Talking country music blues.
With an induction to the Grand Ole Opry, a new co-write with Bob Dylan and a storming new album in ‘Remedy’, it’s been a hell of a year so far for Nashville residents Old Crow Medicine Show. Vocalist, songwriter and string player Critter Fuqua kindly took time out from a hectic tour schedule to have a chat with us from Portland, Oregon.
You’re currently touring your latest album ‘Remedy’. How has it been working with new material and writing with Bob Dylan again?
This new album came out on July 1st. We started writing for it around the winter of 2013 and it’s a really great batch of songs. There’s a new Dylan and Old Crow co-write on there, which is great considering we’ve never actually met the person. We got another scrap of a song from the same batch that ‘Wagon Wheel’ came from – the ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ soundtrack from the 70s – and ‘Sweet Amarillo’ was born. It’s been really great for us.
It’s been a big year for Old Crow Medicine show. How does it feel to be inducted in the Grand Ole Opry.
Being a member of the Grand Ole Opry is great. It’s been about a year since our induction and it’s a bit like a dream. It’s surreal in a way to be members of that great family of country music. It’s quite an honour.
Being in there with your heroes must be a lot of fun and a lot to live up to.
It’s good and, yeah, I think we’re living up to it. It’s humbling to say the least.
The city of Nashville is twinned with my hometown of Belfast.
Yeah no one really knows why but you guys have visited a load of times. You obviously enjoy playing over here and working with Open House Festival.
We love Belfast every time we come over. We love Northern Ireland and Ireland and there’s a really big kinship between us and the Irish. You know this music we played when we started out, especially as an Appalachian old-time string band with the roots of the melodies, the ballads and the fiddle all comes from Ireland; from the immigrants that settled in the Appalachian south, in Virginia and Tennessee. It’s a sort of homecoming in a sense to come and play Belfast and other parts of Ireland. It’s always really good. I love it.
I think it was Van Morrison who claimed the Irish love of Americana was rational as the music was brought to America by the Irish is the first place. Now bands like Old Crow are bringing it home and doing it better.
I don’t know about better, but we’re doing it. To us it makes all the sense in the world. We’re all linked through the music. Irish immigrants came to America, settling all the way from New York down to places in the rural south to make their home in the mountains. Back then you couldn’t bring much else with you apart from your culture, your music and your ideas, so yeah, it makes all the sense in the world that American music would be popular in Ireland. It’s as much y’alls music as it is ours.
The Irish are also known for a love of bad country music. The whole country lost its shit over a cancelled Garth Brooks show and we’ve a guy called Nathan Carter who does a cheesy pop version of ‘Wagon Wheel’. Are people like this doing more harm than good for the genre?
I don’t really look at it as doing any kind of harm. You know that big corporate country music is what it is now. It’s radio friendly country and top forty and it’s very much pop music. There’s no real harm in doing it but we just don’t fit in that camp. There’s a new camp being set up though by people like us, Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers and people like that. We all want something more from country music. I certainly have liked my share of cheesy country songs in my time so I can’t say it really does any harm. That big country world is one we bump right up against but we’re not in. I see the corporate side of country and that kind of stuff all the time in Nashville yet ‘Wagon Wheel’ made it big without all that until Darius Rucker had a number one with it. Until then, it was never really on the radio so I think we can take it all with a grain of salt.
How did it feel watching Darius Rucker hit the top of the charts with ‘Wagon Wheel’? Was there a little envy or a sense of pride?
Darius was made a member of The Opry right before we were and we’ve been able to play ‘Wagon Wheel’ on stage with him at The Opry. He’s a great guy. He just loves to play music and it’s become a real win-win situation for both of us. That song had a lot to do with us becoming members of The Grand Ole Opry and shows you can be influential in the world of country music without being part of that corporate or big country world. I think it’s been really great for both us and Darius with it hitting number one.
That corporate country but also bands with beards and banjos are big business now. What does the future hold for analogue music in the digital age. Will the old time music endure?
Oh yeah I think it definitely will. It’ll endure but I think the important thing about country music is that it does have to change. It can change but still stay rooted. This new wave of Americana or roots music or whatever you want to call it is what’s going on now. There’s a lot of creativity in country music among these new bands that are coming out. Country music is a very creative art form and somewhere it’s lost some of that but I think we’re bringing it back. You can write about things that are relevant to you and what’s going on now. You don’t have to write about trucks or dogs on porches. You can write about the effects of people you know who’ve seen combat in Iraq or things going on in your home town and, you know, that’s good.
Do you think the new wave of bands coming through are enticing more people out to shows and growing an audience for old-time music?
It’s just growing and growing. Just last night we played in Portland and looking out at the audience there up in the north west of America there were so many demographics. You’ve got eighty year olds, little kids, families, the hippies and the rednecks and I think that people are realising that they have a stake in country music and that country music can be theirs and it doesn’t have to a closed off genre only for certain people.
You mentioned last night’s Portland show. It sounds like the tour’s going pretty well so far.
The tour is going well. This has been our longest one this year. We’ve a couple of weeks to go and then we’ll be back in Nashville for a couple of weeks off and then over across the pond.
It’s been a couple of years since you rejoined the band. Are you enjoying life out on the road and the cut and thrust of making music again?
It’s good, definitely good. It’s been a real different trip for me this past couple of years but, yeah, it’s been real good. We’re touring this album and for that we’ll be across the pond in Ireland, Scotland and England and we’ve got some Opry dates coming up. We’re focussing on touring the album right now, then taking a little break. The album’s the real focus right now.
Taking a break to recharge the batteries is a good move. We watched Springsteen play a four hour show last year. Do you reckon Old Crow will still be rocking out years from now?
Wow. Perhaps. I don’t know. I definitely think we could do it if we wanted to. There’s definitely staying power in this band. We’ve been doing this for about sixteen years and the way things are going in the music world today with Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers and Carolina Chocolate Drops – young people playing this music is the future. I’m not really that young anymore (laughs) but I think if we wanted to to we could definitely be playing ‘Wagon Wheel’ when we’re sixty years old.
Old Crow Medicine Show have talked about artists as signposts throughout time from Guthrie, to Dylan down to where we are today. Have you got the inside scoop as to any future signposts.
Definitely the Carolina Chocolate Drops. They’re an old-time string band. There’s this guy Sturgill Simpson who seems to be the real deal and we’ve got The Deslondes and Hooray for the Riff Raff playing with us. Most of the people I know of, and know what they’re up to are people we’ve been playing with out on the road. They’ve been opening up the shows and we’ve been inviting them up on stage and playing with them. Those are just a couple of the acts that come to mind.
It sounds like you relish playing with new acts. I guess you’re in the position to pick and choose your support acts.
We definitely get a choice in that we hand pick them and often times we pick them because we want to play with them. We always get them on stage and have an encore. Well, as Cowboy Jack said, “if you’re not having fun; you’re not doing your job”.
Some great bands for us to check out there. As you head off to Seattle for the next show who’s on the Old Crow tour bus mix tape?
We all listen to music before shows but really we play a lot of songs before we go on stage. I listen to a lot of heavy metal but I’ve also been listening to The Pogues for years. One of my favourite albums is ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’. It could be anything we listen to really, even regional. We pick up a lot of artist CDs here and there and listen to those so it could be anything.
Old Crow Medicine Show are bound for the UK and Ireland in October and play the Mandela Hall, Belfast with Open House Festival on 21st October 2014.
Critter Fuqua in action with Old Crow Medicine Show.