Named for the recently deceased blind piano tuner who was the previous tenant of the rehearsal space in their hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, The Marshall Tucker Band have been distilling a Southern blend of rock, country, jazz, and blues that has been delighting audiences for 50 years.
Initially in a group called The Toy Factory before service for some in the Vietnam War intervened, The Marshall Tucker Band originally consisted of lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary guitarist Toy Caldwell, lead vocalist Doug Gray, flutist-saxophonist-keyboardist Jerry Eubanks, rhythm guitarist George McCorkle, drummer Paul Riddle, and bassist Tommy Caldwell. With Gray now the only remaining original member, the current lineup also features drummer B.B. Borden, bassist Ryan Ware, flutist-saxophonist-keyboardist James Marcus Henderson, and guitarists Chris Hicks and Rick Willis.
Marshall Tucker’s 50th anniversary tour will make a stop March 11 at URSB Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center and tickets can be found online. For more about the band, visit their website and enjoy the following interview with Gray!
How does it feel to be celebrating Marshall Tucker Band’s 50th anniversary on the road?
When we started, Toy, me, Tommy, George, and everybody had such a nice thing. Then we went through a couple deaths and it just got worse. Luckily, we all had the same lawyer. Toy came up to me and said, “Man, I can’t do it anymore. I gotta take some time off and put together my own little thing,” and that lasted until he passed. There was a lot of opportunity left over because I sang 98% of the songs except “Can’t You See.”
What is your most fond memory of the band and why?
We were doing a show with Charlie Daniels. We played Tory, North Carolina. We were running on a dirt road and it had been raining two days. We drove in the mud on the road with the tour buses. There was 20,000 people that came out – drinking moonshine, partying. These people had paid money to see us, but we realized that there was too much water pouring down. Charlie looked at me and said, “You want to make the announcement or do you want one of the road crew to do it?” We let one of the road crew do it.
Well, those people turned that field over. It’s probably a Walmart now. I know you’ve got a lot of those up your way.
As the only remaining original member of Marshall Tucker Band, what most has inspired you to keep the band going? Why?
The guys there want to be there. They just want to play the music that Toy wrote, that I wrote, that George wrote. They’re helping us to continue to pursue that dream. It’s not that we have to sell 20,000 seats. We just go out there and play, make people have a good time. When it’s the 190th day on the road – which we still do – and you just don’t feel like putting your boots on or even putting on a shirt, there’s something buried deep inside of you that makes you the man that you are. It’s whatever’s inside and instilled in us, the reason that we started the band.
For the COVID thing, we had to come home a couple of times because the venue closed or whatever, but now we get to get out there and have a good time because that’s over with. We keep rockin’ and go out there and try to be about the people.
We’ve sold more than 30 million records. People like going back to listen to our songs because it takes them to a time of something they remember. That’s why people show up at our concerts, why we get invited to the Grand Ole Opry and sell it out, and [why] the audience is young and old. I’m very proud of that. I think of all the movies our music has been in: “Cattle Drive” was in a John Wayne movie, Clint Eastwood likes our stuff a lot and has used it, we had music in The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. People still want that music. I see kids on American Idol singing “Can’t You See.” Hank Williams Jr. has done “Can’t You See,” and so did Waylon [Jennings].
We have enough material to do a whole 15-track record of different bands covering “Can’t You See” and “Fire on the Mountain,” which would be hilarious. There would be Poison, George Straight, Zac Brown Band, Blackberry Smoke, and a whole bunch of others.
Out of all the music acts Marshall Tucker Band has influenced, which one delighted you most and why?
Zac Brown. My nephew plays with them. He went to Berklee School of Music. They hired him because he’s a very knowledgeable guy. My nephew’s name is Clay Cook. He played sax with us for eight years.
I also like Blackberry Smoke. They’re a great country band. They call themselves southern rock, as well.
Did you ever get to perform with them? When and where?
Oh, yeah! With Zac Brown, many times. Cheyenne has a big rodeo. We opened a show for them there, and Zac said, “We didn’t know if we’re going to be able to come out or not.”
Do you keep in touch with Jerry Eubanks and Paul Riddle?
I haven’t seen Jerry or Paul in 10 years. It’s just one of those things. They wanted to stay off the road.
Jerry’s flute has given Marshall Tucker Band such a unique sound. His sax is a much more common instrument for a rock band, but how did it come about that his flute would be added to your sound, and how did that distinguish you from other bands?
We didn’t want “Can’t You See” to come in with another guitar part. In a room less than 100 square feet, we were rehearsing on Tuesday and Thursday nights. They were also the nights we’d drink, which was the best part. We worked up a flute piece, then added several others instead of beating people to death with Toy’s guitar, but, I gotta say, Toy was one of the most underrated guitar players. Other people were coming along and they’d have, like, a guitar army. We’d get that sound out of one person. That technique worked for us, and we wound up playing out with Dionne Warwick at jazz festivals, with Mott the Hoople, Deep Purple. We had that strange ability that could put us with anybody. Our music fit in with just about anybody’s music. Our music is for everyone.
Playing flute with us now, we have a guy musically trained and educated – he has a degree and all that stuff – and played flute all his life for 50 years. He’s played with us the last 12 or 15 year, Marcus Henderson. Flute was just a natural instrument for him.
Any plans to release another studio album or live album on the band’s own Ramblin’ Records?
We probably got 18 to 23 songs right now as a studio record, but that would be live.
Marshall Tucker was the name of the blind piano tuner who had rented the band’s rehearsal space before you did and lived a long time in Columbia. Did you ever get to meet Marshall Tucker? If so, when, where and how?
News crews came in from all the over country. His wife was blind, too. Their daughter still lives in Spartanburg, but he moved to Columbia and took charge of a choir at a church. After 40 years, he retired and withdrew from doing interviews. I do have his phone number and talked to him every so often, but I haven’t talked to him in a while because I know his health wasn’t well. [Jones died on January 20, 2023 at the age of 99.]
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