For many in the bluegrass world, the overriding feeling is that they have no choice but to solely praise their forefathers in the field when asked of influences. New musicians in their teens feel the need to list artists who played in the 1940s, not because they are great, but because they don’t want to be unfairly labeled as “nugrass” or faux-traditionalists.
So give Old Crow Medicine Show, Americana’s most famous bluegrass string band, credit for wearing their love of Bob Dylan on their sleeves.
The band, which plays downtown Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium Oct. 19, first gained widespread notice based on the success of its hit song “Wagon Wheel.” That song, taken from a chorus and melody recorded by Dylan in 1973 and fleshed out with verses by Old Crow member Ketch Secor some 25 years later, was the first indication that the band would always be associated with the gifted songwriter.
Now, more than a decade removed from the band’s first Dylan-assisted success, the group is traveling the world behind the strength of its most recent release: “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.” “Blonde on Blonde,” a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s groundbreaking album of the same name, is a live recording of a May 2016 celebration at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where they covered the 1966 album in its entirety upon the stage of the CMA Theater.
“We are big fans of Dylan, but that’s not what really led us to making this album,” said a sleepy Chris “Critter” Fuqua from Australia, where the group is on a tour with the Americana Music Association.
“We were asked last summer ... if we wanted to cover the whole album live for two nights of shows at the Hall,” Fuqua said. “We jumped at the chance. We had never planned to release it as an album, but we liked it so much that we did, and then a few weeks ago we came out with the DVD for it.”
Area fans won’t have to rely on a DVD to see the band perform the album live, however. Not only will they be performing “Blonde” in its entirety in Raleigh, but the night promises two full sets of music as well as encores. “Blonde” includes Dylan’s hits “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “I Want You,” “Just Like a Woman” and “Visions of Johanna.”
“Sweet Amarillo” may also be on the set-list, another collaboration with Dylan that has gone on to be a fan favorite – this one on the band’s 2014 release “Remedy.” While that song was another success for the band, and helped that album win the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album, it has made some observers question if the band has just become very adept at riding Dylan’s coattails to success.
“Dylan was an especially large influence on me and Ketch (Secor, a multi-instrumentalist in the band),” Fuqua says. “As far as being too overshadowed by Dylan, I’ve never really worried about it. I think he’s a big influence, but we have so much more original material ... so it’s all good. I think if people think of us that way, that’s cool, too.”
That talent for original material is especially prevalent on the Blonde project. Despite the original Dylan version being a perennial contender in various music publications’ Best Albums of All Time lists, in OCMS’s hands, the songs go in an unmistakably innovative direction.
The six members of the band all show a knack for respecting the music that came before them, while simultaneously showing no fear in adding their own flourishes to a subject.
“We could only do it like us, just like Dylan could only do it like Dylan,” Fuqua said. “I think the ultimate form of respect is to do it like yourself, because you can’t do it like the (original) artist, and there’s no real need to do it like the artist before.
“Not to compare us to Jimi Hendrix by any means, but when Hendrix did (Dylan’s) ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ that kind of made that song his own; I would even go so far as to say that his is the definitive version of that song. You have to make it your own, because we don’t want to treat songs as these fragile things; we like to break the glass and screw around with them, you know?”
Who: Old Crow Medicine Show
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19
Where: Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Cost: $31.15, $41.15, $51.15, or Ticketmaster.com