Ask anyone to name five Southern rock groups, and its a safe bet that The Marshall Tucker Band will be on that list.
Along with The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws and Molly Hatchet, this Spartanburg, S.C. group came to epitomize the genre, and they in particular came closest to incorporating outright jazz influences in their work, alongside the more obvious touchstones such as gospel, blues and country.
Much like their kindred spirits from Macon, The Allmans, The MTB (named after a blind piano tuner who lived in their hometown) made a name for themselves as an incredible live act that was willing to stretch their elastic and forgiving arrangements well past the point less talented groups could have reached.
Though founding members (and brothers) Tommy and Toy Caldwell both passed away long ago, and the original lineup of the group has not been intact for over two decades, the band has soldiered on under the watchful eye of vocalist Doug Gray, this lineups sole link to its formation.
Most folks know The Marshall Tucker Band best for their million-selling 1977 album Carolina Dreams. However, since Gray took over running the band, hes guided them through several critically-praised forays into blues, religious material and straight country.
They are currently readying their first-ever Christmas album, which features a mix of both traditional and new yule-related tunes, and in an historic first guest spots by a couple of original members of the group who have not appeared on any MTB records since the mid-1980s.
Doug Gray spoke with us by phone from his home in South Carolina.
Connect Savannah: What's it like to be in the same band for almost 30 years? Can you even remember a time when your life didn't revolve around The MTB?
Doug Gray: No. But those are the good times. Once the stage lights come on, you're back where you were 30 years ago.
Connect Savannah: Is it ever a grind, singing the same songs all these years?
Doug Gray: You can lose your mind trying to juggle all of this. Some people do! I enjoy both sides of it. They call you up and want to hire you and you have to go. You have no choice. Its a responsibility, but one we enjoy. The wonderful thing is that the music continues to be good and we're picking up younger crowds, plus some of the older crowds who gave up on us for a while. We have so many gold and platinum records... How can you let those people down?
Connect Savannah: How is this lineup different from the original band that recorded most of your hits?
Doug Gray: When I close my eyes, I feel like what I've done right is to continue the same level of music that we've been doing for all these years. Some of these guys playing with me now have been in the group much longer than the original lineup was. We are not a copy band. We play the Marshall Tucker music because we believe in it. I dont grab people for how they look on stage but for what they bring to the group. Its like Im the coach and theyre the players, but I get out there and play with em.
Connect Savannah: Whats the difference between touring in 2005 and in 1985?
Doug Gray: We dont have as many folks to do things for us as we used to, but its very much the same. I make sure that we dont do anything that the original band wouldnt have wanted or done.
Connect Savannah: How difficult was it to convince the old members to play on your upcoming Christmas album?
Doug Gray: It was a phone call, thats all. They were real excited. It was just a matter of finding out when they were free to come do it. Weve all got families now.
Connect Savannah: Do people still think your name is Marshall Tucker?
Doug Gray: Without a doubt. Every day! especially when I wear one of our T-shirts.
Connect Savannah: Have you ever seen a Weiner Dog Race?
Doug Gray: No, but Ive watched a lot of people eat hot dogs.
The Marshall Tucker Band headlines Friday nights OktoberFest celebration on River Street. Saturday night, 70s soft-rock warhorses Ambrosia headline. Both shows are free and open to the public.