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.”