On 'Remedy,' Old Crow Medicine Show Gets A Favor From Bob Dylan

Jul 1, 2014
Originally published on July 1, 2014 10:26 pm

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And now a reminder that there can be a lot behind the music we hear.


GREENE: That sounds like it could be decades old, doesn't it? But it's actually a new tune from Old Crow Medicine Show. They're a popular old-time string band based in Nashville, and they have a new album out called "Remedy." NPR's Vince Pearson tells us about an unusual collaboration that brought one of Old Crow's new songs to life.

VINCE PEARSON, BYLINE: Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua, the cofounders of the group, grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and started playing together as teenagers in the '90s. If you know their music, it's not tough to guess one major influence.

KETCH SECOR: I learned more from Bob Dylan songs than I did in any class in any schooling at any time in my life.

PEARSON: And he didn't just learn Dylan's songs. Ketch says he would actually rewrite Dylan's lyrics.

SECOR: I was learning about the folk music process, and I learned from Bob Dylan more than anybody else the importance of incorporating other songs into your songs.

PEARSON: Then one day Ketch heard this unfinished Dylan song on a collection of rarities and outtakes from the '70s.


BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Rock me, mama, like the wind and the rain. Rock me, mama, like a southbound train. Hey, mama rock me.

PEARSON: So he did what he he'd been doing.

SECOR: I quickly sat down and finished it.


SECOR: (Singing) So rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel. Rock me, mama, any way you feel. Hey, mama rock me.

PEARSON: Years later, Old Crow recorded the song, and today it's one of their best known. Then last spring, singer Darius Rucker made it a number-one country hit.


DARIUS RUCKER: (Singing) Rock me, mama, like the wind and the rain. Rock me, mama, like a southbound train. Hey...

PEARSON: And it was only then, 19 years after finishing the song, Ketch got a phone call. It was Dylan's manager...

SECOR: ...Saying Bob wants you to know, congratulations. And, you know, that was the most amazing thing.

PEARSON: But that was not the end of it.

SECOR: Well, shortly after that we got another e-mail saying, and Bob would like you to have this song. Maybe you can do something with it.

PEARSON: It with a tiny snippet of audio - just a chorus, really - recorded around the same time as that first one.


DYLAN: (Singing) Sweet Amarillo, you stole my pillow. You stole my pilllow and the way in my mind.

PEARSON: For days, Ketch says he listened to that 26 second fragment again and again.

SECOR: And I didn't even tell anybody in the band about it. It was just so incredible to have been given this song by Bob that I couldn't even let it out yet.

PEARSON: The song is called Sweet Amarillo, and Ketch says he knew just what he wanted to do with it.

SECOR: Tried to get to the heart of what Amarillo and Bob could be about - where those two, you know, iconic names meet. And so we set a young Bob thumbing his way to Amarillo to rendezvous with a Mexican girl.


SECOR: (Singing) Well, the world's greatest wonder, from what I can tell, is how a cowgirl like you could ever look my way. I was blinded by glory with a half-written story, and a song spilling out off of every page.

PEARSON: And so they sent it off to Bob.

SECOR: And then, you know, there was this silence that followed. Everybody in the band wondered, what's going to happen?

PEARSON: Amazingly, Dylan's people called right back.

SECOR: Bob loves what you've done the song.

PEARSON: But there was a but.

SECOR: He thinks that Ketch should play the fiddle instead of the harmonica because the fiddle is such the sound of Old Crow Medicine Show. And Bob thinks that the chorus needs to come in at the 16th bar, not the 32nd. And so we did exactly what Bob said. And the song just opened up.


SECOR: (Singing) Sweet Amarillo, tears on my pillow. You never will know how much I cried. Sweet Amarillo, like the wind in the willow, damn this old cowboy for my foolish pride.

SECOR: So it just felt like, you know, Bob was kind of in the room. You know, helping turn the faders and telling us to play it again. It was an incredible feeling.

PEARSON: And the funny thing, says Ketch, is that even after writing not one but two songs with Bob Dylan, they still haven't spoken.

SECOR: And it just makes sense for the enigma - you know, the mercurial figure that is Bob Dylan, that this is how Bob co-writes.


SECOR: (Singing) Sweet Amarillo, tears on my pillow. You never will know how much I cried.

PEARSON: Old Crow Medicine Show's new album comes out today. It's called remedy. Vince Pearson, NPR News.


SECOR: (Singing) Well the thunder's a-rumbling, and the tumbleweed's tumbling, and the rodeo clowns are painting their face. I'm gunning the throttle for Llano Estacado. On a wild appaloosa, I'm coming your way. Down in old Amarillo there's a light in the window where a road-weary shadow drifts into the arms of a long-distance lover.

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.