SELLING THE SNAKE OIL
Old Crow Medicine Show are nearing their 20th year as a band and ahead of their Australian tour, Ketch Secor explains to Chris Familton how they came to celebrate a famous Dylan album, why he was recently called by Johnny Cash’s son and he reveals they have a new album due soon.
“We’re entertainers so whatever the script is, you can bet we’re going to sell the snake oil.“ That’s the enthusiastic response from Ketch Secor, talking about his band’s upcoming shows in Australia and their celebration of 50 years of Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album. “We’re gonna play the record, add some other Dylan songs and play some Old Crow songs. We’re going to frame it in a way that makes it really exciting,” he adds.
Plenty of bands cover other artists and take part in tribute shows but Old Crow took it to the next level with live performances and a live album and DVD for their new label Columbia.
“It started as a show when the Country Music Hall Of Fame asked us to honour this milestone and they wanted us to do a live concert at the Hall Of Fame so we did that. We decided to record it for posterity and then we decided to get a couple of cameras on it and we just liked it so much. It felt like such a different Old Crow yet it really unifies us,” Secor opines. “They’re these songs you know yet they sound like us playing them. There was a unique quality to the recordings and then we found this new relationship with Columbia Records. They’d put out Blonde On Blonde in 1966 and they were keen to put out this retrospective. It’s amazing for someone who loves Bob Dylan as much as I do,” he enthuses.
Secor is always happy and eager to engage in discussion about Dylan and his wide ranging influence on popular music of the last 50 years. “I don’t think anybody has been as influential as Bob Dylan,” he states unequivocally. “I think you have to go to a source and he was just the first at so many things. Double records, there wasn’t one before Blonde On Blonde, The White Album didn’t come out before that. He was the one who said that one record wasn’t enough. He learned that from somebody else, jazz records were doing it in the 1960s but Bob was the first in rock ’n’ roll to say that he could too. You can’t look at Bob as an influential figure without looking at Bob’s influences and that’s where I find so much commonality with him. Old Crow doesn’t sound like Bob and doesn’t do what he does but we listen to the same people that he listened to. He’s the gateway for so many American musicians. The signpost that sends you to Woody Guthrie and The Clancy Brothers. Bob is like this rosetta stone for understanding pre-war music that is so vital and echoes so much in the post-war generation.”
The band’s last album, Remedy, came out in 2014 and in passing Secor reveals that its followup isn’t far away. “In the past three weeks we’ve been out playing Old Crow music and some new songs from our next record which is coming out next year in the Australian fall.” Pressed on details, he reveals that they’ve worked with producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell). “Doing Blonde On Blonde really helped us to make the next record because Dave said he didn’t want us to rehearse. He just said ‘play Blonde On Blonde and let that be your rehearsal’. We were really good at playing that but we didn’t know any of our new songs. It had a funny sort of training wheel effect for recording our own record just ten days later.”
The band’s upcoming tour is in association with the Americana Music Association and the Tennessee Dept Of Tourism, the former of which didn’t exist when Old Crow first started out. “My band came around before there was anything that was referenced as Americana music so I always felt like I’d been in the parking lot before they put the tent up and I was playing on the curb so I was like “Hey man, we don’t need this big tent, let’s play out here with the hobos”, but it has since become a building and now they’ve put our picture on the wall inside,” he laughs. “It’s a dream for us is to play in Australia. We have a great fascination with your land and people and there’s a lot to learn from this cultural exchange.”
Looking ahead it appears that Old Crow Medicine Show are on a roll with more Blonde On Blonde shows lined up this year before they ready their new LP for release.
“I just got a call from Johnny Cash’s son John Carter who has a couple of Johnny’s songs that are unfinished and I’ve been working on those. There’s no rest here in this line of work. After you get to this point – becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry, getting involved in the Country Music Hall of Fame, there are so many neat thing that happen if you can stick around. If you get a toehold in that door, prise it open and work really hard and keep hustling year after year, we found that on the other side of that there is so much more than just playing songs on the stage, so many more ways to be impactful. I alway love the stage and will always return to it but I’m also excited about new ways to explore American roots music and I look forward to what the next 20 years will bring.”