Darius Rucker, songwriter Ketch Secor and about a hundred admirers gathered on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Monday (Sept. 16) for a celebration of Rucker’s No.1 smash hit, “Wagon Wheel.”
After extensive remarks by friends and associates in the industry, Rucker amiably and humbly addressed the crowd.
“I want to start by saying thank you to Ketch and Bob Dylan for writing such an amazing song that I think God brought into my life,” he said. “So many guys had recorded it, and after I recorded it, I had five different artists come up to me and say, ‘I was just about to record that!'”
After a hearty laugh, Rucker added, “You know, that song is probably always going to be the biggest song I ever have in country music. It was so huge, and it just took off.”
While some No. 1 parties can be awkward when the songwriters and artists don’t know each other well, this one was filled with joking, hugging and beaming.
Rucker added, “I want to take a second to say to Old Crow Medicine Show, to all you guys, you have been awesome to me in the press. The things that you guys have said about me in the press, every time you made me smile. Critter, you said one time in the press that you were waiting for people to say to you after the show, ‘You did that Darius Rucker song real good!’ I love you as a band, and you’re now my brothers in the Grand Ole Opry. And I just wanted to say thank you for being as cool as you have been because you didn’t have to be — and you have been.”
Secor is the lead singer and co-founder of Old Crow Medicine Show, which will be inducted into the Opry on Tuesday night (Sept. 17). “Wagon Wheel” has long been the band’s signature song.
Although the members of Lady Antebellum were not present at the event, they did receive a ringing endorsement from Rucker.
“I wanted somebody to sing on the record, but we didn’t know who to get,” he noted. “I was on tour with those guys, and I just said, ‘Let’s try to get those guys.’ They all said yes and came down and did it and, really for me, took the record to a whole new level. I was saying earlier, the first time I heard them on it, all I could think was, ‘This sounds like Lou Rawls with the Jordanaires,’ and that’s still what it sounds like to me when I listen to it.”
Rucker went on to compliment longtime producer Frank Rogers for putting a unique stamp on “Wagon Wheel” even though it was far different from Old Crow Medicine Show’s version.
“We said when we started recording this record, we can’t do it like Old Crow. The way they do it is too perfect. We could never pull that off, so we have to go the opposite way and do it as country as we can do it,” Rucker said. “Frank did that with the players and just took it to a whole new level. I can never thank you enough for being the guy.”
He continued, “And last but not least, and I’ll say it again, the best thing that came out of this for me is my friendship with Ketch. Sure, I’ve got a No. 1 record and I’ve sold millions of records on that, but just to be friends with this guy… who I can’t believe I have to talk after! He’s a freaking poet. You should read his emails. His emails are poetry! I’m like, ‘Dude, stop!'”
After another round of laughter, Rucker added, “It’s just really cool to be friends with Ketch, and I’m becoming better friends with the guys in Old Crow because I’m just a singer in a cover band that got really lucky. I got really, really lucky. God has blessed me with so many great things. And the greatest of all those are all the friendships I’ve made in Nashville.”
Much like a poet, Secor addressed the audience eloquently and thoughtfully. But in his opening remarks, presented just before Rucker’s time at the microphone, he tossed off a few one-liners.
“It’s a pleasure to be at the Ryman Auditorium tonight. Especially when you don’t have to lug in four violins, three banjos and 16 harmonicas,” he teased. And with a shrug of his shoulders, he added, “You just get to show up in your rented coat.”
All kidding aside, Secor spoke highly of the historic surroundings.
“The Ryman Auditorium truly embodies the spirit of country music,” he said. “Roy Acuff said that what makes country music so special is that it’s not learned, it’s inherited. And that’s how I feel about ‘Wagon Wheel.’ It’s not so much that I sat down to write a really great song. It’s almost like I sat down and had this song entrusted to me.”
In 1995, a cassette tape that Secor was given by his friend Critter Fuqua ultimately led to “Wagon Wheel.” Inspired by Dylan’s unusual performance on the tape, the teenaged Secor wrote his own lyrics around it, then told Fuqua they’d be singing the new tune for the rest of their lives.
Relying on his own research, Secor said that Dylan credited R&B star Big Boy Arthur Crudup for the song’s origins. Meanwhile, Crudup had stated that an earlier R&B singer, Big Bill Broonzy, wrote the “Rock Me Mama” hook.
“That brings us up to about 75 years between the pen strokes and in the margins,” Secor said. “So it’s no wonder, then, that I had to pass the song along, as well. In this case, to Darius Rucker, in order for ‘Wagon Wheel’ to finally reach its zenith in the canon of American song for all time. So I’d like to thank Darius first and foremost. You know, a lot of people could have cut this song, and I’m just so pleased that it was somebody who might even be a bigger Dylan fan than I.”
After thanking the band’s manager, their former label and the Opry, Secor brought his speech full circle.
“Darius knows, like I do, the very unique nature of this song,” he stated. “And I think that he sees, like I do, the privilege as well as the pleasure of getting to share this beautiful Bob spirit with all of the people assembled.”