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|
|O.C.M.S. track listing|
"Wagon Wheel" is a song co-written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. Dylan recorded the chorus in 1973; Secor added verses 25 years later. Old Crow Medicine Show's final version was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in April 2013. The song has been covered numerous times, most famously by Darius Rucker in 2013 — who made it into a No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs.
- 1 Content
- 2 Background and writing
- 3 Creative rights
- 4 Popularity
- 5 Certification
- 6 Darius Rucker version
- 7 Nathan Carter version
- 8 Other covers
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 References
- 11 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 narrator hopes to see his lover. As the narrator is walking south of Roanoke, he catches a ride with a trucker who is traveling from Philadelphia through Virginia westward toward the Cumberland Gap and Johnson City, Tennessee. Secor's lyrics show a lack of knowledge of geography, however, as they state "he's a-heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee", whereas Johnson City is actually about 100 miles southeast of the Cumberland Gap. This mistake is also repeated in Darius Rucker's cover version of the song, but is corrected in Jason Lee Wilson's cover to "he's a heading west to the Cumberland Gap from Johnson City, Tennessee" on his 2010 "Big Gun" album.
Old Crow Medicine Show's version of the song is in 2/4 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 come from a demo recorded by Bob Dylan during the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid sessions in February 1973. 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."
- So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
- Rock me mama any way 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
The original Dylan recording has the verse melody (with unintelligible lyrics), chorus melody with lyrics, and chords structure/progression. Secor's contribution was rescuing and popularizing the song that Dylan has apparently abandoned, as well as writing the lyrics for the verses.
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.'" Jason Lee Wilson's 2010 cover gets the geography correct, still keeping the word "west", but switching the words "from" and "to", thus changing the lyric to the more accurate "heading west to the Cumberland Gap from Johnson City, Tennessee." Secor has yet to adopt this change, however.
Secor saw the Dylan contribution as "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 recalls that, “I met (Dylan’s son) Jakob, and Jakob 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."
As Old Crow Medicine Show's signature song, "Wagon Wheel" is in some ways bigger than the group itself — even though the song's origins predate formation of the musical act. The song was an early entry in the group's catalog when it formed a few years after Secor penned it.
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 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. 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 in 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."
This "catchy country-infused sing-along" 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" John Cranford with music label Swampfire Records—who organize a regular jam session on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina called Swampfire Sessions—says "It has become our generation's 'Freebird.'"
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.”
The song has become such a popular cover song at musical gatherings, venues and events that some discourage its performance. At the Swampfire Sessions, Cranford states: "We banned it. (We) literally put signs up that said 'Absolutely No Wagon Wheel.'" “Man, some of us hate that song," he said. "Others play it all the time." Cranford, who used to play "Wagon Wheel" on request, quit doing so after Rucker's cover. "This song was great when Dylan wrote it and Old Crow played it, but once Darius Rucker flooded the airwaves with his version, all hope was lost," he said.
"The song is basically inescapable. It’s as much a part of country music as the classics like “Hello Walls” or “Islands In The Stream.” That's a big claim, sure, but how many other country songs actually get banned from clubs they’re played and requested so much?"
|Canada (Music Canada)||Gold||40,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,167,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Darius Rucker version
|Single by Darius Rucker|
|from the album True Believers|
|Released||January 7, 2013|
|Length||4:57 (album version)|
|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 and @ladyantebellum sings on track." The new album, True Believers, was 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 said. "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." Rucker also previously had had some experience with crediting Dylan on a song he'd performed. His group Hootie and the Blowfish's 1995 hit single "Only Wanna Be With You" quotes an entire verse from Dylan's 1975 song "Idiot Wind". When the record began selling big, the "Dylan camp" took issue, and Dylan was ultimately credited as a co-writer. 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 and 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.
The most popular song of his career, solo or otherwise, Rucker's "Wagon Wheel" debuted at No. 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 No. 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 No. 15, as well as the Canadian Hot 100, where it peaked at number 23. By March 2014, the song has sold 2,678,000 copies in the United States, making it then the fifth best-selling song by a male country solo artist. As of September 2015, the song has sold 3,280,000 copies in the US.
Charts and certifications
Nathan Carter version
The English Irish singer Nathan Carter covered the song in a release on 15 June 2012, a few weeks before the song became a hit for Darius Rucker in the United States. The Carter version was the title track taken from his 2012 album, Wagon Wheel. He appeared with a live version of the song on the popular The Late Late Show on RTÉ, being his first 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 Sharpe Music, "Wagon Wheel" became a huge hit for Carter and was his first No. 1 song on the Irish Singles Chart. The single spent 47 weeks on the 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 totaled 52 weeks in the Irish Singles Chart (as of 5 December 2013).
Various versions were made available through iTunes including:
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.
"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
Timeflies released an online version of "Wagon Wheel" with new adapted lyrics using the refrain from the song.
Rockabilly singer Jason Lee Wilson covered the song with directionally correct lyrics on his 2010 album, "Big Gun".
Mumford & Sons covered the song during a BBC Radio 2 session.
In popular culture
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". Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine played the song on harmonica with local act Nikki Talley and Jason Sharp at the Catawba Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina on August 15, 2016.
In 2015, New Zealand rugby captain and All Blacks legend Richie McCaw was quoted as saying Wagon Wheel was his fourth favorite song. "He loves Wagon Wheel," Kieran Read revealed. "As soon as that comes on in the bus he will be tapping away and singing." The song itself was played on the lead up to matches, played frequently on the tour bus, and is highlighted as one of the main reasons for the team's success.
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