Wagon Wheel (song)
"Wagon Wheel" cover
|Song by Old Crow Medicine Show from the album O.C.M.S.|
|Released||February 24, 2004|
|Recorded||2003 at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee|
|Genre||Country, Americana, folk, bluegrass|
|Writer||Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor|
|O.C.M.S. track listing|
"Wagon Wheel" is a song originally sketched by Bob Dylan. It was later modified by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. Old Crow Medicine Show's version was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in April 2013. The song has been covered famously by Darius Rucker in 2013, who made it into a number one Hot Country Songs, and Irish singer Nathan Carter in 2012
- 1 Content
- 2 Background and writing
- 3 Popularity
- 4 Certification
- 5 Nathan Carter version
- 6 Darius Rucker version
- 7 Other covers
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The song describes a hitchhiking journey south along the eastern coast of the United States, from New England in the northeast, through Roanoke, Virginia with the intended destination of Raleigh, North Carolina, where the protagonist hopes to see his lover. Along the way, he shares a smoke with a trucker who is traveling from Philadelphia through Virginia westward toward the Cumberland Gap and Johnson City, Tennessee. It is not clear from the lyrics whether the protagonist traveled with the trucker from Philly to Roanoke before parting ways to head south into North Carolina, or whether he simply crossed paths with the trucker outside of Roanoke.
Old Crow Medicine Show's version of the song is in 2/2 time signature, with an approximate tempo of 76 half notes per minute. It uses the I-V-vi-IV pattern in the key of A major, with the main chord pattern of A-E-F♯m-D.
Background and writing
"Wagon Wheel" is composed of two different parts. The chorus and melody for the song comes from a demo recorded by Bob Dylan during the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid sessions. Although never officially released, the Dylan song was released on a bootleg and is usually named after the chorus and its refrain, "Rock Me Mama". Although Dylan left the song an unfinished sketch, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show wrote verses for the song around Dylan's original chorus. Secor's additional lyrics transformed "Rock Me Mama" into "Wagon Wheel".
Chris "Critter" Fuqua, school friend and future bandmate, first brought home a Bob Dylan bootleg from a family trip to London containing a rough outtake called "Rock Me, Mama" (from the "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid" soundtrack sessions) and passed it to Secor. Not "so much a song as a sketch, crudely recorded featuring most prominently a stomping boot, the candy-coated chorus and a mumbled verse that was hard to make out", the tune kept going through Secor's mind. A few months later, while attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and "feeling homesick for the South," he added verses about "hitchhiking his way home full of romantic notions put in his head by the Beat poets and, most of all, Dylan." Dylan was a major influence on the young musician, as he puts it:
"I listened to Bob Dylan and nothing else. Nothin' but Bob for four years. It was like schooling. Every album and every outtake of every album and every live record I could get my hands on and every show I could go see live. I was a teenager who was really turned on to Bob."
The Dylan outtake, generally titled "Rock Me Mama", came out of recording sessions for the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid movie soundtrack (1973) in Burbank, California. Secor says it ". . was an outtake of something he had mumbled out on one of those tapes. I sang it all around the country from about 17 to 26, before I ever even thought, 'oh I better look into this.'"
When Secor sought copyright on the song in 2003 to release it on O.C.M.S. in (2004), he discovered Dylan credited the phrase “Rock me, mama” to bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, who likely got it from a Big Bill Broonzy recording. As Secor says: "In a way, it’s taken something like 85 years to get completed." Secor and Dylan signed a co-writing agreement, and share copyright on the song; agreeing to a "50-50 split in authorship."
Secor later met Dylan’s son, Jakob, who said "it made sense that I was a teenager when I did that, because no one in their 30s would have the guts to try to write a Bob Dylan song." The song would be an early entry in the group's catalog when it formed a few years later.
Secor has stated the song is partially autobiographical. The song has become extremely popular since its inclusion on Old Crow Medicine Show's major label debut, O.C.M.S. in 2004, although the song appeared in an earlier form on the now out-of-print EP Troubles Up and Down the Road in 2001.
As Fuqua describes it:
"I'd gotten a (Bob) Dylan bootleg in like ninth grade and I let (band co-founder) Ketch (Secor) listen to it, and he wrote the verses because Bob kind of mumbles them and that was it. We've been playing that song since we were like 17, and it's funny because we've never met Dylan, but the song is technically co-written by Bob Dylan. What's great about "Wagon Wheel" is that it has grown organically. The popularity of it was all based on word of mouth. There was no radio airplay for it. We made a music video for it, but it wasn't "November Rain" or anything. No one was like, 'Oh my God, what's this video about?' And 16 years later, it went gold, then Darius Rucker cut it."
- 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 south-bound train
- Hey mama rock me
Secor's verses tell "the story of a man who travels from New England, through Philadelphia, PA and Roanoke, VA, down the eastern coast of the United States, ending up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he hopes to see his lover." They contain a geographic impossibility: heading "west from the Cumberland Gap" to Johnson City, Tennessee . . "you’d have to go east." Secor explains: "I got some geography wrong, but I still sing it that way. I just wanted the word ‘west’ in there. ‘West’ has got more power than 'east.'"
The group reportedly performed the song at the Station Inn in Nashville in 2001, as part of a series of songs commemorating Bob Dylan's 60th birthday. The group's version of the song was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in April 2013. To celebrate they released a limited edition 7” vinyl record of the song with "'All Night Long' Live At The Station Inn" (2003) on the B-side. Asked mid-2008 if he gets "sick of playing it every night?" Secor responded: "I don’t mind playing it every night. I like to see what it does to people, and it’s nice to have something that’s guaranteed, especially when you’re shuffling through new material."
It is considered a "catchy country-infused sing-along that has taken on the status of 'Free Bird'"—"in that it has become a bar room staple that drunks love to loudly request at every show, regardless of who the band is" As Old Crow Medicine Show's signature song, it is in some ways bigger than the group itself—even though the song's origins predate Old Crow's formation.
It has become such a popular cover song at musical gatherings, venues, and events that some discourage its performance. The New England Americana Festival sells a shirt with an image of a wagon wheel with a line through it—creating a "no 'Wagon Wheel' zone"—and "hipster bar owners 'ban' it."
Lately, it’s been open season on “Wagon Wheel,” which has become the acoustic musician’s “Freebird,” one of the very few songs that people actually know well enough to find it funny to request. (In the bluegrass world, “Tennessee Stud” might be another equivalent. In hip hop, it’s probably “Baby Got Back” or “99 Problems.”)—The Portland Phoenix
|Canada (Music Canada)||Gold||40,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,167,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Nathan Carter version
|Single by Nathan Carter|
|from the album Wagon Wheel|
|Released||15 June 2012|
|Genre||Country, Country and Irish|
|Writer(s)||Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor|
|Nathan Carter singles chronology|
The Irish singer Nathan Carter covered the song in a release on June 15, 2012, a few weeks prior to the song being a hit for Darius Rucker in the United States. The Carter version was the title track taken from his own 2012 album Wagon Wheel. He appeared with a live version of the song on the popular Late Late Show on Irish RTÉ television network, being his first ever appearance on the show. He also engaged on a tour in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland to promote the album.
Although released independently on the Irish Sharpe Music label, "Wagon Wheel" became a huge hit for Carter and was his first number one on the Irish Singles Chart. The single spent 47 weeks on the Irish Top 100 Singles Chart in its initial release. It was the biggest commercial success of any Country and Irish release in 2012 and considered a crossover hit in the mainstream pop charts. With its re-entry in the charts later in 2013, it has totalled 52 weeks in the Irish singles charts (as at December 5, 2013).
The album Wagon Wheel has also charted on the Top 20 Indie Individual Artist Albums for a total of 60 weeks (as at 5 December 2013) and on the UK Country Artist Albums Top 20 with 58 weeks on the chart as at December 14, 2013.
Various versions were made available through iTunes including:
- "Wagon Wheel" - Nathan Carter - Single (4:12)
- "Wagon Wheel" (Radio Dance Mix) - Nathan Carter & Micky Modelle (3:46)
- "Wagon Wheel" (Club Mix) - Nathan Carter & Micky Modelle (3:23)
Carter released a music video of the song which features an outing on the beach where Carter sings the song with his band to his friends on the beach with those present joining in clapping and dancing. The video was filmed in Donegal, Ireland.
|Irish Singles Chart||14|
|Irish Country Chart||1|
Darius Rucker version
|Single by Darius Rucker|
|from the album True Believers|
|Released||January 7, 2013|
|Length||4:58 (album version)|
|Writer(s)||Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor|
|Darius Rucker singles chronology|
Darius Rucker joined Old Crow Medicine Show at the Grand Ole Opry July 6, 2012, "for a special rendition of 'Wagon Wheel.'" The fans "went crazy over Rucker's cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show hit," setting the stage for his tweeted announcement: "Secret out after @opry perf. I recorded a version of 'Wagon Wheel' for my new record & @ladyantebellum sings on track." The new album, True Believers, is his third solo project on Capitol Records. Rucker's cover is the album's second single.
The song did not at first appeal to Rucker. "Somebody had played 'Wagon Wheel' for me years ago," he says. "It was one of those things that I didn't really get." The faculty band at his daughter's high school performing had a different effect, as he relates,
We were watching my daughter, and the faculty band gets up. It's just the faculty from her school, and they play 'Wagon Wheel.' I'm sitting in the audience, and they get to the middle of the chorus, and I turned to my wife, and I go, 'I've got to cut this song.'
With guidance from Frank Liddell, Rucker cut the song with Lady Antebellum on backing vocals. He told Taste of Country: "Lady Antebellum took the song to a new level. Up until they added their vocals, I thought it was another song on the record."
Rucker had been introduced to Fuqua's source for Dylan's outtake years prior: "I got turned onto the Pat Garrett soundtrack when I worked retail back in the day. It's so different from a lot of his other stuff. It's such a cool record." And he's had some experience with crediting Dylan on a song he'd performed. Hootie and the Blowfish's third single, released in 1995, "Only Wanna Be With You," quotes a few lines from the Dylan song "Idiot Wind" (1975). When the record began selling big, the "Dylan camp" took issue. As Rucker remembers: "they wanted some money, and they got it. We weren't trying to rip anybody off."
For Rucker it was largely an issue of musical genre and the high school group changing his thinking on it: "I knew the song, and to me it was such a perfect bluegrass tune that I didn't think I could do it. But they did a country version of it, with drums and pedal steel. I was like, 'Wait a minute. That would be a great country song.'" On deciding to go country with it, Rucker says:
It's such the perfect country song. When we were cutting it, all we had (to model it on) was this perfect bluegrass song. I couldn't do it as a bluegrass song. It's just not me. So if we were going to do it, we had to make it a 1950s country song. I'm not shocked at how successful it's been, but I didn't expect it.
When asked if he thought his recording would be nominated for a Grammy Award, Rucker responded: "If 'Wagon Wheel' doesn't get nominated for a GRAMMY, country music is screwed. It's as simple as that. I'm not saying I should win it, but it should be nominated."
Matt Bjorke of Roughstock gave Rucker's version a five-star rating. Billy Dukes of Taste of Country gave Rucker's version four and a half stars out of five. As to the reaction of the originating group, Rucker says, "I think the Old Crow Medicine Show guys are very happy about it, and that's all that matters to me." On Rucker's version of the song, Chris 'Critter' Fuqua of Old Crow Medicine Show says:
I love it. He actually played with us at (The Grand Ole) Opry, and it was great. I think he sees something special in that song and understands it. He's a country music fan and, more than that, he just loves music and loves playing. I'm really glad he cut the track. It's been good for him and good for us, but I'm just waiting for the time when people come up to me and say, 'I love when you guys played that Darius Rucker cover.'
Rucker's version was nominated as Single of the Year for the 47th Country Music Association Awards along with Florida Georgia Line ("Cruise"), Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift & Keith Urban ("Highway Don't Care"), Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart"), and Kacey Musgraves ("Merry Go 'Round"). Rucker closed the televised awards show with the song November 6, 2013.
Rucker won the Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (held January 26, 2014) for his version of "Wagon Wheel". Rucker's win makes him only the second African American after Charley Pride to be both nominated for and win a vocal performance Grammy award in a country music category. Other nominees up for the same award were Lee Brice for "I Drive Your Truck", Hunter Hayes for "I Want Crazy", Miranda Lambert for "Mama's Broken Heart", and Blake Shelton for "Mine Would Be You".
Rucker released a music video of the song on March 21, 2013, which features several members of the television show Duck Dynasty, along with Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum. It was filmed in Watertown, Tennessee.
Rucker's "Wagon Wheel" debuted at number 51 on the U.S. Billboard Country Airplay chart for the week of January 19, 2013. It also debuted at number 32 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for the week of January 26, 2013. It debuted at 96 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of February 6, 2013; it debuted at 72 on the Canadian Hot 100 chart for the week of February 13, 2013. In its 10th chart week, March 20, 2013, Rucker's version made "a strong move" on Hot Country Songs, going from 11 to 5, and to 18 on Country Airplay (to 14.7 million, up 20%). Old Crow's original (from 2004) sold 15,000 and ranked 28 on Country Digital Songs the same week. The song reached number one on Hot Country Songs in its 12th week. It is his most successful song as a solo artist on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 15, as well as the Canadian Hot 100, where it peaked at number 23. By April 2014, the song has sold 2,763,000 copies in the United States, making it then the fifth best-selling song by a male country solo artist.
Charts and certifications
"Sure Be Cool If You Did"
by Blake Shelton
|Billboard Hot Country Songs
April 13, 2013
by Florida Georgia Line
"Get Your Shine On"
by Florida Georgia Line
|Billboard Country Airplay
June 1–8, 2013
"Highway Don't Care"
by Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift
|Billboard Canada Country
June 1–8, 2013
"Boys 'Round Here"
by Blake Shelton
Blues artist Matt Andersen and Against Me! covered the song in 2005, Jeremy McComb in 2007, Red Wanting Blue in 2009, Mumford & Sons in 2010, and Chad Brownlee in 2012. The song was covered by The Swon Brothers during season four of The Voice. South Dakota Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland sang a parody of the song "with lyrics rewritten to match his campaign message" at a campaign "folk-rock concert" at the Strawbale Winery north of Sioux Falls in October 2014. Parody lyrics included the line: "I can't run a nine million dollar campaign, but I don't have EB-5 to explain".
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