The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down — Levon Helm Tribute Week

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Another track off that great 1969 album, The Band, and another track with the gritty, pow­er­ful lead vocals of the late, great Levon Helm, is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Accord­ing to Rob Bowman’s liner notes to the 2000 reis­sue of The Band’s sec­ond album, The Band, it has been viewed as a con­cept album, with the songs focus­ing on peo­ples, places and tra­di­tions asso­ci­ated with an older ver­sion of Amer­i­cana. Though never a major hit, “Dixie” was the cen­ter­piece of the record, and, along with “The Weight” from Music From Big Pink, remains one of the songs most iden­ti­fied with the group.

A live per­for­mance of the song was a high­light of their “farewell” con­cert on Thanks­giv­ing Day 1976, and is fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary film about the con­cert, The Last Waltz, as well as the sound­track album from the film. This is the last time Helm would sing the lead vocals on the song live. He refused to play the song after 1976 even though he held con­certs, which he called “Mid­night Ram­bles”, sev­eral times a month at his pri­vate res­i­dence in Wood­stock, New York.

It was #245 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 great­est songs of all time. Pitch­fork Media named it the 42nd best song of the Six­ties. The song is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” and Time Magazine’s All-Time 100. In Levon Helm’s 1993 book This Wheel’s on Fire, he wrote “Rob­bie and I worked on ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ up in Wood­stock. I remem­ber tak­ing him to the library so he could research the his­tory and geog­ra­phy of the era and make Gen­eral Robert E. Lee come out with all due respect.”

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