Southern Rock’s Favorite Band Celebrates 40 Years

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 10:35

An Interview with Doug Gray of the Marshall Tucker Band

By Casey Pukl

The Marshall Tucker Band is one of the longest lasting and most successful classic rock/country bands. With hits like “Can’t You See”, “Fire On The Mountain”, and my personal favorite, “Heard It in a Love Song”, these guys have truly been a staple of southern rock. Suffering the loss of band member Tommy Caldwell back in 1980, the group hasn’t always had it easy, but Doug Gray has been committed to keeping it alive. He even went so far as to turn down a solo record deal he was offered to keep the group going.

Most recently, the group has released The Marshall Tucker Band: Greatest Hits, and Gray has also released a solo CD he recorded back in 1981 shortly after Caldwell passed away called Soul of the South. I had the chance to catch up with Gray yesterday as the group pulled into Arizona. I got the scoop on their latest CD, how social media has brought in a younger audience, and just why he thinks the group has remained successful for four decades.

CP: How are you?

DG: Oh, I’m doing fine! I’m out in Arizona, and it’s really hot out here!

CP: Well don’t melt (laughs)!

DG: (Laughs) I’ll try not to!

CP: I’m really looking forward to your show! “Heard It in a Love Song” is one of my favorite songs of all time. My dad used to sing it to me when it would come on, and I just love it. You’re going to have to play it for me!

DG: Well thank you, and we can certainly do that for you. My two girls still want me to sing it, but they just want me to do it out on the road so I can send money home (laughs). They support me greatly. One of them is 30 years old now, and the other one is 20 and in college now. They love the band, one of ‘em just went to House of Blues with me, and she ended up hanging out, doing some good stuff. She sings pretty good. And then my oldest one made me a grandpa, so that’s pretty cool!

But we’re still on the road! We’re in Tucson, Arizona right now, and it’s about 98 degrees. It’s supposed to be 110, and luckily we’re pulling into the theater we’ll be playing in tonight! It’s good!

I had a great time at Anthology last time! People were overly responsive to what we were doing, and that made it even better!

CP: That’s always a good thing!

DG: Yeah! That’s what keeps the Marshall Tucker Band on the road for 140 shows a year.

CP: It’s unbelievable that after 40 years, you guys are still playing that many shows every year. Did you ever imagine things turning out this way, or have you just really taken it one step at a time?

DG: Absolutely. We never imagined this. Nobody knew. I mean, how could you possibly know? It was lucky!

CP: I know you just put out two records recently. Has that been what you’ve been focusing the majority of your efforts on?

DG: We promote 24/7. The times have changed. Unless you’re a top 5 or top 10 act, it’s not the same. It’s all approached differently now. You’re not going to get the airplay. Sirius and those channels have given us. The classic rock stations still play us, and that’s really good. The country stations play us on occasion, so I think that helps a lot. It keeps us in people’s minds.

We go out and play festivals for 15,000 people, and everything is great and works really well together. Then we go play a place that holds 150-200 people, and it’s the same vibe on stage. People like that. I think sometimes people get up on stage and act like they deserve the audience, and that’s just not the way it is. I think that’s why we’ve been around so long. We never take for granted that a record is going to sell. We never did in the beginning, and even for our first record. Then we got recognized, and we got gold records and platinum records and stuff like that. We had no idea that would happen. But we remember that what those things are, they represent individual people who bought those records!

Most of these people have real jobs with real families, they drive real trucks, and they’re working, raising their families. All of those things cost money— a lot of money! A lot of times, they don’t get a chance to come out. So every so often, we play a big hall or state fair or county fair, and people will come up to us and say, “Man, I knew this was going to be great! This was great!”

There’s a great town in Missouri. The town is only like 500 people, and we had like 20,000 people there! It was a group of people with ages from like 17 to probably 70. That’s got to make you feel good! It makes me feel good! That’s why I keep doing this.

CP: Absolutely. Going into your latest greatest hits record, correct me if I’m wrong, but you really only played as the original line-up for 10 years, right?

DG: 9 years. That was the way it was. One of the guys died, the other didn’t want to continue on in the band, and then 7 years later, the rest of the guys and I kept it. I wanted it to go on. We’re high school buddies. We had the same lawyers and everything, so it was really easy to change over, but I wanted to keep it. And then someone said, “Man, you sang 99% of the songs, so why don’t you just keep this thing going?”

That was a turning point. I got offered my own record deal, and that was a no-brainer. We had already sold a ton of records, and I thought, “Why would I go out there and risk what all these other individuals have tried so hard to attain, but they never get there?” That has a lot to do with it.

CP: Did releasing this record bring back a lot of memories? I mean, it’s been 40 years!

DG: Well, you wait until you see us, ok? Wait until you hear “Heard It in a Love Song”, and you tell me that it looks like it’s been around 40 years, ok? It’s fresh!

CP: Oh sure! That’s why you guys are still so loved!

DG: It’ll sound fresh, and you’ll love it! You’ll feel that energized feeling that that audience down at Anthology always feels. They respond! We’ll get up there, and we’ll feel it too! A lot of the songs that they remember created their childhood and their families. People will come up to me all the time and say, “I buried my brother to one of your songs,” and then within the next two hours, someone else will say, “I got married to one of your songs!” You just don’t think of that stuff.

We’ve had people name their sons Marshall Tucker! I thought to myself, “Oh my God. There’s better names out there, I guess!”

But then someone else said, “My son was 4 years old, his name was Marshall Tucker, and I buried him.” And then they’ll bring me the little obituary. It’s so refreshing to me that how can I not walk on that stage? How can I not go down that elevator at your place, and then play? These people appreciate it, and not just there, but all over the country.

CP: Sounds like your fans are really what keep this fresh and exciting for you!

DG: You take one look out there, and they change every night. But then if you come back a year later, there are certain people that you remember their faces. I’m really good at remembering faces. Forget names! Hell, I’ll forget your name! We’re labeled. Luckily it’s not a number (laughs), but names are labels. Most people are really good and want to come to a show, have a meal, have some drinks, and then forget about their work for those couple hours. They want to forget about work and all the problems that everybody has these days, and that’s just what we do. People want to forget and go into some little dream world. It’s like when people used to do acid! Some of them never came down (laughs)!

CP: (Laughs) Yeah, this sounds like a much safer option!

DG: (Laughs) Oh yes, I think so!

CP: Over the years, you’ve had a good chance to watch the music business and technology change. I know you guys have really embraced social media with your Facebook and Youtube pages. Have you found that your audiences have gotten younger over the years?

DG: They’re 17 now. Between iTunes and all of that stuff, we know how old the people who buy our stuff are. That’s how we find out that people that are 17 are buying our stuff and are actually turning out for the shows and stuff. Some of them have the tie-dyed shirts on. But then you get the older folks in their tie-dye, and then there are the people like me who are just rednecks. I put on my tie-dye shirt on to go swimmin’, and I think you can see it in the water when I float (laughs)!

CP: (Laughs) Man, you’re making me miss Nashville right now!

DG: Well you’re going to get a taste of Nashville when we come down there!

Special thanks to Doug for his time! While the 7:30pm show is sold out, we’ve still got a few tickets left for the 9:30 show! Be sure to come on down for a great show!

Marshall Tucker Band on Spotify

WHAT: Marshall Tucker Band
WHEN: Wednesday, May 30, 7:30 & 9:30pm
TICKETS: $19-$75 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile