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

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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:

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. “Damn this old cowboy for my foolish pride” is such an inferior lyric to “I never will know how much you lied” that it ruins the performance for me, regardless of superior musicianship. it irks me enormously.

  2. I am always amazed how Dylan’s lyrics can be so overwhelmingly brilliant and meaningful..or simply ordinary. When you’re that good and that famous, I guess everything is grist for the proverbial mill.

  3. Let me tell you WHY the line “damn this old cowboy” sucks in comparison to The line “I never will know how much you lied…”.
    Donna Weiss wrote the good line. She is a grammy winning song writer who has had number one records in the united states and all over the world. Ketch Secor is a traveling show hillbilly Dylan fanatic (even though Dylan never bothered to even speak or communicate in any way with to in person by his own admission)
    Donna Weiss is the writer of Sweet Amarillo.
    She is singing a bit of it on that pat garret thing because he had her there to sing on the entire Pat Garret soundtrack with hime just as he had had her on tour with hime singing Sweet Amarillo.
    Dylan so loved her song that he just started playing the cords he thought were correct after they were finished putting voices on knocking on heavens door. You hear the females trying to sing the correct melody but he plays the wrong cords and so they do the best they can. One of them being the writer Weiss. priscilla Jones, Booker T. Jones (another co writer of Weiss’s), and Brenda Patterson were there. They all know exactly what happened.
    Dylan never wrote one word of this song. Why not check for your hero worshipping selves? Go to his site. Where does it say he wrote a syllable of this song? Nowhere. So simple to suss out/ trace down.
    The writer of this article might want to make an adjustment to his incorrect meanderings. now that i’ve told him where to go.
    I have worked with all people mentioned here.

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