Darius Rucker, ‘Wagon Wheel’ – Lyrics Uncovered
Darius Rucker has taken ‘Wagon Wheel’ to the top of the charts this year, but did you know that the catchy tune isn’t one of Rucker’s originals? The ‘Wagon Wheel’ lyrics were actually co-written by Bob Dylan and members of the bluegrass band Old Crow Medicine Show — except they never actually collaborated in person.
‘Wagon Wheel’ was originally an unfinished, unnamed song that Dylan recorded on his 1973 ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ soundtrack session. Eventually, the song leaked to bootleggers and it made its way to Dylan’s fans. They coined the tune ‘Rock Me Mama,’ because the only lyrics they could understand were from the catchy chorus.
When Old Crow Medicine Show’s guitar player Chris “Critter” Fuqua visited London in the 9th grade, he first heard ‘Rock Me Mama’ — and he was hooked.
“I let [bandmate] Ketch [Secor] listen to it, and he wrote the verses, because Bob kind of mumbles them and that was it,” Fuqua tells a South Carolina newspaper of the ‘Wagon Wheel’ lyrics. “We’ve been playing that song since we were, like, 17, and it’s funny, because we’ve never met Dylan, but the song is technically co-written by Bob Dylan.”
Secor took those mumbles and turned them into lyrical gold. “Heading down south to the land of the pines / I’m thumbing my way into North Carolina / Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights,” Rucker sings in the country version.
Although OCMS played ‘Wagon Wheel’ at live shows for years, they didn’t release the song to radio until their major label debut, ‘O.C.M.S.,’ in 2004.
“What’s great about ‘Wagon Wheel’ is that it has grown organically,” Fuqua adds. “The popularity of it was all based on word of mouth. There was no radio airplay for it. We made a music video for it, but it wasn’t ‘November Rain’ or anything. No one was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s this video about?’ And 16 years later, it went gold…”
Since OCMS gave ‘Wagon Wheel’ new lyrics and new life, the song has been covered by everyone from hometown singers and songwriters to punk rock bands like Against Me. Finally, Rucker took his turn on the ‘Wagon Wheel’ in 2013, much to the delight of country fans.
The former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish added ‘Wagon Wheel’ to his third country album, ‘True Believers,’ and his version of the song has hit No. 1 on the country chart and No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But originally, the crossover country singer wasn’t a huge fan of the tune. It wasn’t until he heard teachers at his daughter’s school play a rendition of ‘Wagon Wheel’ at a school talent show that he wanted to cut his own version.
“So, I’m at my daughter’s high school talent show, and I’m sitting in the audience with my family. We were watching my daughter, and the faculty band gets up. It’s just the faculty from her school, and they play ‘Wagon Wheel,’” Rucker recalls. “I’m sitting in the audience, and they get to the middle of the chorus, and I turned to my wife, and I go, ‘I’ve got to cut this song.’ I’m serious. This all happened in three-and-a-half minutes, four minutes, while they’re playing the song.”
Before Rucker broke the news that he was releasing his own version of the song on ‘True Believers,’ he debuted it with OCMS at the Grand Ole Opry. It was instantly a smash hit. Thanks to his signature country twang, Rucker turned ‘Wagon Wheel’ into a country hit.
As one of the founders of the famous song, Fuqua has given Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel’ the OCMS stamp of approval.
“I think he sees something special in that song and understands it. He’s a country music fan and, more than that, he just loves music and loves playing,” Fuqua says. “I’m really glad he cut the track. It’s been good for him and good for us, but I’m just waiting for the time when people come up to me and say, ‘I love when you guys played that Darius Rucker cover.’”
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