Old Crow Medicine Show: Something Borrowed The Nashville band discusses its new album, Carry Me Back, and explains how its 2004 hit "Wagon Wheel" arose from an unfinished song sketch by Bob Dylan.

Old Crow Medicine Show: Something Borrowed

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The person who wrote this song says it was an accident. Actually, every song on the new album "Carry Me Back" was an accident, that according to the band Old Crow Medicine Show. The bluegrass alt country boys are back together and they're back on tour. Joining me from Nashville - where else - musicians Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua. Guys, thanks for being here.

KETCH SECOR: Hi, David. Thanks for having us.

CRITTER FUQUA: It's great to be here.

GREENE: So, Ketch, this song that we're hearing, "Levi," why are you calling it an accident? How'd it happen?

SECOR: Well, it's all because of your great radio broadcast. I was listening to the story unfold, as you all did a program about deceased American GIs from the war in Iraq, and you told the story of Levi Barnard, who I later befriended the family of, and wrote this song as soon as I heard your radio story.


GREENE: Remind us what happened to him. He was a first lieutenant, I believe.

SECOR: Yeah, and he grew up in Ararat, Virginia. And signed up for a hitch sort of at the last minute and didn't survive for very long in Iraq. Grew up in the mountainous region of just on the - around Galax, Virginia, and was a real country boy and was a big fan of Old Crow. You know, he hunted ginseng and he rode around on a four-wheeler and he listened to "Wagon Wheel." And so a song like this would be a tribute to not only Levi but a whole lot of country boys that have found their way over to Basra and to Jalalabad.

GREENE: You mentioned that Levi was a fan of you guys and he listened to "Wagon Wheel," which was your big hit from 2004. And I want to play a little of it to remind people of that song.

FUQUA: Yeah, spin it. Play it for Levi. He really liked this one.


SECOR: And I wrote that song when I was 17, and wrote this very kind of autobiographical daydream that you might have in between classes, you know, if you're flunking math. Then you might decide you want to write a song about hitchhiking away from New England and going back down South where you come from. Critter and I grew up in Virginia. We've been making music together for 20 years now, Critter and I.

GREENE: You met in the seventh grade.

SECOR: We were in Mr. Han's history class. And we were studying "The Red Badge of Courage" and we had this skit. I was a Union soldier who was shot in the hallway. And we acted it out in front of the class. Yeah, and right then we kind of figured that we'd be pals. You know, we were into acting out war scenes, and...

FUQUA: We used to meet downtown. We lived in a town where they had a farmer's market and the shoeshine stands and Mennonite farmers selling their wares and sidewalk preachers and things that were trappings of an older time. And even back then, it seemed like everything that we did together had a song to it. And that was even before we started making music together.

GREENE: You guys come together, you and Critter, and you're busking in Boone, North Carolina as I understand it. That's where you were really discovered for the first time.

SECOR: Oh, it must have been 12 or 13 years since we met Doc on the fifth of July in Boone, North Carolina.

GREENE: And Doc was...remind us about that story.

SECOR: Yeah, Doc Watson lived nearby. You know, he lived up in Deep Gap. And, of course, we knew him and listened to his records and were moved so by his sound. And we were busking on a street corner on the fifth of July, and I know it was the fifth because on the fourth was when we got that distiller. We had that steam keg from the Linville Hospital. They were closing it down, right, and Bennie bought the old steamer.

FUQUA: Steam keg?

SECOR: Well, we had made liquor on the stovetop before but we had never made it, you know, on the fire. And this was, like, a thump keg and there were fireworks. And remember I drank that white gas.

FUQUA: Oh yeah. You had a Mohawk.

SECOR: Yeah, right, yeah.


GREENE: Wow. This is moonshine made in a steamer?

SECOR: Yeah, yeah, like a steamed distiller apparatus. Well, the next morning rolled around and we were feeling pretty rough. And so we went downtown to make a little bit of rent money, 'cause it was like that. And we got there late. And we were pretty much busking to nobody. It was pretty empty, and we were real hungover. And, anyway, a woman came up in a red Jeep Cherokee. And she pulled over and she rolled down the window. And she said you boys sound so good. I love this kind of music. My dad loves this kind of music. And she came back about 25 minutes later and walked her father, Doc Watson. It was Nancy Watson. And Doc listened to us play and gave us a gig right there on the spot at the festival he had to honor his son Merle, who he has now joins.


SECOR: We also still busk with a lot of passion for it. 'Cause the music that we make, it really sounds good on a street corner. And one of the things that the street corner taught us was how to capture a crowd's attention. If you can't entertain on a street corner, what kind of country music maker are you? Dude.


GREENE: Critter, you left the band for a few years. What happened?

FUQUA: Actually, I got sober and then went to school. And was in Shriner University for three, four years. I got three years under my belt for an English degree.

GREENE: How much was alcohol a problem for you?

FUQUA: It was a pretty big problem.


GREENE: And was that starting to affect the music?

FUQUA: Yeah. Mostly, it was affecting me and whether I was going to continue on this Earth or not.

GREENE: How do you feel different, if you do, kind of coming back from that?

FUQUA: I feel a new freedom on stage. It's wonderful playing.


GREENE: And, Critter, I think you're in here playing accordion. Is that right?

FUQUA: Yeah, I was - I'm really not on this album too much. I was in the studio the last two days they were recording and I laid down an accordion track for this particular number.


GREENE: And, Ketch, let me ask you how does it feel to have Critter back as you're listening to this and, you know, his accordions in this song?

SECOR: Oh, it's great. It's a real homecoming. You know, when I was young I thought that Critter and I had a real chemistry. And we just really wanted to come to Nashville. Even when we were, you know, barely teenagers we talked about it.

GREENE: Before I let you go, Critter, I know you're back on a couple of songs on this new album. Is this official return after the fight to stop drinking and go to school? I mean, you back with the band for good now?

FUQUA: Yeah. For as long as it continues.


GREENE: Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua from the band Old Crow Medicine Show. Their new album, "Carry Me Back," is out July 17th, and that's when the band will be out on the open road on tour. Thank you guys for joining us.

FUQUA: Thank you.

SECOR: Thanks, David.

FUQUA: Thanks, everybody. Peace on Earth. See ya.


GREENE: And you can hear more from Old Crow's album "Carry Me Back" at nprmusic.org, where you can also listen to NPR's story about First Lieutenant Levi Barnard, the inspiration for the band's song. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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