Old Crow Medicine Show Premieres 'Dixie Avenue,' Talks Newfound Love for Kesha

Danny Clinch
Old Crow Medicine Show

If Old Crow Medicine Show's upcoming Volunteer -- whose "Dixie Avenue" is premiering below -- sounds a little more rockin' than usual, give credit to producer Dave Cobb.

"Because we were working with Dave (Sturgill Simpson, Zac Brown Band, Jason Isbell), we wanted to pull out some of our more, I guess, rockin' sounds and do less of a roots music or old time acoustic record," Old Crow's Ketch Secor tells Billboard. "We wanted to have it be a little bigger. We were in a big room, RCA Studio A as opposed to Studio B, and a lot of times the music kind of matches the space." To accommodate that, Old Crow brought electric guitar back into the mix for the first time on record since 2004.

"There's a little bit of that, and that feels really good," notes Secor, who calls Critter Fuqua the designated "shredder" in the band. "I've been playing electric guitar since I was a kid, so I always liked having that component. It was in Bob Wills' band, so it's good enough for me."

Old Crow also went into Volunteer, which comes out April 20, with a head of steam and confidence since its 2014 predecessor, Remedy, won a Grammy Award for best folk album. "I don't know how we got a Grammy, really," Secor says with a laugh. "I feel like Woody Guthrie's out there and rooting for Old Crow, and there's a couple other folks for whom Woody Guthrie is in their hearts and they vote for Old Crow. As long as there are people that still love Woody Guthrie in America, Old Crow will sell records."

Volunteer, according to Secor, represents an accumulation of songs he and Fuqua had in their respective stashes. "We're very much a live band, and I don’t know how impactful records really are -- they're more just like some extra fuel in the tank, I think," Secord explains. "We never feel pressured to make a record, but I write pretty constantly and keep a steady flow of ink in my pen, and that way when it comes time to record I go to the purple folder and see what I've got. It's not like I sat down and wrote Volunteer." "Dixie Avenue," meanwhile, pays homage the nearly 30 years that Secor and Fuqua have spent in each other's musical company.

"This is a song that really celebrates the Ketch and Critter story," Secor says. "When you've been writing music for 28 years with somebody like we have, it's like, good God, where did the time go? I feel about 28, certainly not like I'm pushing 40. But one of the things we really have going for us in Old Crow is time, both as the lifetime of our institution but even more than that the kind of music we play. When we showed the song to Dave I thought it was going to be more pop. I thought this could get on the radio, but Dave said, 'Let's treat this like Johnny Horton.' That made more sense to me, so we went after that sound for it."

Old Crow will preview Volunteer during the Budweiser Country Club event on March 15 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, before touring in earnest starting April 23-24 in Asheville, N.C. The group is also part of Ken Burns' upcoming series on country music, which is due to premiere on PBS during September of 2019. Meanwhile Secor and company are still buzzing over their recent CMT Crossroads episode with Kesha.

"I had such a good time with that woman who is Kesha," Secor reports. "I don't know a lot of pop people or women on the cover of Rolling Stone. She might be the only person on the cover of Rolling Stone who's a pop singer who I ever ate catering with. But if they're all like Kesha it really increases my love and respect for the women at the top of pop music. I just found her to be a really great person and fun to be with. I'm kind of a natural skeptic about pop music, but Kesha showed me you really can get to the top of pop music and retain a sense of passion and an understanding of the craft. I'm a big fan now."