Story of 'Wagon Wheel' from Old Crow Medicine Show to Darius Rucker

nophillips@thestate.comApril 20, 2014 

  • If you go

    Old Crow Medicine Show with Roger Ellis

    When: Thursday, April 24

    Where: Township Auditorium, 1703 Taylor St.

    Tickets: $45.20 to $34.45

Old Crow Medicine Show’s lead singer swears he is not tired of talking about the song “Wagon Wheel.”

“How could you be sick of a such a magnificent song that’s had such a rise?” said Ketch Secor, who also plays fiddle, banjo and harmonica, in the band.

Secor also seems to enjoy talking about Darius Rucker, whom he calls a friend.

You see, Secor wrote “Wagon Wheel” when he was 17 (with an assist from Bob Dylan, but we’ll get to that later). While Old Crow Medicine Show, the group Secor helped found, has been performing the song for more than 15 years, it was Rucker who in 2013 made “Wagon Wheel” a platinum record.

On Thursday, Columbia gets its chance to hear the famous song’s originators perform when Old Crow Medicine Show brings its foot-stomping, bluegrass/folk sound to the Township Auditorium. The group’s live shows are known for the energy the seven-man band puts into its fiddles, guitars, banjos, keyboards and harmonicas.

Roger Ellis, a singer/songwriter from Houston, will open the show.

Secor, who spent two years in Aiken as a child, said he always looks forward to the band’s stops in South Carolina. The state is still a part of him, he said. He described Aiken as the “quintessential small town.”

“I saw things in Aiken I’ll never forget,” he said.

Old Crow has been in front of a recent revival of the folk sound found in today’s pop music. Their high-energy, string music has influenced bands such as Mumford & Sons.

Secor hopes their sound pushes the boundaries of music coming out of Nashville today.

“If there’s anything we can do to shake it up in Nashville, we’re trying to do it,” he said. “It’s like getting lost in a Walmart parking lot. Everything looks the same.”

Last year was a big one for Old Crow as the rest of the world caught on to their music.

Besides Rucker taking “Wagon Wheel” to the top of the country charts, Old Crow was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and was awarded a Grammy for their film “Big Easy Express.” Those are huge accomplishments for a group that got its start busking on streetcorners.

Old Crow was discovered in the late 1990s by bluegrass legend Doc Watson.

The band was playing outside a drugstore in Boone, N.C., when a woman asked them would how long they would be playing because she wanted to get her father, who was a fan of old-time music. The band was surprised when the woman returned with Watson, Secor said.

Watson invited Old Crow to perform at his annual MerleFest, and the band’s career was launched.

Old Crow has four studio albums, and the fifth, called “Remedy” is scheduled for a July 1 release, Secor said.

So far, “Wagon Wheel” has been the band’s most famous song. It has been covered by at least six other acts, including Rucker.

The song’s origin belongs to a Bob Dylan bootleg recording that Old Crow member Critter Fuqua found while visiting London in the mid-’90s as a teenager. He sent the tape to his friend back home, Secor.

The recording mostly was “39 seconds of mumbled garble,” Secor said. But he clearly heard Dylan sing the phrase “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel, rock me mama any way you feel.”

The verses stuck in Secor’s head, and he wrote out the rest of the song. Secor began performing it at coffee houses, and when he helped form Old Crow it became a staple.

The teenage Secor wrote the legendary folk singer a letter about the song. Dylan never answered.

When Old Crow’s career began taking off and a studio album was in the works, Secor decided he better try to contact Dylan a second time. At that point, the band had moved to Nashville.

“I had gotten into the channels that allowed me to get further down the chain than a P.O. box in Malibu,” Secor said.

A deal was struck so that Dylan and Secor became co-writers. They still have never met.

“Bob Dylan? Come see us in concert?” Secor said when asked if Dylan had ever seen Old Crow perform the song.

But that’s OK.

“I got to share a little of the master’s ink to make a song that so many people can listen to and enjoy,” said Secor, now 35. “It’s incredible how far this song has gone and reached so many people from the little mind of a teenager.”

Secor and the other Old Crow members met Rucker at the Grand Ole Opry where they had a stint as the house band. Rucker told Secor in 2012 that he was going to record “Wagon Wheel” for his next record.

The news made Secor a hero with his sister, who had a Hootie & The Blowfish poster on her bedroom wall when she was a teenager. The siblings enjoyed the S.C. connection they shared with that band.

“It was like he was from our town,” Secor said.

The song and the Grand Ole Opry have tied the artists together forever.

“Old Crow are the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry,” Secor said. “Before we were inducted, Darius was the newest member. The torch passed between us and the song “Wagon Wheel” has something to do with that accolade.

“Darius isn’t the only South Carolinian singing ‘Rock me mama like a wagon wheel.’ ”

 

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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