Gimme Some Sweet Music
By Phil Reser
The Marshall Tucker Band’s Southern Charm Comes To Chico
The Marshall Tucker Band is alive and well in the 21st century, thanks to the “never say die” attitude of lead singer Doug Gray.
“Southern rock music has a legitimacy that gives people a warm heart,” he says. “It makes them say, 'God, what a really good thing you guys are doing.'”
Throughout their 40-year career, this band has rocked out with the best of them, charted with hits and carved a Southern-flavored niche in the world of blues and gospel music.
The group got its start in Spartanburg, N.C., a blue-collar town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, when Doug Gray teamed up with Tommy Caldwell and Toy Caldwell, Paul T. Riddle, George McCorkle and Jerry Eubanks, borrowing the name “Marshall Tucker” from a piano tuner whose name was found on a key ring in their old rehearsal space.
Recalling the early days of the band, Gray says, “Toy and I went to Greensboro, N.C., to see our first jazz festival. That experimental music left a big impression on both of us. We were floored by the soul, R&B and jazz acts we saw that night. We talked about it before the two of us went in the service and over to Vietnam. We wanted to incorporate that stuff into our sound when we got back and we did just that. We ended up crisscrossing all over the place with rock, country, jazz and blues.”
Tommy Caldwell was the band's original front man, bantering with the crowd and introducing songs. After he died in an automobile accident, Gray stepped forward as the front man, and it’s a role he relishes today.
In 1972, they signed with Capricorn Records and earned hit singles with “Heard it In a Love Song,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Can’t You See” and “Take the Highway.” They made seven gold and three platinum albums on the Capricorn Records label.
“We knew at a certain point that we had something special," says Gray, “and could smoke almost any other band out there, except maybe the Allman Brothers.”
As a vocalist, Gray says, “I was first influenced by women like Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross, but B.B. King is the one I remember listening to the most on WLAC Nashville radio late at night. I would always sleep with the radio on when I was real young. But it was B.B. King that I liked because he sang with such feeling and with heart. I always sang our songs like you would sing a blues song. I never really realized how much he was the basis of my style until he asked me to join him on stage when we shared a show back around 1975. It was an unbelievable experience. I realized how much his style had contributed to me, and how it defined me on stage with the Marshall Tucker Band.”
During the 1990s, the Marshall Tucker Band placed four hit singles on Billboard’s country charts and one on Billboard’s gospel chart.
The band took several stylistic detours with an all-blues album, "Face Down in the Blues," and a spiritual collection of Gospel music.
In the last decade, the band has reissued many of its albums from the '70s, as well as two two-disc compilations, the first ("Anthology") being a 30-year retrospective and the second ("Where a Country Boy Belongs") being a collection of the band's country songs.
In 2004, they released another studio album, "Beyond the Horizon," and the following year released "Carolina Christmas."
The band today consists of Gray, guitarists Chris Hicks and Rick Willis; saxophone, flute and key man Marcus James Henderson; bassist Pat Elwood and drummer B.B. Borden.
Says Gray, “The Marshall Tucker Band has always been able to cry and laugh together throughout the years. We have always been a strong team with the driving force that none of us were individual stars, but together we were bright as the sun.
“My part in all of this has been to keep the sound, music and memories of this great band together, for all the creative people who have passed through it, and for all those who bought our records and have followed us out there on the road in our live performances.”
Marshall Tucker Band • May 24
Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, Chico