I got on a kick with Burl Ives songs -- those old songs -- but I didn't know any, and I had no way to find any at the time, or was too lazy to look. So I said, "I'll write me a folksong" -- an instant folksong, if you will. So I worked on it for months, and then it all came to me. There's three incidents I've read about in my life that really please me. There was a Catholic priest killed in New Jersey many years ago under a town hall light, and there was no less than 50 witnesses. They never found a motive. They never found the man.
Until this day, it's an unsolved murder. That always intrigued me, so that's "under the town hall light." Then the Rudolf Valentino story's always impressed me -- about the woman that always used to visit his grave. She always wore a long black veil -- now there's the title for the song. And the third component was Red Foley's "God Walks These Hills With Me." I always thought that was a great song, so I got that in there, too. I just scrambled it all up, and that's what came out.
Dorothy Horstman interview, Nashville, Jun 2, 1973, reprinted in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, p. 400
NOTE: Danny Dill (together with MEL TILLIS) is the author of "Detroit City," also covered by Bob Dylan.
An interesting historical anomaly was the rash of "epic" or "saga" songs, which appeared first in 1959 with Johnny Horton's [Jimmie Driftwood's] "The Battle of New Orleans...."
Other landmarks of this genre include Lefty Frizzell's "The Long Black Veil"... in 1959....
Patric Carr, The Illustrated History of Country Music, New York, 1980,
Ten years ago, on a cold dark night,
Someone was killed 'neath the town hall light.
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.CHORUS:
She walks these hills in a long, black veil.
She visits my grave when the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody knows but me.
The judge said, "Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die."
I spoke not a word, although it meant my life,
For I had been in the arms of my best friend's wife.
The scaffold was high and eternity near,
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear.
But sometimes at night when the cold wind moans,
In a long black veil, she cries o'er my bones.