Who Did the Song ‘Wagon Wheel’ First Before Darius Rucker?

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O.C.M.S. Song: Wagon Wheel (2004)

Artists: Old Crow Medicine Show

Albums: Troubles Up and Down the Road, O.C.M.S.

Writers: Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor

In 2014, Darius Rucker, the singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, won a Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance for his recording of the song Wagon Wheel. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country chart, and number 15 on the Hot 100, spending 26 weeks on the chart during the Summer of 2013. It’s a simple little ditty in which Darius asks his woman to “rock me baby like a wagon wheel.” Believe it or not, the song was originally written by Bob Dylan. Or, at least Bob Dylan came up with the initial idea for the song.

Dylan came up with the song in 1973 during his recording sessions for the music to the movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, at Burbank Studios in Burbank California. Dylan, as he was want to do, was simply noodling around with riffs in between takes. What I would call noodling, Dylan called a sketch of a song. [Rock me Mama Like A] Wagon Wheel, which Dylan called “Rock Me Mama” was intended to be given to the film’s producer to use in the film, but Dylan never really got further than the chorus.

You can listen to the outtake from this session below. Most of what Dylan sings is mumbled in the background, but you can make out some of the lyrics. Although the song was never recorded, bootleg versions of it were handed around for years.

It wasn’t until 25 years later, in 2004, that the song was completed. Ketch Secor of the country band Old Crow Medicine Show got one of those bootleg recordings. He kept Dylan’s original chorus, changed the melody a bit, and wrote new verse lyrics for the song, retitling it to “Wagon Wheel.” Co-writer credit and co-ownership were, of course, given to Dylan, with permission to record the song by Special Rider Music. Old Crow Medicine Show, known for their bluegrass, Americana, or what some folks call “mountain music” included the song on their 2001 album Troubles Up and Down the Road and later on their 2004 album O.C.M.S.

In 2007, Jason Webley and Reverend Peyton did a version of the song called Rock Me Mama. This version is sometimes mistakenly credited to bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. This is probably because Dylan credited the title phrase of the song to Crudup. Crudup, for his part, said he got the idea from Big Bill Broonzy’s “Rock Me Baby.” Broonzy got the idea from a still older source. Such is the blues, and music in general.

Beyond the title, there is not much similarity between Crudup’s and Dylan’s “Rock Me Mama.”

Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel has been covered many times and it is pretty much a bluegrass standard. Darius Rucker’s recording, which went Triple Platinum, is undoubtedly the most well-known today. Before Rucker’s version was released, he went on stage with Old Crow Medicine Show to perform the song, with great success. Ironically, Rucker admitted that although he was a fan of Old Crow Medicine show, he didn’t really get the song. It was the faculty band at his daughter’s high school that changed his perception of the song.