Music Reunites Old Friends


By Charity Apple / Times-News

SAXAPAHAW — Ketch Secor was enjoying “a very spring-like day in Nashville” last Thursday afternoon.

The award-winning musician reminisced about living in Greensboro and playing music with Heather Sullivan of Elon in the band The Grown-Ups. He was fresh out of high school at the time.

On March 16, Secor and his lifelong friend, Critter Fuqua, will perform at the Haw River Ballroom, 1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, for the first time. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the concert is at 8 p.m. It is a reunion of sorts, considering that the band is not only celebrating its 20th anniversary; rather, Fuqua hasn’t been an active member of the band for a few years, but the two friends have stayed in touch.

The two met in seventh grade and “we became fast friends,” Secor said in a phone interview. “We egged each other on musically. He would learn blues guitar and I would learn harmonica.”

Their kinship grew and the duo created an act similar to the great duos of the 1920s; they played southern roots music, fed by the tradition of players in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where they lived.

The two friends went on to form Old Crow Medicine Show in New York in 1998 but later settled in Boone. The band would play music in front of a local pharmacy there; that’s where they were discovered by Doc Watson, who asked them to play for MerleFest.

Secor, who at the time described himself as “a Mohawk-sporting renegade fiddler,” recalled working in tobacco during the summer, something he called “a dying art,” and playing on the street corner to passersby.

Not long after that, the Old Crow Medicine Show relocated to Nashville and began performing on the Grand Ole Opry, toured with Merle Haggard and made regular appearances on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Even though the Old Crow Medicine Show has earned numerous accolades and awards, including gold records, Secor said he still likes to take to the street to perform.

“It’s good to be there,” he said. “It’s my favorite stage. It’s great for performers whether you’re starting out or not. If you can’t play there, you have no business playing on a stage elsewhere. It teaches you discipline and how to keep an audience. With all of the distractions of traffic, car alarms and restaurants beckoning you, if you can get a crowd and attract an audience to the point that they stop what they’re doing, well, that’s the power of music.”

The late African-American fiddler Joe Thompson was one of his mentors and inspiration for old-time fiddle playing. Upon learning of Thompson’s recent death, Secor said “there’s just nobody else like him. When it comes to old-time music, you need an eyewitness. The music speaks to events in history.”

Secor was 18 years old when he first went to Thompson’s house in Mebane to play.

“A hog was hanging in the smokehouse next door. It was salty and smoky smelling. Joe’s lovely wife served us potato chips and cold drinks. And we played — songs like ‘Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind.’ I’m sad to hear about his death. What a treasure he was and what a treasure of great recordings he left behind. He was part of a dying breed of mankind, not just a dying breed of musicians,” he said.

During the Haw River Ballroom concert, Secor said they’ll be sure to play some Thompson’s tunes, in tribute to him, along with original songs such as “Wagon Wheel,” “Take ’Em Away” and “James River Blues.”

Tickets are $18 to $20 and can be purchased at www.ticketfly.com. For more details, call (336) 675-2440 or visit hawriverballroom.com.