The Old Crow Medicine Show seems as if it needed a little time to re-fuel.
The group cancelled some shows in the fall of 2011, but returned in early 2012 when founding member Critter Fuqua and co-founder Ketch Secor began making music together again.
"This year celebrates the 20th year of me and Critter making music together," says Secor in a telephone call from Vermont.
The two began playing together when they met in the seventh grade in Harrisburg, Va.
Secor says his first instrument was the juice harp, which he took up in the fourth grade.
"I don't know why it was that and not Nintendo," says Secor.
Later, he took up banjo and fiddle.
Old Crow Medicine Show formed in 1998 in Ithaca, N.Y., when Secor and buddy "Critter" Fuqua combined their talents with Willie Watson, Kevin Philagree, Matt Kinman and eventually Morgan Jahning, who had been a busker in Maine. A chance meeting with Doc Watson's daughter in Boone, N.C., while the group was busking, led to an appearance at Merlefest, which upped the group's profile greatly. That led to a regular gig in the courtyard outside the Grand Ole Opryhouse in Nashville and then a spot on the Bonnaroo festival. Knoxville, where Secor's parents Jay and Trina Secor live, was a regular stop.
"I got in on the rebirth of American folk music early," says Secor. "It was the crest of a wave building with banjos and mandolins and we hoped to crash over the shores of Nashville. ... We wanted all those people in those buildings in Nashville to ask, 'What would Roy Acuff do?'"
The group seemed on the verge of getting their wish when the band's song "Wagon Wheel" — a number that Secor adapted from a scrap of a Bob Dylan bootleg recording, became a phenomenon. The group has just re-released the song in a special-edition vinyl single.
"It's good because it's Bob," says Secor. "I did my best to rescue it from the scrap heap when I was 17. And, I love the fact that Bob said, 'I didn't write that, I got that from Big Boy Crudup.' And he'd gotten from Big Bill Broonzy."
It's been played at funerals. It's a campfire song. It's one of the few modern songs that anyone seems to be able to sing along with. It has become so popular that clubs have been known to ban the song from open mike nights. It's one of the few modern tunes so prevalent that it could be considered a classic.
Secor says, overall, the song's trajectory "feels like a beautiful dream."
"I never get tired of playing it because of the way it affects people. It really IS a song that belongs to the people."
Secor says folk music will always pop up on radio and surprise people. The success of Old Crow, Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers bears that out. He very much likes new music, but he's drawn to the older sounds.
"History stretches back much further than Old Crow Medicine Show, Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers," says Secor. "I'm much more interested in the Greenbrier Boys or Doc Watson's early life (he notes that Watson was playing electric guitar when he was busking as a young man). How do you relate to the people who came before you? What's your connection to the source? What's the connection between the Old Crow Medicine Show and half a dozen string bands from the 1920s? Or the Highwood String Band from the 1970s?"
Probably the best remembered string band from the 1920s and '30s is The Skillet Lickers, which, like Old Crow, were hard to pigeonhole.
"These guys were working musicians who wanted to laugh," says Secor. "Country music was fickle and they trusted their own instincts."
And that's probably what has made Old Crow Medicine Show a success as well.
"I really love music that doesn't fit into the bin. So many times you're asked to categorize your music. What is it? It's passion and it's love. It's all those old ghosts ..."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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