mick Jagger (singing with the Chieftains) and eventually even Bruce Springsteen.
Lefty Frizzell – “Long Black Veil” Marijohn Wilkin – “My Long Black Veil”