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String Band Rebels Returning To New Zealand

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
String Band Rebels Returning To New Zealand

Old Crow Medicine Show from Memphis, Tennessee are not your usual country band. The group plays old-time string music with a punk rock attitude and sings about drugs and low-lives. JULE SCHERER of NZPA talks to singer/banjo/fiddle player Ketch Secor.

Wellington, Mar 1 NZPA - American band Old Crow Medicine Show seems to be full of contradictions. They are a bunch of young guys who play old-time string music.

In a genre where one may expect staunch rednecks singing of heart-break and horses, OCMS's songs tell stories about methamphetamine, trailer parks, highway drug patrols and characters that dwell on the fringes of society.

And as singer Ketch Secor puts it, they "are an American roots band, with fiddles and banjos but we play them like electric guitars".

The way the band approaches old time string music has a lot in common with punk rock. Both genres share a lack of refinement and the same defiant authenticity.

Secor got into this kind of music at a young age. Looking back he thinks, some people are just meant to "sing old songs", he tells NZPA.

In his Southern drawl he says: "A lot of different road signs appeared on the highway and many of them had U-Turn signs and all of them said, `go back where you came from and then keep going', and then the road signs indicated that we should get down in the dirt and deep below the road and down where the soil is rich and black and there's mystery.

"In my high school years I found myself listening to the music of the very first commercial recordings of what would become rock 'n' roll, of what would become bluegrass, of what would become the big band sound," he says.

When he was 17 he came upon an unfinished piece Bob Dylan started many years before and spun it into Wagon Wheel, which has turned out to be OCMS's most successful tune to date.

Listening to Dylan, he wanted to know where all those songs came from, "where did it first became apparent that a shaky voice and an acoustic guitar and a harmonica was a great formula?".

"Well that formula is quite old and it is a lot older than Bob Dylan.

"And some of us started looking back and at the popularity of bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones who were themselves so rooted in early rhythm and blues, at the very foundation of all of the songs that you hear -- even on Radio New Zealand -- there is a primal beat and that's a beat that is in the hearts of young and old around the globe, regardless of ethnicity, race, class or creed.

"We're all tuned in to that drum beat because music is a part of all of us," he says.

OCMS's story is one of dedication and fortune.

Secor and his school friend Chris "Critter" Fuqua (banjo, guitar, vocals) met Willie Watson (vocals, guitar, banjo), Kevin Hayes (guitjo, vocals) and Morgan Jahnig (bass) more than ten years ago in upstate New York.

They bought an old van and busked on street corners and played gigs in tiny towns all over Northern America, barely able to earn enough money for food (and drink).

One day, when they were playing in front of a pharmacy in Boone, North Carolina, country legend Doc Watson's daughter heard them play and dragged her blind father to see the guys. Shortly after OCMS found themselves playing at Merlefest -- a yearly country festival in honour of Watson's dead son -- and opening for Dolly Parton.

OCMS's first recordings were mainly cover versions of early bluegrass, blues and country songs, but the latest album Tennessee Pusher, in 2008, consisted purely of original material.

Their songs were not only lauded for their fresh approach on the old genre but also for their lyrics.

There are songs about death, drinking, drugs, prostitution and all sort of shady things.

"We love to tell a story with music, we love to sing for people who don't get songs written about them," Secor says.

"On the radio you hear songs about cool guys, you hear songs about hot chicks, you don't hear songs about poor boys and you just don't hear too many songs about those people that just haven't made.

"And these songs in American folk music have always been there to support those who have been disenfranchised, for whom the American Dream has always been out of reach," he says.

The band's reputation for delivering most capturing live performances had seen them play all around the world. Last year they played a couple of highly celebrated shows in New Zealand.

"I liked it very much in New Zealand," Secor says.

"I don't think that there has been a town that we visited in the past few years that made me feel like playing in Wellington and Auckland did," Secor says.

"I'm surprised how people have kind of the same musical aesthetics in New Zealand as we do.

"Recently, when we booked this tour my wife and I were home and I turned on Radio New Zealand online, and it was great to be linked up and to hear the news and the songs I heard there, were songs I grew up listening to, too.

"And many of them not so great songs,' he adds.

"I think we can all agree around the world, that pop music sucks and the real thing, the genuine article is something wild, hart and intense and worth spending a couple of hours with, any chance you can get."

*Tour dates:

March 18- The Powerstation, Auckland

March 19 - Founders Theatre, Hamilton

March 20 - The Opera House, Hastings

March 24 - The Opera House, Wellington

March 25 - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch


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