The Many Lives of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Sweet Amarillo”

Sweet Amarillo
A few months ago, we featured an article about Old Crow Medicine Show’s updated version of Bob Dylan’s “Sweet Amarillo,” the infectious lead single from their new album Remedy.

The story we published claimed that Dylan’s unfinished song was delivered straight to the hands of Old Crow Medicine Show after Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel” soared to number one on the country charts, but it turns out that the tune has been through several reincarnations before it was finally completed by the members of Old Crow Medicine Show.

First surfacing as a short jam on the outtakes of  Dylan’s 1973 Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid sessions, the song was completed a year later by songwriter Donna Weiss and released on Brenda Paterson’s 1974 album, Like Good Wine. The impromptu track on Dylan’s session was polished for pop splendor with a faster beat, a catchy hook, and a bell-bottom clad Patterson singing “Sweet Amarillo/ You stole my pillow/ You stole my pillow/ Hun, you ruined my mind/ Sweet Amarillo/ Like the wind and the willow/ I never will know/ Just how much you lied.”

Forty years later, just after Rucker’s pop-country cover of “Wagon Wheel” received near constant radio play, Dylan delivered his original lyrics for “Sweet Amarillo” to OCMC. “Wagon Wheel” was based on an idea of Bob Dylan’s that was later brought to fruition by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, and Dylan seemed interested in seeing what the band could do with yet another one of Dylan’s unfinished pieces.

Old Crow’s Ketch Secor explained the connection to CMT.

We got an email from Bob Dylan’s manager saying congratulations right around the time Darius Rucker had a No. 1 single with “Wagon Wheel.” It’s not every day that country music recognizes this great pioneer and huge influence, Bob Dylan. Bob doesn’t have many No. 1 songs in any genres. So it was a big deal to get one.

Bob realized that and sent us a note, and a couple of weeks later, he sent a demo and said, “Here’s a song that I never really finished. It was recorded a few days after ‘Rock Me Mama.’ Give it a try. We’d like the boys, the Old Crows to give it whirl.”

and a couple of weeks later, he sent a demo and said, “Here’s a song that I never really finished. It was recorded a few days after ‘Rock Me Mama.’ Give it a try. We’d like the boys, the Old Crows to give it whirl.”

…So I finished the song with Old Crow, and we sent it back to Bob and he said, ‘Hey, that sounds great, but I think Ketch should play the fiddle, not the harmonica, and I think the chorus needs to come in at the eighth bar, not the 16th.’ We did exactly what Bob said, and it’s like the song sprouted wings and flew.

In the finished product, a remorseful drifter sings “Sweet Amarillo/ Tears on my pillow/ You never will know how much I cried/ Sweet Amarillo/ Like the wind in the willow/ Damn this old cowboy for my foolish pride.”

What do you think? Compare these four versions below:

Bob Dylan, from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Sessions, 1973:

Brenda Patterson, from Like Good Wine, 1974:

Writer of the 1974 version, Donna Weiss, with The Rolling Thunder Review, 1976:

Old Crow Medicine Show, from Remedy, 2014: