Danny Dill -- in Memoriam

Danny Dill (1925-2008)

Danny was once my father-in-law, but always my good friend. He was a kind and generous father and grandfather. Danny and I shared a love of music and of political freedom. It was my great pleasure to serve as his campaign manager when he ran for Mayor of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County in 1984.

Here is an obituary for Danny that was published in The Tennessean on October 24, 2008:

Horace Eldred “Danny” Dill, who co-wrote two of country music’s best-known songs, died Thursday at age 83.

Mr. Dill wrote “Long Black Veil” with Marijohn Wilkin, a that song has been recorded by Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Jerry Garcia and a slew of others. His “Detroit City,” written with Mel Tillis, became a standard when recorded by Bobby Bare. Largely on the strength of those songs, Mr. Dill was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.

“If all he’d done was help to write ‘Long Black Veil,’ he’d still go down as one of the all-time great country songwriters,” said Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson.

Through “Long Black Veil,” Mr. Dill had been speaking from beyond the grave for nearly a half century. In that song, the narrator sings of a man who was sentenced to death on a false murder charge. The man couldn’t state an alibi to the judge, as he was “in the arms of my best friend’s wife” on the night of the slaying.

“She walks these hills in a long black veil,” is the beginning of the chorus. “She visits my grave when the night winds wail/ Nobody knows, nobody sees/ Nobody knows but me.”

Anderson was a disc jockey in Georgia when he first heard “Long Black Veil.” He’d never heard a song with a similar narrative construct. It was the sort of thing one might expect from Edgar Allan Poe, not from a mid-century country songwriter.

“He told me that he and Marijohn over-wrote that song,” Anderson said. “They wrote many more verses than they could use, and then they had to cut and re-write, over and over. When Lefty Frizzell’s version of the song came out, Danny was worried that people wouldn’t understand the story because they’d cut so much.”

Clearly, they understood, as they did when Bare sang “Detroit City,” the story of a Southern boy who is afraid to tell the people back home that his move to the big city has been anything but a success. That song helped Bare to become a successful country star.

Born in Huntingdon, Mr. Dill broke into the music business as half of the duo Annie Lou and Danny, a group that sang on WSM radio, played the Grand Ole Opry and toured in the 1940s and ‘50s. “Annie Lou” was his first wife, Annie Lou Stockard. After the couple’s divorce, Mr. Dill focused on songwriting and became the first writer signed to Cedarwood Publishing.

Here is a brief funeral notice for Danny that appeared on the web site of cmt.com:

Funeral Services Held for Famed Songwriter Danny Dill
Funeral services were held Saturday (Oct. 25) in Huntingdon, Tenn., for Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Danny Dill, who died Thursday (Oct. 23) at a Nashville hospital at age 84. Born Horace Eldred Dill, his songwriting credits include two country classics -- "The Long Black Veil" and "Detroit City." He got his start as a professional musician while working with Annie Lou Stockard as Annie Lou and Danny, a duet act that performed on the Grand Ole Opry during the '40s and '50s. Although Dill recorded as a solo artist, he found his greatest success as a songwriter. He and the late Marijohn Wilkin co-wrote "The Long Black Veil," a Top 10 country hit for Lefty Frizzell in 1959. With cryptic lyrics about a murder, it resembled a traditional folk song and was recorded in later years by numerous artists, including Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, The Band and the Kingston Trio. Dill and Mel Tillis co-wrote "Detroit City," which Bobby Bare took to the Top 10 in 1963. It remains a signature song for both Bare and Tillis. Dill's songs were also recorded by Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce and Faron Young. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.

Here is a wonderful piece on Danny and his late wife, Annie Lou, that recently appeared online at Hillbilly-Music.com. (At some point, I will attempt to import the photos that accompany the online article.) 

Danny Dill
Born:  September 19, 1925
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1975)
WSM Grand Ole Opry
KLCNBlytheville, AR
WMCMemphis, TN
WNOXKnoxville, TN
WSMNashville, TN
WTJSJackson, TN

His parents named him Horace Eldred Dill but country music fans came to know him as Danny Dill. He was a native of Huntingdon, Tennessee. Opry fans of the 1950's will remember him as part of the Annie Lou and Danny act that was on the Opry for many years. Later on, country music fans would know Danny for some of the country classics he wrote, tunes that one only had to hear the distinctive guitar intro or the first line of the song and instantly recognize it.

Annie Lou and Danny - Grand Ole Opry Annie Lou was born in Bradford, Tennessee. Back then, one magazine noted she was about five feet six and about 123 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was from a rather large family by today's standards; she had two brothers and two sisters. Her first radio experience was perhaps at WTJS in Jackson, Tennessee, a station that Danny also worked at.

Back in 1946, Danny was said to be five feet eight and weighing in at 148 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. He had one sister. An article in 1946 noted that he enjoyed writing prose and short stories as well as going to movies, fishing and meeting 'real people'. Prior to coming to WSM, he had worked at WTJS in Jackson, KLCN in Blytheville, Arkansas, WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee and WMC in Memphis, Tennessee.

A Cowboy Songs magazine article in July of 1952 mentioned that "...for every well known star in the country entertainment field there are five or even ten new-comers to the folk music world." And in that issue, they wrote of the "clear-voiced" Danny and the "sweet-voiced" Annie Lou.

Danny had been working on his musical career for a few years before he met up with the Duke of Paducah around 1944. The Duke signed him up for a year as part of his show. During that time, Annie Lou joined the team as well. For a time, Annie Lou and Danny were a part of the Duke of Paducah's traveling road show. And it was a show packed with some talent. In 1947, it included a former WLS star, Salty Holmes. Barbara Jeffers, Jack Kenndal, Ralph Caputo along with the Kernels of Korn band were a part of the troupe back then. Around that time, the Duke was selling his joke book, "These Shoes Are Killing Me".

We had the pleasure and honor of hearing from Danny Dill himself and he said that without too much fan fare after joining the Duke of Paducah's show, the Solemn Old Judge simply introduced them to the Opry listening audience as "Here are some new kids to sing for us." Thus, began their eleven year stint with the Opry. Danny was twenty at the time and Annie Lou 19. Danny mentions that prior to that first appearance they did do an audition for the Opry, which obviously did make a favorable impression.

Danny Dill and the band

Danny has a nice sense of humor and perhaps we get a hint of what his on-stage persona was like in these email exchanges. He relates like many a young singer and musician did back then and probably still do today. He tells us,

"I had come to town with four other mentally disturbed guys, thinking that 'to make the Opry would be easy'. But we did meet the Duke of Paducah , who hired us to be his road band for some (tour dates that included) Kemp Time Theaters. When we got back he needed a band for some later dates. The "Kernels of Korn" didn't want to do those shows, but I did and I told him about my new wife, who sang too. The Duke said "Bring her!" Only now do I realize what a life changing event that moment was."

In April of 1946, listeners to WSM at 5:30am were hearing Annie Lou and Danny. One columnist, Norma Winton (better known as the long time president of Ernest Tubb's Fan Club) noted that Danny was the one playing the guitar and the two of them had "...nice voices you'll enjoy hearing." In May of 1946, their show was airing at 6:30am each day.

Danny told us that the picture we see was his "Texas Troubadour" shirt. Yes, Danny did indeed tour with Ernest Tubb for a time. Ronnie Pugh notes in his biography of Ernest that Annie Lou and Danny were part of Hank Thompson's Smoky Mountain Hayride show that first aired in September of 1948. Ronnie notes later on, Annie Lou and Danny were an opening act for Ernest for a time and after Annie Lou took some time off after the birth of their daughter, Danny continued to work with Ernest including a Korea trip in 1953 and the first two Jimmie Rodgers festivals in Meredian, Mississippi. Ronnie includes several other tidbits from Danny in his book, which is an enjoyable read of one country music legends.

Danny Dill with Eddy Arnold Show

Along comes 1949, and Eddy Arnold has a show called "Hometown Reunion" that was airing over the CBS network from 9:00pm to 9:30pm, EST. Annie Lou and Danny along with the Duke of Paducah were part of the regular cast of that show supporting Eddy along with the Willis Brothers and the Hometown Band and Choir. The show was to change venues on a regular basis and originate from cities such as Memphis, Des Moines, Louisville, Indianapolis, Mobile, Omaha, Tulsa, Wichita, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Rochester, Denver, Portland (OR) and Spokane. Floy Case termed Annie Lou and Danny "...a grand harmony team." in her National Hillbilly News column where she mentions the Eddy Arnold show.

A 1952 Editor's column in the famed Country Song Roundup Magazine indicates that Annie Lou and Danny were part of a large WSM Grand Ole Opry group that was to appear at the Astor Roof in New York City during a period of 16 weeks starting in May 1952.

That 1952 Cowboy Songs magazine article mentions that Annie Lou and Danny delved a bit with photography as a hobby and they particularly like the movies they took with their 16mm camera in Alaska in 1950 when they were on a tour entertaining the U. S. troops stationed in that area.

In 1953, Jimmy Dickens wrote in an article for Country Song Roundup that the Duke of Paducah had a new show called "The Duke of Paducah and the Nashville Gang" that featured Moon Mullican, Annie Lou and Danny and the Kernels of Korn with a different guest each week. The sponsor of that show as the Locke Stove Company.

The years turned their pages and in 1961, a news article tells readers that Annie Lou and Danny had joined the George Morgan show.

We asked Danny what did fans get to hear when they saw Annie Lou and Danny in person. He wrote and told us that at the time, it probably was a big thing, but he thought at the age of 20, a step is a step to get going in the music business. Was he scared to join up with the Duke and start doing the Opry? No, he said but the adrenalin was sure pumping but he wasn't really nervous about it. He told us, "I am never as calm, as comfortable as alive as when I walk before a mike, and an aware, breathing feeling, living something that has many parts, yet is willing to be molded into a single laugh or one, maybe a flood of tears if you are doing it right and that is the thrill of it all. To see if you can do it right. If you can 'fullness' if you don't its as empty as a hotel room and me. Our act, he tells us, was a well chosen collection of "mistakes". If we messed up and they laughed and reacted, we just kept on doing it."

Do you think today's singers think about whether they are "doing it right"?

Danny's songwriting career seems to have started about the time he and Annie Lou had divorced. Danny wanted to stay in the music business, but found that it was hard to book just one-half of what had been a duet team. So, he started about writing songs. He signed on with Cedarwood and said he did pretty good with them right up to retirement age. As a matter of fact, Danny was the first songwriter signed by Cedarwood.

He has written some well-known country classics. Perhaps the most famous would be "Detroit City" as recorded by Bobby Bare or "I Wanna Go Home", the version that Billy Grammer released. Another tune fans will recognize is "The Long Black Veil" that was a classic hit for Lefty Frizzell. He wrote that with Marijohn Wilkin.

Other tunes he is credited with is 'Cause I Love You, which Webb Pierce shares songwriting credit with Danny; "If You Saw Her Through My Eyes", a collaboration with Carl Smith; and a tune that we personally enjoyed from a Charley Pride album, "I'll Wander Back To You", co-written with Mel Tillis and Fred Burch.

In 1975, the Nashville Songwriter's Foundation elected him to the Hall of Fame.

Danny told us the picture we have of him at the top of the page is in his "Texas Troubadour" shirt - Danny worked with Ernest Tubb for about 7 or 8 years as well.

Now in his 80's, Danny has released a CD of tunes that's available on CD Baby - see the link below.

We asked Danny about a tune he did on that CD - "Be Anybody's Darling But Mine" and whether that was perhaps a parody of the old Jimmie Davis tune "Nobody's Darling But Mine". He told us that he "came through the back door" to that Jimmie Davis song. He was "...thumbing through his mind looking for something and actually anything, and found he was humming that tune, "Nobody's Darling But Mine". As you might expect, the tune came to him fast and easy. He says simple. But that's how good songwriters make it - seemingly simple.

Danny Dill - circa 2003

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Danny Dill himself for contacting us, answering our questions and helping us document his career.
  • National Hillbilly News; April 1946; Poster Show Print Co.; Huntington, WV
  • National Hillbilly News; May 1946; Poster Show Print Co.; Huntington, WV
  • National Hillbilly News; September-October 1947; Poster Show Print Co.; Huntington, WV
  • National Hillbilly News; January-February 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville Via; Huntington, WV
  • National Hillbilly News; May-June 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville Via; Huntington, WV
  • Cowboy Songs; Issue No. 21; July 1952; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Cowboy Songs; Issue No. 65; January 1961; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 19; August 1952; American Folk Publications; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 22; February 1953; American Folk Publications; Derby, CT
  • Ernest Tubb The Texas Troubadour; Ronnie Pugh; Duke University Press; 1996

Here are the liner notes from Danny's self-performed CD of his songs, available from CD baby:

Danny Dill

Quality Is Always In Style

© 2006 Cedarwood / Universal, Buckhorn, John E. Denny Music, BMI, & Son (634479333866)

Classic, legendary country music, written by the legend himself.

One of Danny Dill's mentors, Whitey Ford, aka "The Duke Of Paducah", impressed upon Danny early on that "quality is always in style".

At a recent "International Folk Music Festival" in Vancouver, B.C. Danny Dill was introduced as "Part of the North American Historical Cultural Memory". Many backstage, and in the audience nodded in full agreement as Danny dug into his vast store of talent and experience to give an unforgettable performance.
Seventy years of trial and errors have honed the Dill of today into a completely delightful composite of songs, recitations, and comedy.

Danny came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 with his wife Annie Lou. They joined the greats of the day in eleven years of Opry and road-show work.

In a day when one was just called the emcee, Danny fronted for the likes of Ernest Tubb, Eddy Arnold, The Duke Of Paducah, and yes, Hank Williams.

In the '50's, Danny joined the first great wave of writers; Willie Nelson, Wayne P. Walker, Mel Tillis, Marijohn Wilkin, and Roger Miller in setting the tone, and pace for all of the thousands of writers that came later.

Lately, Dill has done acting chores in many music videos; "Walls Can Fall" - George Jones, "Tips Of My Fingers" - Steve Wariner, "Put Yourself In My Shoes" - Clint Black, "That's Good" - Tim Mencey, and for Prarie Oyster, Johnny Cash, and Sawyer Brown.
Danny has recorded for Victor, MGM, Liberty ABC Paramount, and Bulbitt Records. The standards "Long Black Veil", and "Detroit City" have been recorded in 22 languages, and these songs alone, not to mention the hundreds of others, were enough to hoist Danny into the select world of Hall Of Fame writers in the National Songwriters Association International.

Get to know Danny Dill, and you'll find a complete entertainer, walking calmly with style and grace, to ever greater accomplishments.

Finally, here is a poem Danny wrote a few years ago that rather poignantly captures his (and many folks') attitude toward growing older and, perhaps, falling between the cracks of an increasingly impersonal system of social organization:

My Desire to Retire

by Danny Dill, November 1998


There are some who walk with the arrogant pose.

Their little light shines and their worthiness shows.

I think it's a comfort when somebody knows

Their name is a thing to admire.

I used to feel pretty much that way myself.

I'd about done it all, there wasn't much left.

And it's a reasonable thing, to put it on the shelf,

When it comes time to retire.

So I skipped into town in the shank of the morn,

With numbers and figures and appropriate forms,

Never dreamin' I'd find that I've never been born.

'Least, that's what a mean lady said.

She said, "We have no record, I fear.

The computer's unplugged, and Jim's out for a beer,

And I'm not talkin' to someone that's not here,

'Less he can prove he's not dead."

I said, "Dear lady, just glance this-a-way.

See me movin' my finger. Can you hear what I say?

I lived a lot of years to get this-a-way,

And I think it'd be plain to see."

"I admit there's a blemish or two here and there.

My belly's too big, and I'm losin' my hair.

But with all my failin's, you ought to be fair.

You're just got to trust me...it's me!"

Well, she plugged in again that silly-cone chip

And stared at me with her hand on her hip

And just said it right out: "You can go take a trip.

This computer don't have you on file."

"See here, I'll press this button again,

And nothin' comes out, 'cause nothin' went in.

This machine don't know you, so you've never been.

You've missed out here by a mile."

Well, my ego just drooped, 'cause I've worked all my life,

Payin' the government what I should've my wife,

And this dang machine won't look at me twice

To see if it might know my name.

Why, I might be the leader of a cowboy band

Or the Ma-Ha-Ra-Ja of a comic book land.

But I'd like to establish who I am, if I can.

It's all just an upsettin' sham.

And what it I'm leadin' another man's life,

A-huggin' around on another man's wife,

Who'd be justified in takin' a knife

And makin' two of whoever I am?

I'll tell you such doin's'll rough up your hide

And make you start thinkin' you may not survive.

Lived seventy-four years and thought I's alive,

And this little machine wipes me out.

With the help of that lady, without any shame,

I'm denied recognition and robbed of my name.

You sure can't retire if you ain't in the game,

And by now I'm beginnin' to doubt.

It's demeanin', beholdin' some infernal gink

With bells and buttons and things that go "dink,"

With no heart to feel and no brain to think.

Even God must tremble at this.

Our good Constitution guarantees that we're free,

And some call it progress, but how can that be?

They've got machines that's smarter than me.

I could die, and I'd never be missed.

Speakin' of dying, I hope and I pray

When I get to heaven on Judgment Day,

St. Peter won't look out at me and say,

"Pilgrim, I'm not playin' tricks."

"The Holy Computer is broken, and so

The screen is just blank, and there's no way to know

Where in Eternity you're s'posed to go.

But we'll call you when we get it fixed."

[Copyright 2008 by the Estate of Horace Eldred "Danny" Dill]

My Desire to Retire, words by Danny Dill, music by Roger Bissell, recorded November 10, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee by Andrew Bissell and Roger Bissell, copyright 2008 by the Estate of Horace Eldred "Danny" Dill.