On January 9th, 2004, the 11th installment of the genre-hopping CMT Crossroads series spotlighted future Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris performing with rock icon Dave Matthews. Among the songs the pair covered during the episode was “The Long Black Veil,” a 1959 tune penned by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, which has since become an American pop-folk standard.
First a hit for Lefty Frizzell, the song also became closely associated with Johnny Cash, who recorded it in 1965, and three years later included it on his live At Folsom Prison album. Cash also performed the song with Joni Mitchell on the debut episode of his ABC series in 1969.
The Crossroads episode was not the pair’s first performance of the mournful tune about a falsely accused murderer who takes a secret to his grave, which is regularly visited by a mysteriously veiled woman. In April 1999, Harris and Matthews were among the all-star cast who paid tribute to the Man in Black during a special taped at New York’s Hammersmith Ballroom and which aired on the TNT cable network.
Hosted by actor Tim Robbins and featuring the Mavericks as the house band, that special also included appearances from Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, pre-taped tributes from U2, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and performances from Chris Isaak, Sheryl Crow, Wyclef Jean and numerous country stars, including Willie Nelson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Brooks & Dunn, among them. Cash, his wife June Carter Cash and his daughter Rosanne, who would later record “Long Black Veil” for her album, The List, also performed during the special.