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NOD TO THE GODS: The Band, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’
September 22, 2013
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Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.

It was today in 1969 that Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm dropped a record, known as "The Brown Album", that explored the people, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana. This was the third track on side one of their sophomore record, simply titled: The Band.

Recorded at Sammy Davis Jr.'s home, the track was written by Robbie Robertson about the American Civil War and the subsequent suffering in the South. "Dixie" is a nickname given to the Southern Confederate states and the Confederate soldier Virgil Caine "served on the Danville train" that was a main supply line into the capitol of Richmond Virginia. It was the Union calvary that regularly tore up Confederate rail lines to prevent the movement of men and material to the front where Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was besieged at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman's forces "tore up the track again".

Robertson claimed that he had the music to the song in his head but had no idea what it was to be about: "At some point [the concept] blurted out to me. Then I went and I did some research and I wrote the lyrics to the song. When I first went down South, I remember that a quite common expression would be, 'Well don't worry, the South's gonna rise again.' At one point when I heard it I thought it was kind of a funny statement and then I heard it another time and I was really touched by it. I thought, 'God, because I keep hearing this, there's pain here, there is a sadness here.' In Americana land, it's a kind of a beautiful sadness."

Robertson was in the red chair a few years back to discuss his family heritage, his departure from The Band and his latest album.

Robertson will be visiting us in the studio later this fall — mail georgetickets@cbc.ca if you're interested in joining us! — as will his former bandleader, Ronnie Hawkins. Revisit their performance from 'The Last Waltz' concert documentary below, followed by Hawkins' interview with George from a few years ago.

For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.


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