Belmont’s Executive Learning Networks hosted Ketch Secor, lead for Old Crow Medicine Show, on June 22 to discuss his TEDxNashville presentation “Will the Circle be Unbroken” as well as diversity, equity and pulling out a chair of inclusion. Secor co-authored the Grammy Award Winning song ‘Wagon Wheel’ with Bob Dylan, and, in 2014, launched Episcopal School of Nashville in the East Nashville Area.
Secor sat down with Jeremy Snow, TEDx coach, at Belmont to discuss the themes revealed in his TEDx presentation in which he reflects on unique origin stories in the music he’s spent the past 20 years uncovering. Country music’s origins are more varied and its reach far wider than most people think.
Songwriters try to mimic what America really sounds like when they write songs. “How is it that a song like ‘Dixieland’ written be the children of a freed slave couple would become synonymous with the confederacy and the rebel flag and racism?” asked Secor. “This happens not because of mimicry, but rather, when we erase the memories of those we mimic by refusing them a place in the circle.”
Secor said country music songs are layered like sedimentary rocks and it’s up to the listener to recognize that when they sing along to their favorite country songs, they are actually singing the songs of the hardest working people in America, sounds that have gone through songwriter after songwriter. “We are singing songs about a cab driver from Sudan or someone from the Congo, or of freed slaves in Ohio,” Secor said. “You take Black music and country music and you have the same thing exactly.”
Secor is credited for co-writing “Wagon Wheel” but says he didn’t write it – Bob Dylan did. Dylan says the same, that it was written from a songwriter before him. And the pattern continues. After going through Old Crow Medicine Show’s rendition, Darius Rucker recorded the song and it became one of the top five most popular country singles ever.
Secor said, “Even ‘Wagon Wheel’ took 90 years and many diverse authors in its gestation. It’s remarkable to me that Darius Rucker is on the bestselling record list and made black history, but it had to funnel through me.”
Secor talked about the wave that has been coming in which Nashville is faced with grappling with the racial identity politics it has held for so many years. “The history of country music has catered to the white male patriarchy, and it’s a shame on the city’s past, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at it and try to rectify it. I try to topple monuments in my own music that could be misinterpreted,” Secor said.
When trying on other sounds as a songwriter, one must be sensitive not to partake in cultural appropriation. Secor said you cannot parody it and you can’t assume you have permission to authenticate it. It must be done with love and respect. “When I take on music that’s not my own, which I do professionally, I gotta know what I am talking about,” he explained. “And how I do that is by going there, by being around the people, by asking people and making connections. It’s not enough to put on the headdress, you need to take a deep dive to really authenticate it. You have to do more than pull out the chair, you have to work intentionally and give everyone an opportunity to work collectively.”
View Secor’s TEDxNashville talk “Will the Circle be Unbroken” on YouTube.