Ketch Secor’s first collaboration with Bob Dylan was undertaken without the rock legend even being aware of it. In 1973, Dylan recorded an unfinished song usually called “Rock Me Mama” during the sessions for the soundtrack to “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” Thirty years later, Secor picked up that scrap of a song and finished it for his band Old Crow Medicine Show’s self-titled debut album. The result was “Wagon Wheel,” which has become a barroom staple and a 2013 No. 1 country hit for ex-Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker.
Ten years later, Secor and Dylan worked together again, this time with Dylan’s full involvement — sort of. Secor still has yet to meet his reclusive collaborator, but Dylan had his manager deliver another unfinished song to Secor and offered his input from afar during the recording of Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album, “Remedy,” released last month.
“It was strange for me, because I haven’t worked with anybody that way,” Secor acknowledges. “But it makes total sense when I think about how one writes with Bob Dylan. You write with Bob Dylan with 43 years between your pen strokes.”
“Sweet Amarillo” is an uptempo waltz with a hint of recognizable Dylan cadences, but it also fits right in with the entirely Old Crow-penned songs on “Remedy.” Secor acknowledges that the band was audibly nervous when they began recording, knowing that Dylan was looking over their shoulders. “Everybody in the band was keenly aware that Bob Dylan was going to be hearing our demo,” he says. “Our first work tape was pretty unsure and I think everybody second-guessed their playing. But the feeling of having an unfinished Bob Dylan song on our table was like being rubbed in stardust.”
“Remedy” marks the debut of Old Crow’s new line-up, which Secor calls “the band that we are always meant to be.” The band combines traditional country instrumentation with a garage-rock rawness, stripping away the gloss that mars so much modern country music.
As inspiration, Secor cites another folk music icon, this one recently lost. “Pete Seeger’s gone,” he says, “and we’re here with a banjo singing a catalogue that draw heavily from the American canon of song. So we’re a folk band and a country band and we’re called an Americana band, and then we like rock and roll too. So I don’t really know where we fit in, but I think Levon Helm would’ve liked it a whole lot.”