Back in 2001, Ketch Secor, of string-band revivalists Old Crow Medicine Show, took an unreleased fragment from Bob Dylan's soundtrack to the 1973 film, Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, originally called. "Rock Me, Mama", added his own verses to it, and created the 2st century standard, "Wagon Wheel".
Secor revised Dylan's rough draft to tell a story of a
pivotal point in his own life, in a manner both particular and universal.
The on-going, cross-genre appeal of "Wagon Wheel" today is a reminder just how
effectively older idioms can express contemporary experiences.
In November 2011, Secor, celebrating the song's reaching gold status, considered its origins in the blue tradition, " So, from Big Bill to Big Boy to Bob and on down to me, “Wagon Wheel”
has become a true American folksong, borrowed, half-stolen, and sung out
far and wide."
The First Wheel: The Blues and Mr. D.
How much of Dylan's original fragment comes from blues sources is unclear, at least to this listener. Ethno-musicological battles are best left to rock-critics-turned-blues-scholars like Greil Marcus, who hold the blues tradition as their rightful territory. While the wagon wheel is a well-established blues trope, the Broonzy version, often credited as the direct forbear, has different chords, melody, tempo and, where you can hear them, lyrics. So while Dylan may have begun by riffing on this blues standard, what he came up with was a new, if incomplete, thing. It's that new thing, with its indelible hook, that OCMS's Secor picked up and ran with.
And, for an alternate take on history, Jason Webley and Rev. Peyton tried to cover Dylan's version as closely as possible:
The Second Wheel: Old Crows and Under Grads
Despite the song being a product of the Internet age, it took a few years
for this song to spread to others who exist in the same musical Twilight Zone,
between darkness and light, ancient and modern, popular and acclaimed and enter the lexicon of the indie-folk
elite, including Scotland's Bodega, England's Mumford & Sons and upstate New Yorkers (and OCMS allies) The Felice Brothers.
The Third Wheel: Out of the Indie Rut
Recently, we've see the song creeping into the repertoire of both blues artists (Matt Anderson and Shane Dwight) and mainstream country aspirants like Jeremy McComb and Jason Lee Wilson (both of whom altered the beloved-by-college audiences 'had a nice long toke' line in their own special way.)
The Fourth Wheel: Punk It Up
Likely via former teenage anarchist, Tom Gabel of Against Me, the song has lately entered the punk vernacular. Gabel's versions, solo or with the band, both cleave close to the accepted style of the song, while Scranton, Pennsylvania The Mezingers add a bit of bite and new Chicago punk band The Fuckers tear the song up.
The Fifth Wheel: WTF DIY?!?
The often humourless Wikipedia has designated the song, "the new "Free Bird"" and boy does YouTube ever bear that charge out. Literally dozens of homebrew takes on the song are on tap for your consumption and believe me the variations are plentiful enough to make you woozy:
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