The Marshall Tucker Band: Taking the highway to success
By Suzanne Rothberg
The Marshall Tucker band is continuing its successful 39-year career with a show at Irvington Town Hall Theatre on Oct. 16.
The band members have taken to the highway and are touring to support their latest three-disc CD release, “The Essential Marshall Tucker Band.” The CD contains all of the band’s greatest hits, plus a bonus disc of rare and previously unreleased live performances. The Oct. 16 concert will be presented by Westco Productions Gold Star Concerts.
The original, last surviving member and lead vocalist, Doug Gray, talked about the new CD and the tour. He continues to lead the band, consisting of talented musicians, winning new young fans as well as satisfying the loyal fans of several generations. The band’s best-known and loved hits are “Can’t You See,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Take the Highway” and “Heard it in a Love Song.”
“The album took a year-and-a-half. A lot of bands don’t spend a lot of time on albums because they don’t control them anymore,” Gray said in a telephone interview from his home in Spartanburg, S.C., the town where the band’s career began in 1972. “We let the audience pick out the songs that they want to hear the most.
“We do over a hundred tours a year. I’ve got shows lined up for September 2010, so we’re continuously touring. I tell my kids I’m touring and they act like nothing’s new.”
The band got its name from a piano tuner, Marshall Tucker, who is now 87 years old and living in Columbia, S.C.
“We gave him a couple of platinum records and told him how we appreciated our association with him all these years.” Gray said. “There’s never been a person called ‘Marshall Tucker’ in the band. We just thought it was a good name to use. Not too long ago, I did a CBS special with him, they flew a crew in and we talked about how many years we’ve been together and we all sat down and had lunch. It was really nice and he was extremely proud that we were keeping his name clean and honorable.”
The band’s music is a blend of sounds ranging from country to jazz, he said.
“When country music came around, we had already established being a country band as well as rock and roll,” Gray said. “We are a mixed bag and can play country, southern rock and roll and a bit of jazz.”
Their musical mix is one of the reasons they never gained the success and recognition when they first started in the 70s, but their popularity grew over time.
“Fans didn’t know how to categorize us and we were competing against several groups at that time that were rock and roll or country bands.” Gray said. “They looked at us as if we’ve been around awhile, and we’ve done our hits “Fire on the Mountain” and “Can’t You See?” for 15 or 20 years, so the world has changed around us and we let it keep on going.”
Gray said that they were one of the first bands to play with touring southern bands, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, (who they still perform with at least three or four times a year) Molly Hatchet and The Charlie Daniels Band, as well as opening for Santana and B.B. King.
“It was just as important to be hanging around these bands, because sometimes you never get to see those bands.” Gray said.
Today, he doesn’t have a preference regarding who he would like to share the bill with on tour.
“Anybody who wants to play with us is always welcome.”
His favorite Marshall Tucker Band song is “In My Own Way,” he said, “because of it’s meaning and that it explains to people how much you care for that other person.”
The band has encountered several personnel changes over the years due to some circumstances beyond their control.
Three original band members, Tommy Caldwell, Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle, passed away years apart. Tommy Caldwell died in 1980 as a result of injuries from an auto accident; Toy Caldwell, who wrote the majority of the band’s songs, died in 1993; and George McCorkle died in 2007. Jerry Eubanks retired from the group in 1996.
The band’s current lineup, along with Gray, includes Pat Elwood on bass guitar, Rick Willis on lead guitar, Stuart Swanlund on rhythm guitar, B.B. Borden on drums and Marcus Henderson on keyboards, saxophone flute and vocals.
“I was the one most likely to continue because I had the drive,” Gray said. “I sit in a room with seven gold and five or six platinum records and it doesn’t get old to me. Some of those guys, it got old for them.”
Although the band is categorized in the same genre as the Allman Brothers, Gray said comparisons between the two have not been made in years.
“The band hasn’t been compared to them in 15 or 20 years,” he said. “The reason we were with the Allman Brothers so much is because they were our label mates.”
Coincidentally, the band opened for the Allman Brothers in 1973, the same year they released their first album.
“We haven’t played with the Allman Brothers in years because they have a different audience now,” he said.
With the music industry constantly changing, the Marshall Tucker Band is following the trend of going independent. The band has been with several major labels over the years, including Warner Bros for 10 years, and then Capitol Records and Columbia Records.
“What made it easier was the ability to put it out there on Ramblin’ Records,” he said. “And putting it all together in one place enabled us to make a distribution deal with the label Sony /Shout Factory Records. That deal is going to last another eight years.”
Gray said the buying public never cared about whether they were country, jazz, blues or rock ’n’ roll.
“Anyone who likes to hear good music and not pigeonhole it or put it in one category will enjoy The Marshall Tucker Band,” he said.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $55, $65 and $75 and are now on sale at the Irvington Town Hall Theater Web site at http://www.irvingtontheater.com/ or by calling the box office at (914) 591-6602.
I have been listening to Marshall Tucker since their first album. I am 55 and the music never gets old. I have turned on so many young people (including my 3 sons) to the music and they love it. I saw the band at the coach house in san juan capistrano a couple years and will see them in san dimas in june. Rock on boys . . . this ol' cowboy loves you!
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