NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Darius Rucker is a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show, but says he didn’t really get what was so infectious about the string band’s signature hit “Wagon Wheel” at first.
Then he heard the faculty band at his daughter’s school play the song and it all started to open up for him.
“I’m sitting there listening to it and I say to myself what I always say to myself, ‘I want to cut this song,’” Rucker said. “I say it all the time but I never end up cutting anything. But with this song it was, ‘All right, let’s try it.’ I didn’t know how big it was until after I cut it, until after it was a single. I didn’t know that every college student south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the last eight years knows this song. I had no idea. I thought it was just another Old Crow song until I recorded it and realized it wasn’t just another Old Crow song.”
So far, Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel” is the most successful song of his country career. The cut from his third Nashville-recorded album, “True Believers,” out this week, has sold nearly 1.2 million copies and sat atop the country charts for three consecutive weeks earlier this year.
It’s another interesting chapter in the history of a song that’s slowly working its way toward American classic status. Like “House of the Rising Sun” or “Good Night, Irene,” it’s now a pop song with a long back story that tantalizingly trickles out before you reach the wellspring.
Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show first encountered the song when his friend and future bandmate Chris “Critter” Fuqua brought home a Bob Dylan bootleg from a trip to London that contained an outtake from the singer’s “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid” soundtrack sessions called “Rock Me, Mama.” It wasn’t so much a song as a sketch, crudely recorded featuring most prominently a stomping boot, the candy-coated chorus and a mumbled verse that was hard to make out.