Retro Music 10

In 1969, I bought an album by The Band. They had been known for backing Bob Dylan on his various tours, but I had heard a song from this album, ‘Up On Cripple Creek’, that made me want to hear more. On the same album was the wonderful song ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, sung by the drummer, Levon Helm. It is a song set in the closing days of the American Civil War, and I found it to be particularly affecting.

Levon Helm died in 2012. Rick Danko died in 1999. Richard Manuel died in 1986. Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson are both still alive.

This was later recorded as a single by Joan Baez, who had a top ten hit with it. But I always preferred the marvellous original version, and still do.

Virgil Kane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
‘Till Stoneman’s cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh so well
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, la”
Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
“Virgil, quick, come see,
There goes Robert E. Lee!”
Now, I don’t mind chopping wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest
But they should never
Have taken the very best
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, la”
Like my father before me
I will work the land
And like my brother above me
Who took a rebel stand
He was just 18, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Kane back up
When he’s in defeat
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, la”
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, la”
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Robbie Robertson
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down lyrics © Universal Music Corp., Canaan Music, Inc., Pw Arrangements, Canaan Music Inc.

47 thoughts on “Retro Music 10

      1. about 15 years ago, my brother had a beautiful outdoor wedding in the little town of Woodstock, ny, infamous for its music history. Levon Helm used to hold weekly jam sessions what he called ‘the barn’ once he got his voice back and until he died, and his daughter, Amy, has become a professional musician in her own right..
        https://nysmusic.com/2019/11/27/the-church-of-levon-the-religious-experience-of-visiting-levon-helm-studios/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the link, Beth. What a wonderful place. It must have been amazing to see Levon perform there. And to hear about Donald Fagen showing up, and also see the legendary ‘Big Pink’.
          Great stuff!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I recall Jon Anderson saying that “Big Pink” an album by the Band before this from 68 was a real eye opener because everything was mixed raw and, in your face. And there was Yes, sitting in the studio fiddling with the reverb trying to get it just so… Like the man said, regardless of style it’s next to impossible to kill a good song. The meat is in the storytelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me at the time, many of the ‘Progressive Rock’ bands like Yes (and Argent and Genesis and Pink Floyd to a large extent) overplayed their hand and tried to take music into the vein of ‘Pop Opera’. You can’t beat a simple song, sung and played well.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, particularly, took simple folk songs and “left them in the oven a bit too long.” However, Wakeman playing certain Yes solo on piano is brilliant. I wanted to be ELP when I grew up. But then they took already extravagant, non pop compositions, turned them up and ran them through an often sonically impolite shredder.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw them in concert in 1969 which was not long after they departed from Dylan. What a wonderful group of musicians that came together to create one of the best bands of the decade. The Band. Good pick Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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