This week's tune is quite different from most of what we've featured in the Scruggs-style TOTW. Old Crow Medicine Show's (OCMS) "Wagon Wheel" isn't a thoroughly bluegrassy song, but you'll hear it all the time at bluegrass jams (especially beginner-oriented ones).
The story of the song's writing is an interesting one... I'll keep it short by saying Bob Dylan recorded the chorus in a 1972 cut that is only available thanks to bootleggers, then OCMS' Keith Secor wrote the verses to it. They share authorship rights. (You can read a lot more about this via the Wagon Wheel Wikipedia page).
The song became very popular after it was released on OCMS' major label debut in 2004. An earlier version was released on the now out-of-print EP Troubles Up and Down the Road in 2001. It's been covered by a lot of artists. Old Crow Medicine Show's version was certified platinum in 2013. Darius Rucker's version went to #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart.
And before anyone else says it, let me get this out there--I know a lot of folks dislike this song for various reasons--because it ain't bluegrass, because it's so overplayed, because it's too simple, because the lyrics seem cliché or don't make sense (Johnson City is east of Cumberland Gap, after all).
But despite the haters, this tune has a lot of fans in the beginner banjo crowd because it's singable and slow. So let's keep it positive and just enjoy it for what it is--a tossed-off Dylan tune finished 30 years later by the frontman for an old-timey folk band which then became a Billboard hit thanks to a black country singer who fronted a band named "Hootie and the Blowfish." You can't make this stuff up!
Typically played in G or A.
Headed down south to the land of the pines
I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline
Starin' up the road
And pray to God I see headlights
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a hopin' for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight
So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a southbound train
Hey mama rock me
Runnin' from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now
Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin' me down
Lost my money playin' poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain't a turnin' back
To livin' that old life no more
Walkin' due south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly
Had a nice long toke
But he's a headed west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
And I gotta get a move on before the sun
I hear my baby callin' my name
And I know that she's the only one
And if I die in Raleigh
At least I will die free
(Taken from Old Crow Medicine Show's self-titled album)
Learn the Tune:
Hear itusing the GrooveShark playlist to the right.
We have a lesson video teaching you the lead break plus backup rolls from Casey Henry. Only $6 thru 1/19! Get it here >
Backing Tracks:Band in a Box tracks are included below at various speeds for your practicing pleasure.
We are a bluegrass band... We've not played a gig in the last 4 or 5 years when this song hasn't been requested.....most of the time more than once. Oddly enough, we were probably the first group to play it around here and people thought we had written it!!! No, it's not a traditional bluegrass song but for whatever reason people love it... They love to dance to it, sing along, etc. Great song regardless of what you call it!
Excellent! I'm taking a Pete Wernick Jam Camp in Nashville. We are encouraged to lead a song in one of the small group sessions. I did Wagon Wheel. I train wrecked it, but still having fun learning the do's & don't's & ways to improve.
Come home to find you'd posted this! Am psyched as with this info I can turn future train wrecks into more successful rides. wahoo!
Love the OCMS version. Was the 1st song I played with my cousins when we attempted a little jam session at our family reunion. It was the one song that all ages, from itty bitty to 80s, , knew. If they didn't know it they caught on pretty quick.