Hey, Mama, Rock Me

OCMS1CreditCrackerfarmTalking with the Old Crow Medicine Show, playing at Iron City on June 24.

By Lindsey Lowe Osborne

I bet all I have to do is start humming it and you will, too. Your toes will start tapping, and it won’t be long before you’re singing along: “Headed down South to the land of the pines / thumbing my way into North Carolina / staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights / I made it down the coast in 17 hours / picking me a bouquet of dogwood flowers / And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight. / So, rock me, mama…”

It’s “Wagon Wheel” by the Old Crow Medicine Show, and if you haven’t heard it, I think you’re lying. But if you really haven’t heard heard it, trust me when I say it’s worth a listen. It’s the definition of a good time in a song, and that’s exactly how OCMS likes it. “I like dancers most of all. Making people dance is quite a powerful feeling, maybe as close to godlike as you can get,” says Ketch Secor, who plays a slew of stringed instruments and provides vocals for the band. Secor was a founding member of the band, which began in 1998 (and has since had some member rotations, though some original members who left have since returned). Secor had been working in a doorknob factory when he decided to go for it. “People [at the doorknob factory] took the job so seriously. I just sat there twisting together doorknobs thinking about playing the banjo. I probably wasn’t going to last in any other job beside music,” he says. “After the doorknob factory, I started unloading trucks full of dancing Santa Clauses (this is true), but the boxes were all sprayed with insecticide that made me sick, and I knew it was time to get into music all the way.”

The band—which now includes Critter Fuqua, Kevin Hayes, Morgan Jahnig, Chance McCoy, Secor, and Cory Younts—got its start on the streets in New York state, because, as Secor puts it, “the street corner was the only one who would hire us.” They were discovered while busking in Boone, North Carolina, by bluegrass singer Doc Watson, who gave them a gig on the spot (they’re now based in Nashville, Tennessee.) They’ve since put out five albums—their first was 2001’s Eutaw, and their most recent is 2014’s Remedy. “When we were first starting up, we hardly knew how to play our instruments,” Secor says. “There was a beautiful naivety in those early records. Nowadays we can play so well, but we haven’t lost those innocent eyes.”

Believe it or not, they’re not playing street corners these days. They’ve played alongside bands like Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes and at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. They were featured in the music documentary Big Easy Express, which won a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video. And in 2013, they were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry, an honor of which Secor says they’re extraordinarily proud. Secor says they’ll soon be working on a new album, so stay tuned.

Their striking sound somehow seamlessly blends a punk/rock feel with classic Americana string. The best way I can describe it—and I sure hope the Old Crow Medicine Show will take this as the highest compliment—is that it’s real music, music that has no agenda besides simply being. It will do all the things that music does to you: it will get stuck in your head, make you boogie a little, and entice you to sing along. “I like knowing people listen to Old Crow music on Indian reservations, battleships, in McDonald’s parking lots blasted from idling pickups, as warm ups to wrestling matches, in political commercials, around campfires, and on street corners,” Secor says. “All I ever wanted was to make people feel like I do—that the human heart can sing when you give it a good song.”

Catch Secor and the gang at Iron City on June 24. And Birmingham, be sure to dance for them.•

Upcoming Events

6/9: St. Lucia at Saturn. For fans of Chvrches and Ghost Beach.

6/25: Joe Purdy at Workplay. For fans of Glen Hansard and Alexi Murdoch.

7/16: Sloss Fest at Sloss Furnaces.

For fans of lots of good music at one time.

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