Armchair pop-music historians among you may remember how His Bobness sued ’90s frat-pop flagship outfit Hootie and the Blowfish (and won!) for pilfering the lyrics to “Idiot Wind” and “Tangled Up in Blue” on the band’s (Hootie and the Blowfish, not the other The Band) 1995 Dylan-homaging mega-hit “Only Wanna Be With You.” Well this year Hootie frontman turned unlikely country sensation Darius Rucker repaid his dept to Dylan in a roundabout way, when his and Lady Antebellum's version of “Wagon Wheel” — a song sketched by Dylan and completed years later by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor — went to No. 1 on the Billboard country singles chart.
“It’s so validating to me to see Bob Dylan be a part of today’s country music scene,” Secor told the Cream on the CMA Awards red carpet Wednesday. The song was up for Song of the Year (with Dylan nominated as co-writer) and Single of the Year, losing both, the latter to Florida Georgia Line’s bro-country crime against the aesthetic properties of sound, “Cruise.”
“Bob Dylan taught us, each and every one of us in this room, how to write songs,” Secor went on to say, “yet he’s not a part of mainstream country music. He really isn’t, but he was this year, and Darius Rucker made that happen.”
Indeed, the back story behind “Wagon Wheel” is pretty damned uncanny. The very year (1995) that Bob Dylan lawyered up on Hootie and the Blowfish, Secor, then only a whippersnapping 17 years old, took Dylan’s unfinished sketch “Rock Me Mamma” — a cast-off cut in 1972 during the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack sessions, kept alive only by bootleggers — and wrote his own verses around the song’s killer chorus to arrive at what would become “Wagon Wheel.”
It would eventually become Old Crow Medicine Show’s signature song, helping the group become, at press time, the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry, which inducted them in September. According to Secor, Rucker cut his version after hearing his kid’s school's faculty band play it at a talent show.
So, does Bob Dylan like “Wagon Wheel”?
Secor says he does, that he communicated his feelings on the song’s success to the singer “in kinda smoke signals.”
“He didn’t mention it,” Secor explains. “But I’m sure he [likes ‘Wagon Wheel’], because, I mean, imagine that your scrap can be a hit; Bob Dylan’s discarded song can come back around again 40 years later and wipe the table clean.
“What kind of song is that? It must be a Dylan song.”
Check out the evolution of "Wagon Wheel" (which has also been covered by Mumford & Sons, Matt Anderson, Against Me! and others) below: