Old Crow Medicine Show – A prescription for the past
The young gents in the Old Crow Medicine Show are well-versed in the history of stomp. “We found that there’s a lot of music in the past with the same kind of high energy — the same ‘stomp’ — that rock and punk have,” frontman Ketch Secor explains. “If you keep going back you find there’s string-band music and jug-band music and blackface minstrels that were the very first form of entertainment. That’s the stuff we like.”
The Old Crow Medicine Show take the dusty old 78s from the late teens and early 1920s, clean them up and give them a second spin on their latest album Eutaw, released in April. The twenty-something troubadours combine primitive, back-porch mountain music with the earliest African-American music from Memphis and Louisville and the energy of country legends such as DeFord Bailey, the Delmore Brothers and Johnny Cash to create a traditional sound with the aggression of a Kurt Cobain solo.
Not many bands sport grown-out Mohawks while honoring old-time masters, but this paradox is essential to the Old Crow lifestyle. The members — including Willie Watson on guitar; “Critter” Fuqua on banjo, accordion, slide guitar and snare drum; Kevin “Cap” Philagree on banjitar (a six-string banjo that plays like a guitar); Matt Kinman on mandolin and bones (a folk instrument made from a split shinbone of a cow); and Ben Gould on doghouse bass — were raised in urban environments playing in guitar-driven rock bands. But in 1998 they launched a three-month tour across the U.S. and Canada as a wandering medicine show of the late 1800s.
When the tour ended, the band settled on an old farm near Boone, North Carolina. When they weren’t raising livestock or picking tobacco, the band drove to Boone in their black Cadillac limousine to busk the street corners. Flatpick guitar king Doc Watson heard the band and invited them to appear at MerleFest. The sensational gig led to weekly shows at the Opry Plaza last summer, where after a series of foot-stomping, string-breaking shows, they were invited inside for a spot on the Grand Ole Opry.
The Old Crow Medicine Show will hit the road again this summer, opening for Del McCoury, Junior Brown and Robert Earl Keen. The high-energy six-piece likely will continue to surprise new fans with fast and flawless music and a colorful stage presence. “Willie likes to dress up,” Secor says. “He’s got a Prince & the New Power Generation jacket that he looks really good in. Critter likes to dress like a South Texan, and other times like a cowboy. Everybody’s developed their own kind of style…I’d say we’re pretty fashionable!”