There’s a plethora of fine tunes on the latest Old Crow Medicine Show album, Remedy, but one that really jumps out at you is the freewheelin’ bluegrass number “8 Dogs 8 Banjos”. According to the string band’s singer and main songwriter, Ketch Secor—who also handles fiddle, banjo, and harmonica when the mood strikes him—that song has its origin in the genius of one Charles M. Schulz.
“Y’all read Peanuts?” drawls Secor on the line from L.A. “You might remember one time that Linus was up to the blackboard and he’s suggesting that the world would be a much happier place if every person in your family was given a dog and a banjo. Then he says to the teacher, ‘So, say you had a family of eight. That would be eight dogs and eight banjos.’ I read that comic strip when I was about 18, and wrote that song, and that’s one of the only songs on the album that came from a long time ago. We did a little work to it to kinda update it, but it’s pretty much the same song I wrote after I read the funny page that day in 1993.”
“8 Dogs 8 Banjos” is the type of hillbilly stomper you might expect to hear performed on a rickety back porch in the Ozarks, jugs of moonshine labelled xxx nearby. To further that idea, corn whisky is mentioned several times in the song. And those familiar with Old Crow’s past are aware that its members have been known to fire up the still themselves.
“Yeah, we took it all a little literally,” admits Secor. “We’d listen to songs like ‘Good Old Mountain Dew’ and wonder what it would be like to have some of our own. And we always had a kind of do-it-yourself spirit in this band, so it made sense that we would learn how to make whisky. And so we did! I haven’t made it in about a decade, but I’ve still got my recipe.”
The moonshine theme continues on Remedy with “Firewater”, a reflective track with lyrics that point more toward the therapeutic qualities of white lightning. The song benefits greatly from the sweet pedal-steel guitar of Bucky Baxter, whose playing graces several early Steve Earle albums, as well as releases by Bob Dylan, R.E.M., and Ryan Adams. So did seven-year Crow member Gill Landry—who handles pedal steel on Remedy’s sombre “Dearly Departed Friend”—feel miffed by the hotshot’s presence?
“Gill has a tone with his instrument that is more suited to the kind of song that ‘Dearly Departed’ was,” notes Secor, whose septet was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry last year. “And Bucky’s kind of a steel-playing phenom, so it was exciting to get him on the album and find a great place where he could really shine.
“But since Gill sorta got the nod to start playin’ pedal steel for that last record he’s getting better all the time,” he adds. “He’s gotten pretty good, so we do have it in the live show. We’ll be crossing the border with a Sho-Bud pedal steel—if the agents will let us across.”
Old Crow Medicine Show plays the Orpheum on Sunday (September 28).