The Marshall Tucker Band’s Many Shades Of ‘Gray’

Marshall Tucker Band co-founder/frontman Doug Gray talks with Pollstar about the band’s legacy and its new live album released last month.

Sept. 3, 1977 was a magical day for The Marshall Tucker Band.  One of the progenitors of the then-growing Southern rock movement, MTB had already built an audience through the strength of singles like “Can’t You See” and “Fire On The Mountain” and albums such as the band’s self-titled debut and Searchin’ For A Rainbow.

But on that September afternoon in Englishtown, N.J.,  The Marshall Tucker Band took the stage in front of more than 150,000 fans, leading to one of the band’s most memorable performances.  Now that gig comes alive once more via The Marshall Tucker Band’s latest live album release – Live From Englishtown.

Doug Gray recently chatted with Pollstar, about his Englishtown experience, but as well as the band’s practice of recording almost every show, playing the Grand Ole Opry and how he and his bandmates strive for the best show possible every time they step onto a stage.

Photo: Thomas Newton
CMA Festival, Nashville, Tenn.

What keeps The Marshall Tucker Band going after all these years?

We’ve always been about selling the band first.  It took us a year to start selling a lot of records with Marshall Tucker Band.  That’s probably why we’re still around today.  Because we go out there and play hard.  It’s not “Let’s rely on the past to take us to where we are today.”  I’ve got players that love to play.  They are more experienced most people even know. 

I’ve got a live cassette of Wishbone Ash from years ago.  It’s memorable to me.  That’s one of the reasons we started putting LPs back out.  People were bringing their old albums they found at yard sales or up in the attic.  I’m 66 years old.  It’s about your health and how much you really try.  How that spark still lies in your heart when you step on stage.  That’s not only what makes Marshall Tucker [perform] but makes Charlie Daniels get up on that stage.  Some of those other older guys, they get up on the Grand Ole Opry stage and play like it’s their first time.

The cover of Live At Englishtown shows the band on stage.  And while you and your bandmates were hardly a glam band you can still see traces of 1970s fashion in the clothes.

We came from a cotton mill area. Some of our parents worked in cotton mills. My dad retired from one.  We didn’t really have a choice of having different kind of styles from where we grew up.  The town Spartanburg, S.C., is a very good size town but it wasn’t a fashion place. You wore what they had in the store.  Today you can go online and order anything you want to regardless of how silly or stupid it looks.

Back then, those were clothes we wore every day. That shirt that I had on and those jeans – it’s just like I rolled out of the van and walked on stage.  I tell that story to my guys today. You go through a period where everyone wants to dress up a little bit. … The 20 different versions, I think, of Marshall Tucker Band over a period of time … including James Stroud, who played with me for a summer, some of these great guys like Bob Wray and Bobby Ogdin, when they didn’t want to do it anymore, I went to Nashville to guys I knew.  They asked, “What should we wear?”  That, to me, was a joke because we never planned [stage clothes].  Nobody called me up and asked, “You gonna wear a tank top today and what color is it?”

You throw on your Wrangler Jeans. For some we take bets about how long they can wear the jeans before [the pants] stand up.

I loved being out there with The Allman Brothers Band and having 300 dates to do on the road.  You didn’t know what to wear or what kind of place you we’re going to play.  When we had the chance to headline, the agency would ask who we would like to open for us.  I said, “What about B.B. King or Albert King?”  And we did have B.B. King on a summer tour.  That was an amazing thing.  I have a vocal somewhere hidden in some tape of me singing with B.B. King and his band up at the Sarasota Performing Arts Center.  Those are cherished moments.  As far as putting on clothes, I can remember sitting with Bo Diddley and his shirt was worn out in one place.  It wasn’t torn, it was just tattered.

Did you record everything during the ’70s and do you still have those recordings?

We [recorded] almost every night whether it was a club or a larger venue.  We probably got more than 300 live [recordings].  I don’t know if we can use all of them, but if people want to hear that stuff … Collectors go back and buy LPs … they bring us these things and say, “I wish I had a brand new copy of this.”  That’s why we went back [to the live recordings].

Were the live recordings taken from soundboards or are they more like audience recordings or bootlegs?

We had some really nice guys on the road, engineers, at the time.  Some of them are still mixing and recording things.  Some of these guys would bring their own equipment.  It was kind of funny.  We didn’t care about clothes but we care about how it sounded so we would listen to it the next day.

We started out with cassettes.  I have three warehouses full of memorabilia.  We had all kinds of stuff we would record on; Echoplexes that they would try on certain things.  An audio guy, Kevin McManus, worked for us.  He sells a lot of equipment.  He worked for us for lots of years.

We would hire these guys directly from the P.A. companies.  They wanted to do it and when their stuff sounded good we’d say, “We like you.  Come with us for two or three years.”

You go in the vault and pull something out – If you love recorded live music, you’ll notice, especially on this live record, there some spots that aren’t really musically sound, but you will also notice that the intensity of the moment was something that I wasn’t going to disregard.   A lot of times, even if we were straining to get this one little piece out or I’m straining to sing one particular song or Toy’s bending a note and all of a sudden the string’s getting ready to crack or pop … we kept it.

Click on image to see complete album cover art.

I sat with the engineer listening to that record.  I put myself in it as if I was standing on that stage [with] Toy Caldwell on my left.  I wanted people to say, “Where was I at that point in time?”  I put myself back on that stage, standing there with Toy, Tommy and all those guys.  And I understood at that moment that was the way live music was supposed to be at that time.  And this [the live album] turned out good. [There is a] flyover [photo] of that concert taken by a newspaper that nobody has been able to find for me.  That 150,000 people? That was unbelievable.  If you saw it from a helicopter, it looked like corn stalks.  It was cool. 

Some of [our records] I love to go back and listen to.  I love to hear “Asking Too Much Of You” and stuff like that, that [reminds] me, of sitting in the studio with Toy and Tommy and I’d run in and make the producer hit the RECORD button because I knew something magical was happening.

We don’t get a lot of magic moments in our lives, as individuals.  Toy would always say, “You write those lyrics down real quick.  I’m going to do this. I’m writing this for you to sing.”

It was a battle between me and him because he wanted me to sing everything.  I’d say, “Toy.  I can’t growl that growl.  You have that growl.” That’s why he sang the songs he did.  He eventually told me, he used a cold as an excuse, “I [you] want to sing this particular song.”  So I got the chance to sing “This Ol’ Cowboy.”  I couldn’t get him to do that. 

One song might be really good and one song won’t work for that night.  You sit there and go on to the next track because the last one didn’t put you in a good mood.

Marshall Tucker Band music, for some reason, puts a lot of people in a good mood.  We don’t have fights at our concerts. I’m not saying they didn’t do it for a few years there.  Because Quaaludes were readily available back then.

But Quaaludes are sedatives, hardly a drug known for inspiring fights.

At one show it was like “Night Of The Living Dead.” One of the security guys told me, “Doug.  We just got a bad thing right now.  Everybody wants to take Quaaludes.”  We got up there and played our butts off.  It wasn’t a lack of a response.  There were 4,000 people in an ice skating arena.

A spark has to come before the fire starts. If [the audience] has a spark in them, then we’re going to make that fire. … That was a pretty hip time for us.  We had already been on the road with The Allman Brothers Band for about three years.  Then we took Firefall out to open for us, and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and people like that.  Then we turned this all around.  I had Gregg Allman on stage with us and different people like that.  Now they call it a “jamband” – playing six or seven hours, just making up stuff.  Being in the groove.

We [still] don’t know [what will happen] once we walk on stage.  I give that freedom to all the guys that come work for me.  Learn the song and then put your heart into it.  You might see someone up there trying to lead but there’s no leader in Marshall Tucker Band.  I might still be the singer, and I own the band, but that has nothing to do with [the music].  Because I want my guys to share in something.  All these guys that have been with me, some over 25 years, they are a team.  It’s almost like a football team that has a magic moment and scores that touchdown.  I try to do that with each live record we have.

To be able to make a better record, a better concert on stage, there is a flame to be had. … If that music comes through and we’re able to capture it, I’ll put it out on a record.  There will be records for the rest of my life.

Marshall Tucker Band received lots of airplay on Top 40 and album oriented rock radio stations, but country radio wasn’t exactly in love with the band.  Can you comment on that?

As far as getting on the radio, we were amazed when [our music was played on the radio] the first time.  We had been invited to play the Grand Ole Opry a couple of times and we have fulfilled that dream.  I never would have imagined playing the Ryman.  In my mind it was so out of reach.

In country radio, we didn’t fit the mold. … They didn’t know we had “Fire On The Mountain” which gets played on country radio stations.  Then it took another 20 years before country came around to Marshall Tucker Band.  We didn’t come around to it.  It came around to find that Marshall Tucker had validity.  Kitty Wells did one of our songs in the ’70s.

Were you able to keep your master recordings?

We own all the masters.  We’re one of the few bands that can say that. … It’s wonderful to have those things because you can pick and choose what you want to do.  It’s also a huge negotiating point.  Like with our new label. They really like the band. They stay in touch with us.

As far as owning the masters, this was something, after [being on] Capricorn, there seemed to be some legal problems that made us end up owning them.

If you could send a message back to the Doug Gray playing on Live From Englishtown, what advice would you give your younger self?

Stop doing cocaine. … I did it up to August 16, 1989.  I think I just petrified myself.  I wish I had stopped earlier. But when it gets into your head, you think you have control.  I quit everything that day, smoking, drinking and I quit the cocaine.  Once I quit all of that, it took me a couple of years to get my head completely straight. … Then about 10 years later I started having a beer or two because I knew I was in control.  Now, I have a couple of beers … but I have an addictive personality so I can’t do anything. I explain it on stage a lot of times. I just quit doing it because it was a good day to do it.  And from then on it’s been a wonderful life for me. … Life has been really, really good to me.

Photo: Joel Kinison
Rams Head On Stage, Annapolis, Md.

Upcoming Marshall Tucker Band shows:

Oct. 24 – Tarrytown, N.Y., The Tarrytown Music Hall
Oct. 25 – Plymouth, N.H., The Flying Monkey Movie House & Performance Center
Oct. 26 – Hartford, Conn., Infinity Hall Hartford
Nov. 1 – West Wendover, Nev., Peppermill Concert Hall
Nov. 7 – Great Falls, Mont., Montana Expopark
Nov. 8 – Big Bear Lake, Calif., The Cave
Nov. 9 – San Juan Capistrano, Calif., The Coach House Concert Hall
Nov. 10 – Laughlin, Nev., Harrah’s Rio Vista Amphitheatre
Nov. 11 – Tucson, Ariz., Rialto Theatre
Nov. 14 – Lincoln, Calif., Thunder Valley Casino
Nov. 15 – Jackson, Wy., Heritage Arena (Fireman’s Ball)
Nov. 21 – Pulaski, N.Y., Kallet Theater and Conference Center
Nov. 22 – Angola, Ind., Trine University
Dec. 4 – Warrendale, Pa., Jergel’s Rhythm Grille
Dec. 5 – Beverly, Mass., Larcom Theatre
Dec. 6 – Newton, N.J., The Newton Theatre
Dec. 11 – Ridgefield, Conn., Ridgefield Playhouse
Dec. 12 – Uncasville, Conn., Wolf Den
Dec. 13 – New York, N.Y., B.B. King Blues Club
Jan. 25 – Annapolis, Md., Rams Head On Stage
Feb. 19 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Liberty Of The Seas (Rock Legends Cruise)
Feb. 20 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Liberty Of The Seas (Rock Legends Cruise)
Feb. 21 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Liberty Of The Seas (Rock Legends Cruise)
Feb. 22 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Liberty Of The Seas (Rock Legends Cruise)
Feb. 23 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Liberty Of The Seas (Rock Legends Cruise)
March 20 – Englewood, N.J., Bergen Performing Arts Ctr.

Please visit The Marshall Tucker Band’s website, Facebook page, MySpace home and YouTube channel for more information.