WEST FARGO — Ketch Secor has written hundreds of songs and recorded eight albums over 23 years with his band Old Crow Medicine Show. While he's never played the area before, he knows exactly what song fans will want to hear Saturday night at Essentia Health Plaza at The Lights in West Fargo: “Wagon Wheel.”
The song put the group on the map when it was released 17 years ago and has only grown more popular since.
“I wrote it when I was 17 in 1994. I knew right then I’d stumbled onto something powerful,” Secor says. “It took a while for Old Crow Medicine Show to get a harness on that song, we didn’t play originals on street corners. But once we got to Nashville, people only wanted to hear originals.”
The song got a second wind in 2013 when Darius Rucker recorded it for his first country album and it became a country hit.
Like many things that are loved by some, it is loathed by others. By 2015 the song was banned at open mic nights and on jukeboxes across the country.
“It makes me think I’m joining the ranks of Ray Bradbury, like I’ve got a book to burn,” Secor says with a laugh. “That’s the ultimate compliment, that a song is so ubiquitous that people resent it. The thing is, people aren’t hearing it on the radio. They’re hearing it at parties and around campfires and that’s the sign of it becoming a real folk song. Some people may dislike ‘Oh! Susanna,’ but it’s a classic and a building block of American folk music.”
Bonded with Bob
The song’s chorus, “Rock me Mama,” was lifted from a song scrap on a Bob Dylan bootleg with Secor writing the rest of the tune. He gave Dylan a co-writing credit for the number. Dylan must have appreciated the nod because he later sent the band a more fully-formed song, “Sweet Amarillo.” They recorded a demo, and sent it back, but Dylan responded that they should move the chorus and Secor should play fiddle, not harmonica. They adhered to his advice and the song was featured on their fifth studio album, 2014’s “Remedy.”
In 2017 they furthered their fandom for the Minnesota-born bard, releasing the concert tribute to one of Dylan’s best-loved albums, “Fifty Years of Blonde on Blonde.”
Despite their collaboration, Secor has yet to meet the Pulitzer Prize-winning songwriter.
“I went to see a gypsy woman when I was 12 and asked her if I would ever meet Bob Dylan and she said no, and I never have. But that’s OK, they say you should never meet your idols,” he says.
With John Lennon on maracas
Old Crow Medicine Show started out busking on street corners, so meeting Dylan, much less making a living touring the country, was all more than Secor could’ve imagined then.
“It was more about getting a circus act together to see how far it would take you. It was more of an experiment,” he says. “I was in a couple of bands at the time and I didn’t think this band would be my vehicle to get me into the studios and on the road.”
Secor is probably pretty happy to be wrong. His group has won two Grammys, including in 2015 for Best Folk Album, “Remedy,” and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2013.
The band's roots are in bluegrass fused with punk’s energy and tied up in tight harmonies. Call it old timey, Americana, roots, country or folk — it doesn’t matter to Secor, who says he’s a big fan of pop music.
The one theme continuing through the group’s music is an appreciation for a good road song.
“The proverbial road song is a mainstay in any genre of music,” Secor says. “It’s based on Homer’s 'Odyssey,' a building block of storytelling. There’s magic, risk and fear and transformation. I grew up listening to ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and thought, ‘I want something like that.’ When you’ve gone as many miles as this band has, it’s inescapable, it just comes out of your pen. I think road songs are second nature.”
Asked if he has a favorite, he suggests Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”.
For now, Secor and company are just happy to be back on the road.
“Playing live music again is like we’ve got a Beatle in the band. We might as well have John Lennon playing maracas, that’s how excited everyone is,” he says. “I know it’s a special privilege to come together at this time. It feels very spiritual to come together and join hands and sing in harmony. It’s wonderful to be back in the saddle again.”
If you go
What: Old Crow Medicine Show, with Molly Tuttle and Dave Simonett
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 31
Where: Essentia Health Plaza at The Lights, 31450 Sheyenne St., West Fargo
Info: Tickets are $39 and $59; https://www.ticketmaster.com/