DOUG GRAY might be the only original member of the Marshall Tucker Band left in its current lineup, but that certainly doesn’t mean the spirit has changed.
Gray has kept the passion and trailblazing energy of MTB alive and thriving after years of facing the ups and downs of the music industry.
Gray, a Spartanburg, S.C., native who currently resides in Myrtle Beach, knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to keep a band going. The 71-year-old has been carrying the band forward on his own for several decades—he’s so dedicated to the music that, by this point, it’d be easy to mistake him as the band’s namesake if you didn’t know his name wasn’t Marshall Tucker.
(Fun fact: there isn’t anyone in the band’s history by the name Marshall Tucker. Tucker was the name of a blind piano tuner whose name was inscribed on a door key that the band found at a rehearsal space early on.)
Gray and the current MTB lineup remains active today, and they’re set to headline the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival on Sat., Oct. 19. We caught up with Gray on the road and talked all things Marshall Tucker Band.
Typically I start interviews like this at the beginning and work my way to the present, but I’m really curious to know—what keeps you going after so many years with this band?
Well, the good part is the kind of thing that happened last night—selling more tickets than the actual venue holds. And life has become simpler, so it gives me more time to enjoy it. I have two beautiful daughters and two grandkids, so I get a chance to visit and get a chance to see things. I’m 71 years old, and people go, “Why are you still doing this? It’s been 48 years. Why don’t you give it up?”
We’re still drawing anywhere from 300 to 17,000. How can that possibly be? God knows. I don’t know. I know that the beauty of our music is that it’s inconsistent, but it’s also consistent. It’s kind of a weird thing.
If we hit a town, people will come see us just because they want to bring back a wonderful memory that they had before. What else would I do? I love to travel, even when I’m off. It’s something that I’m used to. I’m a million-miler with airlines [laughs].
It’s also something that God gives you when you’re first born. You have an ability to perform and make people happy, and people are drawn to you simply because you make them feel better. And I think that I have that.
Y’all have been credited as pioneers of the Southern rock genre, which in itself is a fusion of styles. I assume you weren’t intending on creating a specific sound; what was it that you were trying to do early on?
We all grew up in a cotton mill town, and we didn’t have any money. Our families worked in the cotton mill, and my mother took care of terminally ill people. One of my first concerts was James Brown when I was, like, 7 years old. I snuck in the back way. The venue was 2,700 people and was two doors down from where I lived.
It was around that period of time where there was nobody afraid of each other. Being that young and sneaking in the back of the venue, nobody really noticed that there was a little white boy sneaking the back of the auditorium. Nobody cared. And that was so cool. I’d never heard music like that in my entire life. I walked in and man, the music just felt so good. I had a communication breakdown that night, you know?
What an amazing experience that must’ve been.
When the band got together, I was a rhythm and blues and soul singer. I went to Vietnam and came back, and we all got together. They were really, really country. They weren’t from the country, they were just from another side of town. Because of their parents, they were listening to country music. But George [McCorkle, original guitarist] always liked rhythm and blues music.
We were listening to a lot of music, and when you put it all together—you know how at the end of the week, especially if you didn’t have a lot of money, your mom and dad would take all the food that was left over, mix it all up, and make it in a soup on Sunday or Monday? Marshall Tucker Band itself, when we put ourselves into it, we were the soup. It was a mutation of different flavors. Everything that was in that cooker turned into Marshall Tucker.
That’s why nobody could ever pin a [genre] on us. They couldn’t say anything bad about our music because we had a flute, a sax, guitars, keyboards, and we had the ability to put all of these things together in one big bowl.
Is there a song these days that you get particularly excited to play each night? Does it change?
We used to go on Burt Sugarman’s Saturday night show, and then we’d go and do Solid Gold. And you wouldn't just do the song that was popular [on both shows]. So now, every so often, I'll pull out a song that we haven't done in 25 years. And the guys may not know it.
There’s a song called “In My Own Way.” The music is so cool, man. It’s like getting on the best bed you’ve ever had and you never want to get up [laughs]. We’ll do that song on a night when we’re playing to say, 4,000 people at a performing arts center.
I’ll set that song up and say “This is one of my favorite songs, and I hope you take these words home with you.” We all stand up there and play it, but playing it doesn’t mean just standing there and playing the part. It means being a part of one big thing that you want the audience to remember for the rest of their lives.
Fri., Oct. 18
Sat., Oct. 19
Crawford & Power - 6:30 P.M. - 8:00 P.M.
Sun., Oct. 20