If you’re a hardcore Bob Dylan fan, the new Darius Rucker hit “Wagon Wheel” might sound a little familiar. It’s actually a fleshed-out version of an untitled, unfinished song from the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack sessions. Dylan fans titled the song “Rock Me, Mama” when the sessions leaked to bootleggers.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s Critter Fuqua picked up a bootleg of the Pat Garrett sessions in the ninth grade when he visited London. “I let [bandmate] Ketch [Secor] listen to it, and he wrote the verses, because Bob kind of mumbles them and that was it,” Fuqua recently told a South Carolina newspaper. “We’ve been playing that song since we were, like, 17, and it’s funny, because we’ve never met Dylan, but the song is technically co-written by Bob Dylan.”
Old Crow Medicine Show released the song in 2004, splitting the royalties evenly with Dylan. It was later covered by Against Me and many others, but earlier this year Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker cut the song for his third country album, True Believers. It became a crossover hit, hitting Number One on the Billboard Country Songs chart and number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This isn’t the first time that Darius Rucker used part of a Dylan song in his own work. Hootie and the Blowfish’s 1995 hit “Only Wanna Be With You” quotes extensively from Dylan’s 1974 song “Idiot Wind.” The song repeats five lines from the song verbatim; later, Rucker says, “Ain’t Bobby so cool . . . Yeah, I’m tangled up in blue.” It was a crystal-clear case of plagiarism, and rumor has it Dylan and the group settled the matter out of court. This time around, Dylan has a piece of the song from the get-go.
Forty years ago, Dylan couldn’t possibly have imagined he was working on a future hit song. His career had reached a low point after the commercial failures of 1970’s Self Portrait and New Morning. He spent the next two years largely off the grid, then agreed to take a supporting role in Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Dylan’s acting experience was very limited at this point, and the shoot in Durango, Mexico was extremely troubled. The studio ultimately took the film from Peckinpah and recut it, taking out many of Dylan’s scenes.
Dylan had far more control over the film’s soundtrack. He started work on the disc on January 20th, 1973 in Mexico City. The next month he moved over to Burbank, California and brought in Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Terry Paul. The sessions yielded Dylan’s comeback hit “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and just a few takes after finishing that classic they ran through two versions of “Rock Me, Mama.” It was far from finished, and they soon moved onto the main title track of and probably forgot all about the sketch of a song. Somehow or another, the sessions got in the hands of bootleggers and “Rock Me, Mama” began its slow, unlikely journey to the top of the charts as “Wagon Wheel.”