Old Crow Medicine Show - "Wagon Wheel"

"Wagon Wheel"

"It sort of exists separately from the world of things that are on the radio. 'Wagon Wheel' has made it around the camp fires and the jam sessions and the parking lot scenes, in a way that songs of this decade or the last decade tend not to. When you go to a drum circle at a camp fire, you’ll hear songs that are 40 years old that a kid with a hemp leash just learned, like 'The Weight' by The Band, and then you’re going to hear 'Wagon Wheel.'

Ketch Secor

"Wagon Wheel" has become something of a signature song for the group—"a catchy country-infused sing-along that has taken on the status of 'Free Bird'" as one reviewer describes it. Bigger than the group itself, in some ways, its origins predate its formation. Says Ketch of its authorship:

"I heard a Dylan song that was unfinished back in high school and I finished it . . As a serious Bob Dylan fan, I was listening to anything he had put on tape, and this was an outtake of something he had mumbled out on one of those tapes. I sang it all around the country from about 17 to 26, before I ever even thought, 'oh I better look into this.'"

The Dylan outtake, generally titled "Rock Me Mama", came out of recording sessions for the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid movie soundtrack (1973) in Burbank, California. Never officially released, Fuqua purchased a bootleg copy at the Virgin Megastore in London when on a family trip there and sent it to Secor on his return. Secor later met Dylan’s son, Jakob, who said "it made sense that I was a teenager when I did that, because no one in their 30s would have the guts to try to write a Bob Dylan song."

When Secor sought copyright on the song in 2003 to release it on O.C.M.S. in (2004), he discovered Dylan credited the phrase “Rock me, mama” to bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, who likely got it from a Big Bill Broonzy recording. As Secor says: "In a way, it’s taken something like 85 years to get completed." Besides the melody, only the chorus (or refrain) comes from the Dylan outtake:

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Secor's verses "the story of a man who travels from New England, through Philadelphia, down the eastern coast of the United States, ending up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he hopes to see his lover." And they contain a geographic impossibility: heading "west from the Cumberland Gap" to Johnson City, Tennessee . . "you’d have to go east." As the writer explains:

"I got some geography wrong, but I still sing it that way. I just wanted the word ‘west’ in there. ‘West’ has got more power than 'east.'"

Secor and Dylan signed a co-writing agreement, and share copyright on the song; agreeing to a "50-50 split in authorship." The group reportedly performed the song at the Station Inn in Nashville in 2001, as part of a series of songs commemorating Bob Dylan's 60th birthday. The group's version of the song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in November 2011. To celebrate they released a limited edition 7” vinyl record of the song with "'All Night Long' Live At The Station Inn" (2003) on the B-side. Asked mid-2008 if he gets "sick of playing it every night?" Secor responded: "I don’t mind playing it every night. I like to see what it does to people, and it’s nice to have something that’s guaranteed, especially when you’re shuffling through new material." He's "just glad to have a couple pen strokes on the corner of the master’s canvas."

The song has been covered by an increasing number of acts since its release in 2004, including versions by Little Feat, Mumford & Sons, and Against Me!. Former Hootie and the Blowfish singer, Darius Rucker, joined Old Crow at the Grand Ole Opry July 6, 2012 "for a special rendition of ‘Wagon Wheel.’" He covers the song, as a duet with Lady Antebellum, on his True Believers album.

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