I’ve been a fan of Trapper Schoepp since I first heard his debut album, “Run, Engine, Run,” and my admiration has only grown after seeing him perform live a couple times and hearing the two albums released after that great first one. He’s done something now, though, that puts him in my personal Hall of Heroes.
He co-wrote a song with Bob Dylan.
Schoepp didn’t sit down in a room with Dylan and crank out a ditty. It’s better than that. He took unpublished lyrics Dylan wrote back in 1961, set them to a melody, added a chorus, created a charming recording of the song that the music legend liked enough to approve Schoepp including the song on his upcoming album, “Primetime Illusion.”
The saga goes back to March 2017, when Schoepp read a story about an auction house selling handwritten Dylan lyrics for a playful untitled song extolling the virtues of Wisconsin.
“My folksinger instinct was to pick up where Dylan left off. It’s very natural for someone like me to want to put my own spin on something old,” Schoepp said. “What makes this more unique is that it’s a song that’s been sitting around for almost 60 years, it’s by one of my musical heroes and then the kicker is that it’s about my home state of Wisconsin. It’s so serendipitous.”
Putting a new spin on something old was just what Dylan was doing as a young songwriter, just as Woody Guthrie had done before. Schoepp wasted no time sitting down to finish that old song, which he called “On, Wisconsin.”
“In my head,” Schoepp said, “I kind of think of this Wisconsin song as a way Dylan was trying to connect his travels out to New York.”
Schoepp, who grew up in Ellsworth, Wis., and now lives in Milwaukee, said he was about halfway through writing songs for “Primetime Illusion” at the time but had hit a lull. He was dealing with a bad back and a breakup and was feeling “rock bottom.” Finishing Dylan’s song gave him a spark that got his creative juices going again.
I got a sneak preview of “Primetime Illusion” and I think it is Schoepp’s best album yet. He gives a lot of credit for the album’s great sound to the “Jedi-like wisdom” of producer Pat Sansone, who plays guitar and keyboards in Wilco. Schoepp met him backstage at a concert when Schoepp was on tour opening for the Jayhawks.
The album also features tasty guitar playing by the mighty Quinn Scharber (formerly of Hugh Bob and the Hustle) and perfect brotherly harmonies, drumming by Justin Krol, and heavenly sibling harmonies and bass playing from Schoepp’s brother, Tanner.
As far as getting Dylan to approve the song, Schoepp says the credit belongs to his manager … and a lot of luck. “He had to throw a series of Hail Mary passes. And on the receiving end, all the right people had to catch those passes,” Schoepp said. “It was not an easy get. To be honest, I didn’t really know that anything would happen.”
Schoepp was at the grocery store when he got the word from his manager that “On, Wisconsin” was a go. His reaction was priceless. He went around the store and filled his cart with anything that struck his fancy. “It was a very animalistic reaction, just walking around the grocery store grabbing everything I wanted,” he said with a laugh.
While the handwritten lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for $2 million, nobody coughed up the $30,000 minimum bid for the Dylan lyrics that inspired Schoepp. That’s a bit perplexing, considering that the date next to Dylan’s signature on the lyrics is Nov. 20, 1961.
What’s so important about that date?
Schoepp didn’t realize it until a few weeks ago, but that song was written on the first day Bob Dylan went into the studio in New York City with John Hammond to record his self-titled debut album. The auction house that was selling the lyrics didn’t make any mention of the fact it was written on an auspicious day.
As the story of “On, Wisconsin” has gotten out — including a write-up by Rolling Stone — pre-orders for Schoepp’s “Primetime Illusion” have taken off, which is exciting to me. I urge anyone who loves great music and wants to support one of Wisconsin’s musical treasures to order the album from his page on www.pledgemusic.com, which has all kinds of cool merchandise options, too. This is the way to get the music that will benefit Schoepp and his bandmates most and, you know, those groceries aren’t going to pay for themselves.
It’d be nice if Schoepp’s “On, Wisconsin” could have as much success as the most famous previous instance of a band finishing a Dylan song. I’m talking, of course, about Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” which was based on an outtake from the sessions for “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid,” which gave us “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
I can definitely relate to Schoepp’s instinct to take Dylan’s work and run with it. Nine years ago, soon after I had signed up for Facebook, I started a rewrite of Dylan’s timeless “To Make You Feel My Love” that took me 500 days.
It took so long because I posted a verse — technically half a verse — every day on Facebook for 500 days, posting them after I’d first sung them for my wife before she left for work in the morning. I called them “Daily Dylanesque Declarations of Devotion,” and if I strung them all together, it’d take a little over three hours to sing them all.
Here’s one (the verse for Day 76):
If life has you feeling weak and pallid
I’ll sing a Bryan Adams power ballad
And let you have the croutons from my salad
To make you feel my love.
Needless to say, I’m not planning on an animalistic grocery shopping spree anytime soon.
Rock on …