The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – The Band

THIS DAY IN MUSIC…………………………………….on November 25th of 1976 The Band’s final concert, called The Last Waltz, was performed at San Francisco’s Winterland. It included appearances by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Emmylou Harris, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins and Neil Diamond. From that concert performance comes “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.  The song was included on the 1969 LP “The Band”. Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which is set during the American Civil War – “Dixie” is a term indicating the old American South, which was defeated by the Union army. The song is not related to his heritage, as Robertson is half-Mohawk Indian, half-Jewish Canadian. Robertson came up with the music for this song, and then got the idea for the lyrics when he thought about the saying “The South will rise again,” which he heard the first time he visited the American South. This led him to research the Civil War. The main character in the song, Virgil Caine, is fictional, but there really was a “Danville train” and “Stoneman’s cavalry.” The train would have been part of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a vital conduit for the Confederate Army. George Stoneman was a Union cavalry officer who led raids on the railroad. The vocals featured the 3-part harmonies of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko on the choruses, and Helm sang the verses. He was the only band member who was from the South (Arkansas), so it was fitting that he played the role of Virgil Caine, a Virginia train worker, in this song. Joan Baez covered this in 1971. It was her biggest hit, reaching US #3 and UK #6. Asked about the Baez version of this song, Robbie Robertson said it was “a little happy-go-lucky for me,” but he was thankful that it introduced many listeners to The Band. This song was used as the B-side to the single release”Up On Cripple Creek” which peaked at #25 in the US in 1969.