THE NEWS: What were your early musical influences, and where does The Marshall Tucker Band get its sound?
DOUG GRAY: Well, it’s collected over 45 years, but what we started with was copying rhythm and blues, and playing fraternity parties all over the country, and stuff like that. The Allman Brothers — and everybody that was southern — we were copying, and doing that until we cut our first record. Then, all of the sudden, our first record changed our entire lives, and here we are 45 years later, still having a part — going up and doing half-time shows at the NFL for the (Carolina) Panthers, and, you know, we just raised $150,000 for ChristmasForKids.org. You know, giving back a whole bunch more, as well as what we’ve taken over the years, it’s a lot of fun.
What is the make-up of your concert crowds these days, and how has that changed over the years?
They’ve just gotten older. Of course, I kind of did, too, but I didn’t let that affect me. Once you get past 60 years old, you don’t give up. What’s happening is our downloads, and the people that are buying our CDs are from 18 to 37 years old. So, we know that to be true. It’s a fact. We also know that in concerts, we can go out and open a show for Kid Rock, play a show with Southern Ground with Zac Brown. We do those shows, and we do a big country festival with Lady Antebellum and Hunter Hayes. Nobody knows what kind of music we play, but ‘Billboard’ magazine said it best: ‘We don’t know what kind of music they’re playing, but it sure is damn good.’
There are more ways to consume music now than ever — there’s (online) streaming, downloads, radio play — do you think all of those different mediums are helping or hurting the industry?
No, it’s nothing that’s going to hurt it at all, whether it’s a piece of paper, a handbill, like we started handing out years ago. We would go and hand out a handbill and leave it at the local restaurant, or the movie theater or whatever. That always helped. Paper hasn’t changed so much, and then what we call the phase of the internet. It has its swells, and it has its important times. Of course you know, we just went through an election, so there was no time — why even waste your time trying to put music stuff (advertisements) out. So we — I — have been very, very conscious not to try to go out there and try to — you don’t want to compete, you just want to be a part of it. That’s been The Marshall Tucker Band’s theory since the beginning, since I got back from Vietnam. Some of the other guys got back from Vietnam, and all we wanted to do was buy beer for the weekend. That was the way it was 45 years ago, now we all have families and grandkids and such, and now, the ability to go out and do pretty much anything that we like. We’ve entertained everything from presidents to people who just got out of prison. By doing those kind of things, you require a certain amount of ability to enjoy all kind of people of all ages. Certainly, you learn a lot about the music traits of people. I, myself, watch ‘The Voice,’ you know, and I watch all those things. I learn. I get chills from some of those kids that are up there — those 15-, 16-year-old kids, because our music is not going to get anything but better.
What kind of musicians are you listening to these days in your free time? Are there any up-and-coming artists you’re keeping your eye on?
I’ve got to say, Hunter Hayes is a real favorite of mine. Of course, Zac Brown, because certainly Zac is cut from the same cloth as we are. My nephew is one of the singers and players in the Zac Brown Band. That’s Clay Cook, and he’s actually from Georgia. If you’re going to go and do an interview 25 years from now — just like you’re doing with me now — Zac will be one of those guys, because he already know hows to give back. You start by giving back instead of taking. It’s kind of the right way to do things. Let’s be honest. We wouldn’t still be playing shows and playing all kinds of festivals and fairs all around the country — we’re almost halfway finished booking for next year — we wouldn’t still be doing that if we weren’t appealing to the audiences. A lot of people, they let their ego get in the way, and they feel like they’ve got to be stars. Fortunately, there’s no one in the band named Marshall Tucker, so we can change around our people, and all I do is make sure the band stays in the groove with the kind of music that we started out with.
Right. You’re one of the — really, you’re the only remaining original member of the band. What’s that experience been like for you?
It’s weird. But, I guess it’s kind of nice. We started off as six individuals in the band. All we wanted to do was go out, like I said, and buy some extra beer on the weekend. This was pre-high school. We were in junior high together, and then we went to high school. We graduated, and some of us went to Vietnam, some of us went to college. Our whole deal was, ‘Hey, we know we like music, we know we entertain people, we know we screw up, and sometimes we hit a bad note,’ but we never really believed in ourselves — we believed in each other.
Now, there are all kinds of rumors about where The Marshall Tucker Band got its name. Can you set the record straight?
Yeah. That’s easy. There was a blind piano tuner that had rented the warehouse previous to the time that we got ahold of it. On that keychain was a tag — a little bitty white one — and it had ‘Marshall Tucker’ on it. So we rehearsed down there for six or seven months without realizing there was actually a person there. So, somebody came locally and said, ‘Hey, do you want to open for Jimmy Holloway Band and the Allman Brothers?’ We said, ‘Of course.’ They said, ‘Y’all sound good, let’s do it.’ So we did it. We got to know Phil Walden really good down in Macon, Georgia. Phil Walden called up and said for us to come down one Monday and by that Friday, we were already signed.
Phil Walden was with Capricorn (Records)?
Yeah, he was. And then, we moved over to opening shows for The Allman Brothers for about four years — and all kinds of other groups. We were opening for jazz bands, Sly and the Family Stone, people like that. We got quite an experience there for the first four years there.
And that warehouse, that was in Spartanburg, South Carolina?
It was. It was on Spring Street.
Is that where you grew up, in Spartanburg?
That’s the home of Milliken Mills (a major textile manufacturer).
Yeah, Roger Milliken (president and CEO of Milliken Mills). They came up with a lot of designs for a lot of products. They’re known all around the world. Roger himself has passed, and now his son is running it, but these are strong, strong people. My dad worked in one of those mills, and then he retired and stuff. I eventually got to know those people. Roger Milliken came to my daughter’s wedding. He looked over at me — this has been about 15 years ago — and he said, ‘Why don’t you just quit doing that music stuff and come work for me?’ I laughed, and I said, ‘You can’t pay enough.’ He and I have always been really, really tight friends. We both had a lot of respect for each other.
Going back to the band, a lot of Southern Rocks bands, like the Allman Brothers, it seems like there’s always a tragedy that affects these bands. Y’all are no different. After (bandmate) Tommy Caldwell died in 1980, you kind of stepped in and became the host and voice of The Marshall Tucker Band. How did you handle that role?
I did the dumbest thing that anybody could do. I went and listened and bought a lot of live records to look and see what people say. I didn’t want to be that leader of the band — I didn't want that part. I knew financially we already had that in place, so that wasn't a problem, but I didn’t want to do it. Toy (Caldwell, another bandmate, now deceased) didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t want to do it. He said, ‘Somebody’s got to do it.’ So I went and bought all these live records, and listened to all these people talk to the audience. I found out real quick that by saying some of the same dumb things that these other people were saying, that that wasn’t meant for us. It wasn’t meant for our type of band, or for what people perceived us as. … So, I went out there and just started talking to the people. I’d give a little introduction to the song, a little history and thank you. I let it be honest and real. That was the hardest thing to do ever in this band.
Now, there is something about Southern Rock that’s difficult to define. It’s hard to put your finger on what separates Southern Rock from other genres. What do you think it is?
Well, I call it, as I said, I grew up with a dad who worked in the mill and a church-going mama. Not that that’s a bad thing, but she mostly dragged me there — Dad was working all the time. But, it’s a melting pot — that’s what made The Marshall Tucker Band. We had people that were really, really country players, and we had somebody like me who liked James Brown, and the Temptations and the Four Tops. Then, you had somebody else that liked the flutes and the saxophones and they liked jazz groups. We still get talked about in the jazz circles. Every so often we get put in a jazz festival in a place like New Orleans. The only thing that’s in common with us, is we put all that stuff — like your family would do on Thanksgiving, and they stuff the turkey with it. It’s whatever you’ve got. You like tomato? Hand me that tomato. We’d take something that had been around for years and years, and put a little more bass in it, or this in it, or that in it. It’s a whole bunch of vegetables, and you put it in a pot and whatever rises to the top — the musical ability — it all seems to work together.
Like a Brunswick stew?
Exactly like that. The fun part about this whole thing is we never get many complaints about the difference of the music. Maybe up north 25 or 30 years ago, they’d say we were just a bunch of rednecks. But, of course, we are rednecks. We still act like it. We are from the South, and I’m proud of it. Why change? I would like to see more people from the South have more jobs, and have the ability to go back into the working mode. That’s my main thing that would be more important for me.
Now when The Marshall Tucker Band takes the stage at Rainbow Island, what can people expect?
I want them to come with an open mind. Expect to bring back memories, because we’re going to re-awaken those memories of what they were doing when they first heard The Marshall Tucker Band music. Plus, we’re going to make them see some new stuff. Once their mind is open, they’ll be able to be involved.