…runnin’ from the cold up in New England

Jay Ketcham “Ketch” Miller Secor had a plan. “I had just read the book, Bound for Glory, and I knew that I wanted to go hobo with music. So we went out on the road,” he recounted.

Ketch, a fiddle player since seventh grade, had learned to play the banjo while at Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire (established by John Phillips, yes there IS a tie to rival Phillips Andover, which was established by his nephew, Samuel Phillips Jr.) and he used his folks’ Harrisonburg, Virginia home as his base for a series of “musician-hobo jaunts” with some friends, up to Maine and Canada.

In time sensibility reigned, in the form of his long-standing girlfriend, Lydia who was now a student at Cornell, so Ketch enrolled at nearby Ithaca College and brought along his old musician pal, Critter Fuqua (nope, not making this stuff up).  In Ithaca Ketch and Critter discovered a passel of like-minded string-picking “Americana” musicians and decided to form a band.

But after Lydia broke off the relationship, Ketch decided to hit the road again and convinced the others to join him.  Calling themselves Old Crow Medicine Show (O.C.M.S.) they recorded a cassette tape they could sell (using Critter’s bedroom as their studio) and headed north, busking their way across Canada before circling back through the States and ending up in the Appalachian town of Butler, Tennessee with a full repertoire of bluegrass, blues and folk numbers.

You will be pleased to know that upon graduating Lydia had a change of heart and after getting his address from his parents she showed up at Ketch’s cabin door early one morning. Soon after they were married (she is now an award winning writer) and soon after that the group received an invitation to play at the MerleFest Music Festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where they were a hit.  Having released seven albums, Old Crow Medicine Show has been a staple at music festivals throughout the world ever since.

Composed of two parts, with one written by Ketch Secor, today’s selection is the group’s signature song.  Interestingly the other part was written five years before Secor was born.  Even more interestingly it was written by Bob Dylan.

“I heard a Dylan song that was unfinished back in high school and I finished it,” said Secor.  “As a serious Bob Dylan fan, I was listening to anything he had put on tape, and this was an outtake of something he had mumbled.”

What Dylan had “mumbled” during one of the 1973 recording sessions for the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid movie soundtrack, became the chorus for the song, “Wagon Wheel”  and Secor added additional “autobiographical” verses between the refrain.

“I sang it all around the country from about 17 to 26, before I ever even thought, ‘oh I better look into this,” said Secor, who decided to seek a copyright before the group included the song on its 2004 (full-length) debut album “Old Crow Medicine Show”. In doing so he discovered that Dylan had already credited the phrase “Rock me, Mama” to pre-war bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, who himself had likely taken it from an early Big Bill Broozny recording.  In the end Secor and Dylan signed a co-writing agreement for “Wagon Wheel” with official credits going to Dylan/Secor.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Wednesday 25 April

Wagon Wheel

Headed down south to the land of the pines

And I’m thumbin’ my way into North Caroline

Starin’ up the road

Pray to God I see headlights

 I made it down the coast in seventeen hours

Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers

And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh

I can see my baby tonight

 So rock me mama like a wagon wheel

Rock me mama anyway you feel

Hey mama rock me

Rock me mama like the wind and the rain

Rock me mama like a southbound train

Hey mama rock me

 Runnin’ from the cold up in New England

I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band

My baby plays the guitar

I pick a banjo now

Oh, the North Country winters keep a gettin’ me now

Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave

But I ain’t a turnin’ back

To livin’ that old life no more

 So rock me mama like a wagon wheel

Rock me mama anyway you feel

Hey mama rock me

Rock me mama like the wind and the rain

Rock me mama like a southbound train

Hey mama rock me

 Walkin’ to the south out of Roanoke

I caught a trucker out of Philly

Had a nice long toke

But he’s a headed west from the Cumberland Gap

To Johnson City, Tennessee

 And I gotta’ get a move on before the sun

I hear my baby callin’ my name

And I know that she’s the only one

And if I die in Raleigh

At least I will die free

 So rock me mama like a wagon wheel

Rock me mama anyway you feel

Hey mama rock me

Rock me mama like the wind and the rain

Rock me mama like a southbound train

Hey mama rock me

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