Loading...
 

United Front

Old Crow Medicine Show brings new spirit to old song

The story of how the members of Old Crow Medicine Show received their first big break while busking in front of a Boone, N.C., drugstore sounds like that of much repeated bluegrass folklore. That chance meeting, however, occurred barely six years ago.

??
Ketch Secor, Willie Watson, Kevin Hayes, Morgan Jahnig and "Critter" Fuqua routinely played old-timey string band music in town squares and on street corners in the Carolina area. On this particular occasion, a woman approached them saying how much her father enjoyed their type of music and wondered if they'd continue playing while she went and got him. The genial woman soon returned with renowned guitarist Arthel "Doc" Watson on her arm. Watson enjoyed the young pickers so much, he offered Old Crow Medicine Show a spot on the bill of his annual MerleFest.

??
"We played the tri-city, Tennessee/North Carolina area of Johnson City, Bristol and Asheville pretty regularly," says Secor. "After doing the MerleFest gig, we were invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry doing that same busking act in the plaza area that surrounds the actual Opry complex."

??
OCMS's actual roots lie far above the Appalachians they pine for in song. After forming the band in Ithaca, N.Y., the members played a long string of gigs across Canada and eventually relocated to rural North Carolina. After catching Watson's ear and playing the Opry square a few times, the band members packed up again, bound for their current home base of Nashville. As for the survival rate of a harmonizing bunch of garage band-looking northerners in Music City, Secor confirms that it's probably not the most popular way to make an honest buck.

??
"There's really not a large amount of old-time music to be found in Nashville," he says. "It's mainly in the bluegrass genre if it has fiddle and/or banjo in there. We felt like we were plowing kind of a new territory. I think that guys like John Hartford really secured a place for this kind of music in Nashville. Of course, there are newer artists like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings who put their particular stamp on it. So with those kinds of people as our pacesetters, we wanted to take it and do something different from there."

??
For its most recent, self-titled release, the band worked with Rawlings, Welch's guitarist/partner/producer. Rawlings and OCMS recorded in both Nashville's historic RCA Studio B (where Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings recorded many of their early pre-outlaw sides) and Woodland Sound studios, where the first Will the Circle Be Unbroken album was recorded. Some of the raucous, lefty energy of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is channeled by "Big Time in the Jungle," a Vietnam-referencing song written and sung by Fuqua in which an overconfident boy from Alabama is sent overseas to "fight for an ideal" he "knows nothing about."

??
OCMS hasn't much updated or tampered with its old-fashioned approach since the drugstore days. Instead, its members just keep getting better at what they do. Each one of them really is integral to the whole, from Haynes' tinny six-string banjo licks to the all-important three-part harmonies to Watson's furious yelps and revved-up guitar-picking.

??
"Initially, this band was built on old-time string band music. But the shared reverence for that and similar types of music brought out different aspects among us. We're very much separate parts that are now unified," says Secor. "Willie, for example, is from the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York, where he grew up hearing a lot of old country music. I grew up with a real appreciation for authentic folk music. I loved the power of song and sang in church. I think with all of us you'll find a genuine appreciation for the power of song, in particular, the old song. I enjoy the old singers and their text is something that is very special to me."

??
music@creativeloafing.com