Hotels, Motels and Road Shows
An Interview with Stuart Swanlund
by Michael B. Smith
Born an "air force brat" in Puerto Rico on April 3, 1958, Stuart Swanlund used to sit on his grandmother's porch and listen to his neighbor, Doug Gray, rehearsing with a rock and roll band across the street. He was only five years old, and had no way of knowing he’d one day play alongside Gray.
Back in 1982 when I first met and became friends with Stuart, I could tell that he was no ordinary guitar player. No, this guy really had something special. He played with his own style, and it was almost impossible to compare him to any other individual player.
Later that same decade, when he was asked to join the Marshall Tucker Band, I was probably as excited as Stuart. Maybe I was just proud of him. I could think of no other player who deserved the opportunity more. Although he dropped out of the lineup a couple of times for different reasons, he has remained an enduring influence on the sound of the “new” Marshall Tucker Band. His slide, lead and rhythm guitar work is unique and energetic. His vocals on songs like “Why Can’t You Love Me” (a Stuart original on the “Southern Spirit” CD) and “Hillbilly Band” are great.
Just before the band’s recent gig in Hickory, N.C., I invited Stuart up to my room. While he enjoyed a Subway sandwich, I asked a few questions about his MTB career.
MBS: A lot of people have wondered how you are doing following the hand surgery last year.
SS: Good. It was about a four hour surgery. They had to do a skin graft. It’s pretty ugly, as you can see. They had to cut all of this stuff out. This finger had been bent down for so long, that this joint was frozen. He had to cut up in there into the joint. It still gets a little stiff. But I can play stuff now that I haven’t been able to play in years. And I can play it the way I want to. It’s doing real good. It’ll never be a hundred percent, but it’s great.
MBS: What caused that to begin with?
SS: It’s called Dupitrin’s Contracture. It’s a bunch of scar tissue that starts building up in your hands and fingers and starts pulling your fingers down. It’s an inherited disease, and I just happened to get it. Only people with ancestors from Northern Europe get this disease. You know, my dad was Swedish-Norwegian, so that’s probably where I got it. Nobody in his family had it that I know of.
MBS: When did you join the band?
SS: I was asked to join in 1985 and played for eight years. I left in October, 1993 the first time. I just wanted to stay at home and play around Chicagoland and all that good stuff. The second time I was out because of the hand.
MBS: What has been the high point of your time with Tucker?
SS: I really enjoyed that tour with Hank Williams, Jr. The “Southern Thunder Tour” in ‘96 withe Charlie Daniels and everybody. That was probably the most fun year I’ve had with the band. He only did like 50 shows a year, but we were on most of them. It was a big production. That was probably one of the high points I guess. Another high point was when we sang the National Anthem at Wrigley Field before a Cubs game. That was in 1993.
MBS: What’s the most rewarding thing about playing on the road?
SS: I think when the fans enjoy it and like it, that’s rewarding.
MBS: What’s the hardest part?
SS: The traveling. It can wear you down a lot.
MBS: I know that there have been some wild times with The MTB. Would you say that you are as wild on the road as you ever were? Or have you calmed down as you’ve gotten older?
SS: Oh, I’ve calmed down a whole lot. It’s age mostly. I can’t party like that anymore. I don’t drink at all anymore. I used to have two or three beers before we even started. Now, I’m just not into it.
MBS: What about drugs?
SS: Nah. No thank you.
MBS: So you live in Chicago these days. How do you like it?
SS: I love it. Lots of beautiful women there. My old lady won’t care if I say that. She catches me looking all the time. And the food is incredible. So many different things. And the ball park is there. I love Wrigley Field. It’s just like going back in time. But I remember one year, we were so busy that I only got to go to one game the whole season. Last year I got to go about 20 times. And there are a lot of good musicians there. Lots of cool blues club. It’s a happening city, and a pretty clean city to be that big, you know?
MBS: What are some of your other favorite cities to play and visit?
SS: I kind of like it out west. It’s like a whole different world out there. It’s a lot of fun.
MBS: Tell me about your fellow band mates.
SS: Doug is a lot of fun. Real funny. Rusty and Tim I’ve known forever. Tim and I have been in other bands together. Rusty’s a great player.
MBS: What about B.B.?
SS: Of course, he played for Mother’s Finest, and that was one of my favorite bands.
MBS: Wasn’t that a great band?
SS: Great. He’s a nice guy. A good, solid drummer. Real funny too.
MBS: David Muse?
SS: He’s a good guy. He’s a helluva player too.
MBS: What kind of guitar do you play these days?
SS: Fender. Only Fender. I got a Strat and a Telly. Ernie Ball strings. I just picked up a cheaper Telecaster. It’s called a Nashville Telly. Instead of having two pickups it has three. It has a Strat pickup in the middle. It’s nice. It got a lot of good reviews.
MBS: Have you seen the reissued Danelectro guitars?
SS: I love those things. They’re not real expensive either. I’d like to have one just to have. They’re identical to the original ‘58 model. The guy at the Guitar Center said they play better than the original. Those things are so cool.
MBS: Have you ever played onstage with anyone that was a real thrill for you to play with- I mean, besides Doug?
SS: (Laughs) We played one time at Lakewood Amphitheater, and Steve Morse (The Dixie Dreggs) came out and jammed on “Can’t You See” and just smoked it. That was cool. A lot of fun. I haven’t had a chance to jam with a lot of people.
MBS: Well, you’ll get to jam with me one day-
SS: (Laughs) When I get to jam with Michael B. Smith, that’ll be saying something!
MBS: What was your favorite Tucker album that you played on?
SS: “Southern Spirit.”It didn’t sound as good as the two after that, but I liked the songs on it. It’s probably my favorite one.
MBS: What about the original band?
SS: The very first one. I love that. I have the CD at home.
MBS: You know, the most successful touring bands these days allow taping at their shows. Allmans, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, Little Feat, and Blues Traveler. And the people trade the tapes.
SS: I’ve got a 1975 board tape of Little Feat. They did a lot of stuff that was on that “Waiting for Columbus,” but it was totally different. It was great.
MBS: Do you think the MTB will ever allow taping at shows?
SS: I don’t know. Of course, that would be Doug’s decision.
MBS: Who would you say are your guitar influences?
SS: My biggest was Lowell George. Duane Allman too. He was incredible. And Bonnie Raitt, she’s a good slide player. She plays with a lot of feeling. That’s the way Lowell played too, with a lot of heart. He didn’t play it like everybody else. A totally different style.
MBS: Do you think there’s a chance for a second coming of Marshall Tucker? I mean, I know they’ve never gone away, but I’m talking about big hit records, stuff like that.
SS: I don’t know, but it sure would be nice.
MBS: If there was a big Southern Rock tour put together, who would you like to play with?
SS: The Allman Brothers. I love that band. And Gregg’s band. Gregg sold out two shows at The House of Blues. Jimmy Hall was playing with them too.
MBS: Do you like the current Skynyrd Band?
SS: Yeah. Hughie Thomasson, Ricky Medlock and those. But my favorite player with Skynyrd was Ed King. Great tone.
MBS: Did you play on the new album?
SS: I played on two cuts. I played those before my surgery. So it’s been a while. It’s really a good album. If it’s promoted good it should do real good.
Michael would like to thank Stuart for a fun interview. It was good seein’ you again, buddy. Keep on playin’ that hot slide.
Copyright Michael B. Smith - used with permission.
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