Photo | Crackerfarm
Band members Charlie Worsham, Joe Andrews, Morgan Jahnig, Ketch Secor, Cory Younts and (not pictured) Critter Fuqua.
Band: Old Crow Medicine Show with special guest Charlie Worsham
Date: Wednesday, Sept. 4 with doors at 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $24.50 to $44.50, available through Ticketmaster
When the Saenger brings Old Crow Medicine Show to the Azalea City, locals flock to the stage (literally). From the band’s early beginnings busking on the street to their regular appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, Old Crow’s modern take on archaic country sounds has the tendency to whip audiences into a frenzy.
The band’s latest album, “Volunteer,” is another stellar collection of classically inspired bluegrass and country that fans should love in the live setting. Old Crow is also preparing for the release of an album called “Live at the Ryman.”
The always charming Ketch Secor, a founding member, took time to discuss the band, the new album and the Alabama litmus test with Lagniappe’s music editor, Stephen Centanni.
Stephen Centanni: When it comes to the modern alt. folk/Americana movement, you guys were there at the beginning. Now it’s one of the most popular genres out there in the mainstream. What do you think about the growth of the modern Americana scene since you first started?
Ketch Secor: When we first became a band and were selling cassettes, “Americana” was a term used by quilters. So we have definitely preceded the creation of this genre. My take on it is like that of how a Cherokee feels about the United States of America. There’s a nativist quality to having been around ahead of a commodity.
I love that fiddles and banjos can be a part of the conversation again. After all, that’s the instrumentation of the origin of country music. I do think of myself as a maker of country music. I play the fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry, and if that ain’t country … In fact, I have Roy Acuff’s fiddle and I play it at the Grand Ole Opry. I think it’s wonderful that Americana music has been able to grow and embrace all of the artists that make a wide spectrum of country music sounds. I still feel very much that I am a maker of country music. If I’m not, then what is country music?
Centanni: The new album is called “Volunteer.” What’s the story behind the album title?
Secor: There’s that spirit that’s one of the hallmarks of being a Tennessean. We’re called this because of a campaign to get soldiers enlisted in a last-minute effort. That’s where we get the term. For me, it’s the feeling of volunteering for a life in country music, which takes some serious volunteerism.
Despite all of the claims that have come in the more recent years, it’s been a real slog giving my life to country music. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t handed to me. I had to wrestle it down.
Old Crow really had to clear some wild terrain in order to make our own little plot in country music. The volunteer spirit has been a defining characteristic of our band. Our audiences have found out about us not by the radio but by word of mouth, one campfire at a time. We built something really grassroots, so that title is appropriate to what Old Crow is.
Centanni: You brought in producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) for this album, and he’s pretty much the magic man in Nashville right now. What was it like working with Cobb?
Secor: Well, it’s the first time that I’ve ever worked with a producer who’s at the zenith of his career. We’ve worked with some really great-named producers, but there was nobody who was having such acclaim at the moment that we were working with them. So, it’s been exciting. The fact that it is Dave Cobb, too, somebody who is looked upon as an alternative stylist who is bringing people back to the roots with his sounds and technique, has been great for us, because we’ve always been on the outer periphery of mainstream country.
Centanni: The album is great, and it’s the Old Crow Medicine Show that people love. However, you do have a couple of curveballs in there, and I like these curveballs. You’ve got this old-school blues thing going on with “Child of Mississippi.” Then you have a ’50s style honky-tonk number called “Dixie Avenue.” How did those songs find their way on the album?
Secor: I wrote those with Critter (Fuqua). As far as “Child of Mississippi,” my first memories are of living on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and traveling, oftentimes down Highway 90 to Florida and other places along the way.
One of the first words that I ever attempted to say was “Mississippi.” So, these memories have given me a sense of place within this landscape, even though I’m not native to the Gulf Coast. I’ve spent a lot of time there and along the Mississippi River. So I wanted there to be kind of a song about the kid that I wished that I was.
“Dixie Avenue” is a song that we wrote about growing up in the Shenandoah Valley in our hometown. Critter and I grew up in a town called Harrisonburg, Virginia. This was a place where a street called Dixie Avenue ran through town. There were some girls who lived on it who had a house where we could party when we were 15, and they would buy us beer. It was pretty sweet, man. I knew that someday Dixie Avenue would make it into a song. We actually wrote it and pitched to Darius Rucker. We thought that he might like to jam on it, but that didn’t work out.
Centanni: You also have “Live at the Ryman” coming out. After all these years of being a constant on the Grand Ole Opry stage, what finally brought this album to life?
Secor: Well, we were sitting on so many recordings. We’ve been playing there since about 2000 and we started making recordings of all of our concerts at the Ryman in about 2009. So we’ve got 10 years of recordings that we’re sitting on. When the Ken Burns movie [“Country Music”] started getting made, I became an advisor to the film. Now that it’s finished, I appear heavily in episode one, and I’m sort of setting the stage for the origins of country music’s story and the Big Bang of country music. I guess you’d say that I’m one of the talking heads that discusses this in the film. The movie comes out in the middle of September. So, we really wanted to have something ready to go that could be part of the context of the film. It would be a concert album here at the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, by a band that could be considered a resident of the Ryman.
Centanni: What can we expect from the album?
Secor: I think there’s a lot of high-spirited energy on it. If you or any of your readers have never travelled to Nashville to see a concert at the Ryman, I highly recommend it. It’s the spiritual epicenter of Nashville. It was built because of a divine intervention from God. This steamboat captain, industrialist type of dude wanted to quit his sinning ways and build a church. He didn’t want it to be a church like he had ever heard of a church before. He wanted a congregational gathering place like a tabernacle. He built it in the 1890s, and 125 years later it’s Nashville’s premiere music/concert/political campaign/ballet venue. They just do everything there.
Centanni: When will we get the next studio album?
Secor: We’ve been writing a lot in the past couple of months with some great songwriters and our more typical Old Crow collective and coming up with some new tunes. Usually Old Crow finds that if a song flies in the state of Alabama, then it will serve Old Crow fans around the world. Your state is a litmus test for us. We hope that our Alabamian audience likes what we do, because if they like it, then everybody else will. There’s a seal of approval that comes from playing music in Alabama when you’re a Southern band.
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