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The band Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show

The new fashion in 
Old Timey Music


The world of Old Timey Music had is heyday in the 1920's and 30's and the forerunner of modern-day country music and bluegrass. An amalgam of blues, vintage folk songs and mountain music we saw a revival beguine with the success of the critically acclaimed five-time Grammy winning soundtrack from the movie 'O Brother Where Art Thou" in 2001.

Styling their music somewhat in the Old Timey guise, the Old Crow Medicine Show stole the show at Cambridge Folk Festival 2004. The band made up of Kevin Hayes - guitjo; Margan Jahnig - dog-house bass; Ketch Secor - fiddle harmonica, and banjo; Willie Watson - guitar and banjo and new member Gilbert Landry - resonator guitar, acoustic guitar and banjo, with all but Jahnig taking a turn on vocals. While touring in the summer with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings who were booked to play Cambridge, the band visited the site as guests and not scheduled as part of the festival's line-up. As is the busking way with O.C.M.S, the band played a spontaneous set outside Mojo magazine's small signing tent drawing a highly appreciative crowd. Amongst that crowd was the festivals' organiser Eddie Barcan, who was greatly impressed by the band. As one of the scheduled acts had missed their flight and left a void in the program, Barcan asked O.C.M.S to fill in on the Main Stage, which drew over 7,000 people with great approval, and Radio 2's Mark Radcliff calling them "the highlight of the festival."photo of the band

Old Crow Medicine Show returned to Britain during the later part of July 2005 for a tour of eight venues including two performances at Cambridge Folk Festival 2005. This is their third time in the UK within the past 12 months and around April 2005 they appeared on Jules Holland's TV show. Amongst the round of media interviews the band did during this tour, I had the opportunity to speak to fiddle player and vocalist Ketch Secor who declared: "We're glad to be back. We sure like the British audience and they like us! We had a great reception for our first show at Brighton last night (Wednesday 20 July) and a now we have a show in London tonight." (This show was the evening of the second wave of bomb attacks in London. When I saw the band at Manchester the following night we were told that the problems earlier in London had had very little effect on the fans going out to see the band perform. Ketch Secor announced, "the underground was closed, but the Londoners still came out…they either walked or took cabs!")

I had to ask the inevitable question that everyone must be wondering…. how did they come by the name Old Crow Medicine Show. "Just one of those things that come about, we just pulled the name together…made it up", came back the answer from Ketch. And what could be more appropriate for a band that perform a style of music that would pull in the crowds for the travelling medicine shows some 80-100 years ago.

The music Old Crow plays has been called retro, or revivalist, but there is more to the Old Crow Medicine Show than just covering a range of vintage folk songs and mountain music. Several covers of traditional songs are found on their current album O.C.M.S that the band have arranged to suit their own style and Ketch Secor has included additional lyrics to the Bob Dylan song "Wagon Wheels". Of the eleven songs found on O.C.M.S, band members have written five. Their Live album recorded at the Station Inn, Nashville is also well worth more of Old Crowseeking out as it gives a taste of what to expect from this lively band on stage.

What draws a young band to this style of music? Secor states: "We were drawn to the music of Bob Dillon and Steve Young and Pete Seeger and then the hillbilly bands and jug bands from the 20's-30's. There's a little bit of bluegrass and a bit of old timey music and of course a bit of Nashville, but we are mostly ourselves."

Kevin Hayes plays a guitjo, an instrument that I hadn't come across before and asked Ketch to explain a little about the instrument. "The guitjo is a six-string banjo that was quite popular back in the 1920's. It was played by some of the hillbilly bands…the jazz bands such as Louis Armstrong included it in his band and it was very popular with blues bands of the time. Over time it was dropped in jazz for the more favourable 4 string tenor banjo and the blues bands dropped the banjo altogether. Kevin Hayes is possibly the only guitjo player in country music!"

The five-band members are from four different states and joined forces in New York. So how did they come into contact with each other; "We came together from different connections and formed the band before some of the members had even met each other" comments Secor. They travelled around busking on street corners and while playing outside a pharmacy in North Carolina the band had the good fortune to meet the daughter of folk-icon Doc Watson. Ketch Secor explains how it came about; "We were busking on a street corner outside a drugstore in the small North Carolina town of Boon. Doc was in the drugstore café and came out to listen to us. He liked us so much that he invited us to perform on his festival and from there we were invited to play the Grand Ole Opry. Just like when we were busking outside the Mojo tent at Cambridge and ended up on the main stage….we were busking on a street corner and ended up on MerleFest. We've been very lucky playing on street corners and luck is part of being a musician. The music business is often being in the right place at the right time…it's like fate!!!"

Relocating to Nashville from North Carolina in 2001, Old Crow made their Grand Ole Opry debut on the Ryman Auditorium stage that year, where they received a standing ovation…rare for a debut performance. They made their national television debut on CMT's Grand Ole Opry Live in 2002 and have appeared in several documentaries: PBS's American Roots Music series; In the Valley Where Time Stands Still, a film about the history of the Renfro Valley Barndance; and Bluegrass Journey, a portrait of the contemporary bluegrass scene.

Nashville offered another stoke of luck or fate that brought the Old Crow Medicine Show together with acclaimed American folk singer Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings in 2002; Ketch explains "Gillian and Dave were at home one Friday or Saturday and when musicians are not on the road or playing gigs, the weekend is a time to catch-up on your laundry and they heard us on the Grand Ole Opry." They were really taken with Old Crow and a couple of months later Dave contacted the band and then went on to produce their O.C.M.S. album, in 2004. The album was recording at two of Nashville's most famous album coverstudios…the legendary RCA Studio B (Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings all recorded there) and Woodland Sound Studios where the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded their Grammy-perennial 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' project from 1972. The relationship has lasted well over the past couple of years and Old Crow Medicine Show has toured on several occasions with Gillian and Dave.

In April 2005 the band played Texas…not a particular hot bed of bluegrass and Old Timey music, but the band were readily accepted; "Texas is really into fiddle music. Though bluegrass and old timey music isn't the most popular music there, they do like the fiddle…western swing started out there. The music of Eck Robertson is worth searching for, (Eck Robertson was one of the most noteworthy fiddlers and famous as the first person to record a commercial country music record on June 30 and July 1,1922, for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studios). We started our tour in Dallas, played Houston and Austin where they like all kinds of different styles of music. The South By South West festival draws completely eclectic styles of music," affirms Ketch.

Over the past couple of years Old Crow have had several videos on CMT and a short while ago Norah Jones who's more known as a jazz singer performed "We're In This Together' for a Tsunami fundraising concert on NBC. Ketch remarks; "We met Nora while we were in New York. It was great to see Nora performing our song on such a show that was bringing a whole range of famous artists together such as Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) performing for a charity event that brought together people from all over the world giving their support to people who'd virtually lost everything. The title of the song says it all "We're In This Together".

The Old Crow Medicine Show gave two stunning sets at Manchester University's venue Academy 3 (formerly The Hop & Grape).  Drawing a good crowd they soon had the whole place jumping with their youthful enthusiasm, bags of energy and good interaction with the audience and of course very entertaining.  A new album is in the pipeline and scheduled for release in 2006 with the band including a couple of number that will be found there.  The close came all to soon with Old Crow Medicine Show treating the crowd with two encores and the fans still baying for more.  All they needed was a few bottles of that Old Snake Oil…they could have sold anything!!!! Don't miss them next time they come to town!