Horace Eldred “Danny” Dill’s died Thursday at the age of 83. While I don’t know much about the total scope of his life, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge him for having a hand in writing two of country music’s saddest songs of all time. “Detroit City” (above), most famous as a 1963 hit for Bobby Bare, is a depressing song about failing in the big city and being afraid to tell your family back home that Dill co-wrote with Mel Tillis.
However, embarrassed moping over a lack of success doesn’t match up to the subject matter of Dill’s other big hit, “The Long Black Veil,” performed here by The Band.
Narrated by a dead man, the song tells the story of someone accused of a murder he didn’t commit–but revealing his true alibi would let slip the fact that he was, at the time of the crime, sleeping with his best friend’s wife. Choosing to die rather than divulge the secret, he is hanged for the crime and the chorus speaks of his lover visiting his gravesite. Country music, especially during its classic era, is full of truly dark and miserable songs, but “The Long Black Veil” might be one of the most morbid popular songs ever written.
The obituary I saw in The Tennessean didn’t have much detail about Dill’s life, but I’m hoping that the time since his songwriting heyday treated him well–and much better than life treated the above two songs’ subjects.
‘Long Black Veil’ co-writer ‘Danny’ Dill dies at age 83 [The Tennessean]