VISIONS OF AMERICANA
Old Crow Medicine Show is bringing its reinvention of a Dylan masterpiece to Australia. By Iain Shedden
Nothing is sacred in American music, according to Old Crow Medicine Show’s singer and fiddle player Ketch Secor. That would have to be the starting viewpoint, one would think, for anyone considering doing their own version of one of the most revered albums in history, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.
“You just have to clean it, make it yours, feel it,” Secor says.
The musician and his colleagues in the acclaimed Nashville Americana band did exactly that last year, taking Dylan’s classic 1966 double album and reinventing it in their own image in front of a sellout crowd at Nashville’s CMA Theatre, part of the city’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The recording of that show became an album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde, in April this year, prompting a world tour, the tail-end of which sees Old Crow Medicine Show returning to Australia later this month to perform its interpretation of Dylan’s opus.
It’s a project very close to Secor’s heart. He has been a Dylan tragic for most of his life, so he knows the Nobel prize-winner’s music inside out. “I can’t imagine my life without him when I was aged 12 or even 10,” says Secor, who teamed up with Old Crow’s guitarist Critter Fuqua when they were in seventh grade in the town of Harrisonburg in Virginia.
“I absorbed that material all through my teen years,” he says. “A lot of teenagers didn’t, but they’ve got ’im now.”
By that Secor means that through Old Crow’s version of Blonde on Blonde, which remodels songs such as Just Like a Woman, Pledging My Time and Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat in a rootsy, acoustic setting, the band has been able introduce a younger demographic to Dylan’s music. “We’ve turned on a lot of youngsters to Bob Dylan,” he says.
“There are a lot of them who are Old Crow fans who have never really listened to him. They missed the boat on it. That’s so odd for me, because I grew up with him.”
The world is awash with Dylan purists, including in Australia, but so far Old Crow has not encountered any backlash against its bold take on his work. “I’m often aware of audience members that are those old Dylan fans who take notes through a Dylan show,” says Secor.
“We are such a newer generation that I think that they are just tickled by it. They can see all the Dylan brushstrokes that we put into making our version of the album. They see that our version of Just Like a Woman comes from The Concert for Bangladesh [as part of Dylan’s contribution to the two concerts hosted by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1971].
“You can tell, if you’re a hardcore Dylan fan, that it’s Bangladesh. There’s George Harrison’s guitar part on there.
“Because I’m such a hardcore Bob Dylan fan, if you are a hardcore Bob Dylan fan you can see that we knew what we were doing.”