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Q&A: The Marshall Tucker Band

While The Marshall Tucker Band reached the height of its commercial success by the end of the ‘70s, it has recorded and performed continuously under various lineups for 45 years.

G.K. Hizer
June 28, 2019

Although the term Southern rock has become ubiquitous with a twangy blend of blues guitar, country, and rock and is now lumped into the Americana category, its rise in the early ‘70s came with a distinct and fresh sound blending healthy doses of Delta blues, country, classic rock sensibilities, and even touches of jazz or psychedelia, depending on the band. Although it spawned a genre of bands that jumped on the bandwagon and eventually influenced acts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Black Crowes, Drive By Truckers, and Alabama Shakes, it can be argued that the foundation of Southern rock was established by four groups: The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and South Carolina’s The Marshall Tucker Band.

Legend says that the band took its name from a blind piano tuner in Spartanburg, South Carolina. When discussing potential band names, one of the members noticed the name “Marshall Tucker” inscribed on the door key for a warehouse the group was rehearsing in, and subsequently The Marshall Tucker Band was born.

In the years since, the band has recorded over 20 studio albums, a handful of live releases, and toured relentlessly, first working through the loss of founding bassist Tommy Caldwell after a car accident in 1980, and subsequently through multiple membership changes to see the band still led by founding member Doug Gray.

As a staple of classic rock radio, songs like “Can’t You See,” “Heard It in a Love Song,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Take the Highway” are part of the Southern rock cannon.

Lead singer Gray took time between tour stops to answer questions in advance of the band’s arrival in Tulsa for a July 28 show at The Joint: Tulsa at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.

Q. The Marshall Tucker Band formed in 1972. What keeps you going at this point?
A. It’s the people, and more specifically, the number of people who still want to hear our music. I think some of the most creative music came from that period when we were coming up, and people were getting tired of what was coming out. Now, they are going back and want to listen to music that means something to them and makes them feel something.

Q. What elements do you think define your sound?
A. I’ve always said and thought we play good Southern rock. We have to stay the right route with our classic stuff, because that’s what people know and want to hear, but at the same time we incorporate the sound of the current band to keep it fresh. We’ve played the Country Music Association Awards one day, then the Kentucky Derby the next, and then Sturgis, so we’ve seen it all and never know what’s coming next. If we’re playing to a country crowd, we can push that side a little more, or if we’re in front of rock crowd, we can lean into the rock and blues. I think it gives us the ability to adapt to our audience.

Q. Who are your favorite bands to tour and share the stage with?
A. There have been plenty that we enjoyed, but definitely the Charlie Daniels Band. We still play shows with them pretty regularly. Of the newer guys, we like playing with Zac Brown Band and Blackberry Smoke. They appreciate what we do, and we appreciate them. I think that’s part of what helps keep us fresh.

Q. How do you keep positive chemistry in the band?
A. I think the biggest thing is I like the people in the band. Everyone wanted to be in this band and, in some cases, they had to wait for someone else to leave for them to join, so everyone is in this together.

You know, this band never really stops. We all came up together in high school, and it all just kind of took off. I think the most significant part is that everyone has left for the right reasons or reasons out of our control. There’s never been any bad blood. When people have left, it was just a handshake and agreeing to go on. And then the guys who join have all wanted to be here. That has made it all pretty straightforward.

Q. As part of the Southern rock scene, there’s always got to be that one person in the crowd yelling for “Free Bird.” How do you handle that?
A. I yell back, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re at the wrong show.” It just depends on the situation or the mood. It happens, and sometimes I’ll yell back, sometimes we ignore it, and sometimes we look at each other and play something of ours that sounds a little like “Free Bird” and that usually quiets them down. But, yeah, it’s become a little bit of a cliché and joke by now.

Q. You’re essentially an independent band now with your label, Ramblin’ Records.
A. That leaves it up to us to do what we want to do. We work with APA [American Performing Artists] and a management company to help handle our bookings, but we can pretty much do what we want. We tour a lot, and yes, some people want to come out and get drunk and party, but most people expect The Marshall Tucker Band to shake them up and make them move. We’re still playing to big audiences.

We get booked on packages where the other bands are playing to 500-600 people; then we play to a couple of thousand, and people are amazed. After all these years, I find it strange, but it’s remarkable.

The Marshall Tucker Band
The Joint: Tulsa | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
918-384-ROCK (x7625)
July 28: 6 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend