Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wagon Wheel / Rock Me, Mama

A few years ago, I was turned on to Old Crow Medicine Show by a friend of mine. After listening to most of their self-titled debut album, I decided that I liked their jug-band/old-timey/moonshine throw-down approach, and deemed myself a fan. I dug the tunes, though they were nothing mind-blowingly original. Then the final song on the album started up, and changed everything. The song was incredible. "Wagon Wheel" was one of those rare eye-opening, life-affirming tunes that made me all warm and fuzzy inside, made me smile to myself and think about the people I loved. And best of all, you could really sing along to it. It was absolutely timeless and catchy, the perfect campfire song.

At the time, I thought to myself, "Wow, this song is so much better than every other song on this album, it's an instant classic!" Though the rest of the album is also very enjoyable, "Wagon Wheel"'s absolute perfection made it seem a bit out of place with the rest of the songs on the album, and I wondered why.

Well, the answer to this is unexpected, but not surprising at all once it is known. The reason "Wagon Wheel" is so fucking incredible is because it was written by Bob Dylan! Duh! It seems so obvious now, doesn't it?

It turns out that old Bobby D had originally recorded this song as a rough, half-baked demo called "Rock Me, Mama" back in 1973 for his Billy the Kid Soundtrack album. There were no verses, just a chorus and some mumbles. It didn't make the final cut, and went unused. Somehow, almost 30 years later, Ketch Secor of Old Crow stumbled upon the unreleased recordings, and wrote his own verses for the tune, transforming it into the tune we know and love. The band got permission from Bobby to use his discarded gem, and the song is now officially credited to Dylan/Secor. Another testament to the legend of Dylan, who's output is so prolific that his musical trash can be picked up and turned into pure gold.

"Wagon Wheel" ended up being the song that put Old Crow Medicine Show on the map, making them the most popular old-timey jug-band in the country. This is not to downplay their talents as a band (they are awesome live), but rather to acknowledge their massive debt to old Zimmy. Here's Dylan's original demo:

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