Still Taking the Highway
" BluesWax Sittin' Marshall Tucker's Doug Gray
By Bob Putignano
During his high school years, Doug Gray fronted a band called The Guldsmen, performing rhythm and blues and rock covers before joining Tommy Caldwell in the New Generation. After high school, Gray joined friends Tommy and Toy Caldwell, Jerry Eubanks and Ross Hanna to form the Toy Factory, a band that began to achieve notoriety. Toy Factory became popular enough to be asked to open for The Allman Brothers. Afterwards, some band members spent time in the military, and when everyone returned from service, the musicians regrouped with Gray, the Caldwell brothers, and Eubanks joined by George McCorkle and Paul Riddle.
The Marshall Tucker band name was originated when someone found a key ring that belonged to a local piano tuner named Marshall Tucker. While opening for Wet Willie at The Ruins in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the MTB was noticed by Jimmy Hall. Jimmy introduced them to Capricorn Records CEO Phil Walden, who signed the band. From 1972 to date, Gray has acted as lead vocalist for MTB. When Capricorn went bust in '79, the band shifted to Warner Brothers Records. In 1980, bassist Tommy died following an auto accident, and in 1983, his brother Toy, along with McCorkle and Riddle, decided to retire from the band. Gray and Eubanks carried on, hiring some of Spartanburg's best musicians. Driven by the heart, soul and undying pride of Doug Gray, The Marshall Tucker band continues to tour regularly,
Just as the Shout Factory triple CD box set The Essential Marshall Tucker Band was released, and while Marshall Tucker was passing through New Yokr City, I had the opportunity to check in with the good natured southern Blues-rocker Doug Gray
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Mr. Doug Gray, how are you today?
Doug Gray: I'm having a good time, Bob and hope you are too.
BW: I'm enjoying this new triple box set that you just put out, The Essential Marshall Tucker Band.
DG: Thank you and you know what? Some of those tracks have been released before, but there are some new previously unreleased tracks that were fun for me to introduce to our fans. We are working on another one that will be called Way Out West, too. I've been sitting in the studio listening to these tapes and they are really nice.
BW: Anything from that first trip you made to New York City at Kenny's Castaways?
DG: Man, I wish we had some of what we did that night. You were there?
BW: Funny story, I had never heard you guys before and on the morning of that gig, a DJ on WNEW played you guys from the first LP, and I freaked. The DJ also said you guys were playing in New York City that night, so I rounded about eight of my buddies, went to the show, and you guys tore the roof off the place!
DG: You wouldn't happen to have any pictures or audio from that night?
BW: I wish I did, Doug, but I don't.
DG: That night was very exciting for us as it was our first New York City show, and I am really glad you were there!
BW: It was a great night, and that's when Kenny's Castaways was uptown, I was a regular patron as they brought in a lot of Blues guys like; Willie Dixon, Mighty Joe Young, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and others. Catching you there was phenomenal and a very memorable evening.
DG: It was wonderful, and your bringing this night up brings back so many memories for me. And reminds me why we did what we did, and why I am still doing this with the band. You know I think it was Scott Muni who played us on WNEW that morning. I miss that guy, and we became great friends. Remembering that night still gives me chills, as does when I mix this other live stuff we found, where I go into the studio with a great engineer and just listen to those old tapes and envision that I am standing on stage. We are so proud of what we've done. I hope you get a chance to come see us this weekend. We're different people now. The world has changed, and God has taken care of some of us, as a lot of people have left this world, but I bet a lot of those good folks have come back as kitty cats. (Laughs) The beautiful part of all of this is that you and I are still talking about great memories and chuckling about it. Do you know that I almost stole a police car that night?
BW: No, but why?
DG: True story, a police car pulled up in front of the club while we were in between sets, and the policeman was chasing some sucker down the street into a hallway. He left his car door open, and the car was still running. I was just drunk enough on Scotch, and someone said, "Doug you better not do it!" What a night, what a grateful night.
Earlier, you said you did not know us until that day in '73, but we didn't know who we were yet. We all came from humble blue collar backgrounds. My daddy worked in a cotton mill. Other members of the band and family were plumbers, and others made teeth on the side. We were and still are just real down to earth regular folks who also loved to have a great time. We were not different than any of your listeners or your family. I didn't even hang my gold records. People would visit me and say, "Where are all of your gold records?" So eventually someone went to my warehouse and pulled out the gold and platinum records and hung them for me. And you know it makes me feel good looking at them now, as I am proud to have been a part of what we did.
BW: Plus you are still out there, carrying the Tucker flag.
DG: I wear my Marshall Tucker t-shirts everyday. Damn, I get them for free!
BW: Too funny. I was fortunate to have seen you guys early on in a club setting, but it wasn't long afterwards that you were opening for the Allman Brothers and playing in front of twenty thousand people. Come to think of it, I saw you with the Allmans and Elvin Bishop, too.
DG: Sitting on a bail of hay with Elvin. Elvin's got to be at least six-hundred years old.
BW: Actually, Elvin is sixty-seven this week.
DG: Sixty-seven, and I thought I'm old at sixty-one. You know what? I am going to make a deal with you. If you come out to our show this weekend, I want you to memorize the second verse of "This Old Cowboy," and I will bring you on-stage with my arm around you. I'll even whisper the words in your ear, I won't leave you alone out there!
BW: I don't know, Doug...
DG: You are coming out to the show, and I'm giving you my manager's phone number, and my personal cell phone number.
BW: I'd love to come out and see the band this weekend, and the other bonus is that Charlie Daniels is also on the bill, so I'm there!
DG: You just call me, and we'll make this happen.
BW: But joining the band on stage will scare the living you know what out of me.
DG: No one's going to smell it, I will bring you some Depends (Laughs.) But I want you up there, it's easy. Believe it or not, you will feel wonderful after it's over.
BW: We'll work this out, oh my God!
DG: You don't work out nothing with the Marshall Tucker Band. You just come on out there, because I want you to feel what I feel every night with this band. You will remember this night for years and years.
Note: Your humble correspondent, never made to the stage that night, and I think those all in attendance were better off for it, me too!
DG: And you know, we rarely play the same songs nightly, so we do some sweet stuff, and when I hear someone yell a request from the crowd I just do it.
BW: That keeps you and the band fresh and sharp, I'm sure.
How did the MTB band get hooked up with Capricorn Records?
DG: Jimmy Hall then of Wet Willie heard the band and asked if we had a tape of the band, and we had something that we'd just cut in Muscle Shoals. "Can't You See," "Take the Highway," and "Hillbilly Band." So Jimmy Hall took the tape to Phil Walden in Macon, Georgia, and Phil invited us down to come play at a place called Grants Lounge, which was a black club, back in the day when black was black, and white was white. Nobody seems to care about this anymore. But anyway, we walked in, did our thing, signed the contract over some Scotch, and had ourselves a deal for five years.
BW: Great story. Plus the legacy and history that came out of Capricorn was amazing, what a roster; MTB, ABB, Elvin Bishop, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Bramlett, Wet Willie, Cowboy, the list goes on and on. Speaking of Elvin, that deal with Capricorn just catapulted his career.
DG: It sure did. It did for all of us. One night at the studio, guess who I run into? Dr. John. There was this practice room with a big Steinway back there, so I stumbled in higher than you know what, I was a young man and couldn't even grow a beard then. So someone says, "Hey, Mac is back there," and I said, "I don't care who is back there," and then he says, "Gregg Allman is there, too." Now, Gregg's still one of my best friends, but I just did not give a hoot back then.. So eventually, I walk back, and Mac says, "Sit down and sing one." The rest of the night was just great, and we had ourselves a ball.
BW: What about the current version of MTB?
DG: I tell you, over the years, there's been hundreds of guys that have come into this band who thought that they could stay, wanted to stay, and thought they had the heart to make Marshall Tucker live on. I don't know if it will live forever. I have plans to go for as long as I can. I brought in my nephew and others that are a little bit younger than me. This current lineup knows our songbook, and they are ready and biting at the bit to play anything I want them to. I am very fortunate as it's not easy to find guys like this. Some of them have jazz credits, too.
BW: Well MTB always had a jazzy side.
DG: Yeah, we did, and wait till you hear my sax player. You are going to want to go over there and kiss him. He's that good, and has played with everyone. But all he really wanted to do was play in MTB. He kept calling me asking me to join the band. So when the spot opened, I gave him a call and gave him a list of songs to learn, and he was more than ready!
BW: So, now I am really looking forward to seeing the band.
Tell me more about this new Essential Marshall Tucker Band box set.
DG: Like I'd mentioned, some of the tracks have been released prior, but we found this one live tape that needed some work. I knew that there was nothing I could do to change the music, but it needed to be cleaned up sonically. So I went into the studio and said, "Let's just play it top to bottom end to end, leave the audience noise as it is, the talking we did between songs, etc. I listened to it for four days and made my notes, then spent three weeks thinking about it, but all we got from that tape was just three or four songs for this release. But there's a reason for that as the next CD I was telling you about, Way Out West (which was done with Bill Graham's people,), will have other tunes from that tape. This is preliminary information that I am not supposed to be telling anyone about, but you are going to love it.
BW: I will be looking forward to it, Doug. Speaking of the jazzy side of MTB, I had an uncle (who is no longer with us) that somehow stumbled upon Marshall Tucker, who just adored the band, especially "This Old Cowboy." He was almost eighty and would crank the MTB up big time, and drove my aunt nuts! But he was a jazz guy, too.
DG: That makes some sense to me, and speaking of jazz, we took Spyro Gyra on the road with us for several years.
BW: I did not know that.
DG: Oh yeah, we wanted that jazz/Marshall Tucker influence. So when they played,we'd listen and picked up that flavor. So, as the saying goes, anything you associate yourself with, you become.
BW: And reach a wider audience, too.
DG: That's right, and we learned as well. Hey, I am taking up your whole day here. Do you want me to come in and do your radio show, too?
BW: Come on down, and co-host with me, that would be a trip.
DG: Be careful for what you wish for, Bob! (Laughs)
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: firstname.lastname@example.org web site: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com