Despite growing up in North Carolina, I don’t listen to a lot of what most American’s would call ‘Country Music’ (1). However, I recently came across this song, which hit #1 in the Country charts, and I’ve got to admit, I absolutely love it.
In fact, my love for the song extends beyond Darius Rucker’s wonderful voice, and it being a great, rolling-along, driving tune, containing the wonderful line ‘If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free!’. No, there are two other reasons I love this song.
The first is that the origins of the song lead straight back to my all-time favourite artist, Bob Dylan. Dylan wrote the tune and the refrain around the same time he wrote ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. He went so far as to record a version before consigning it to the trash can. Eventually, the bootleggers go a hold of that recording and released it. Years later, it reached the ears of Ketch Secor, lead-singer for Old Crow Medicine Show. He loved the tune, but couldn’t make out any of the words in Dylan’s mumbled lyrics, so he wrote new ones. The new song, Wagon Wheel became the group’s signature song, with Ketch and Dylan listed as co-writers.
The other reason is more personal and relates to Darius Rucker. As many will know, Rucker was once the lead singer of a band called Hootie and the Blowfish. This band had a brief period of stardom while I was in college. While I wouldn’t call myself a ‘fan’, I enjoyed several of their songs, and had friends who really loved them. Fast forward several years. I was living in Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. I had recently returned from a year living in Wales, where I had left my heart with a young lady. I was working two jobs to keep myself busy, but it was a pretty miserable time, all told.
One night, I was coming home late after a long shift at the gaming store. After getting off the Metro, I started across the parking lot that led to my apartment. However, instead of cars, the parking lot was full of people. There was stage. There was music. There were no gates or tickets, so I wandered up. There, on the stage, was Hootie and the Blowfish, hired by the city of Rockville for some-another festival. I only got to hear them sing two songs before they left the stage, although that included their most famous, ‘Only Wanna Be With You’. In that moment, I felt very lucky. Not just to hear those two songs, but in life in general. It doesn’t really make any sense, but there it was.
Looking back, that concert probably represented a real low-point for Hootie and the Blowfish, and I’m not sure how much longer they lasted as a band. It was a great moment for me though, and so I’m just taking this opportunity to say thanks to Darius and the rest of the band.
(1) I do listen to a lot of what the British would term 'Country Music' which tends to include American Folk, Bluegrass, and Americana.