By Patrick Prince
Doug Gray is known as the strong-voiced frontman for ’70s southern rockers The Marshall Tucker Band. But his catalog finally includes a solo record. “Soul of the South,” which was recorded in 1981 and shelved for 30 years, is a departure from the sort of Southern rock listeners would expect. If anything, it was everything the title of the album suggested: a southern flavor to classic soul and R&B music.
Forty years after it first formed, The Marshall Tucker Band is still active, playing hundreds of gigs every year. The lineup has evolved; original members Toy Caldwell (lead guitar), Tommy Caldwell (bass) and George McCorkle have passed away, while Jerry Eubanks (flute and saxophone) and Paul Riddle (drums) have moved on to new adventures.
As the sole original member still performing with The Marshall Tucker Band, Gray remains a huge part of the band’s longevity. He tirelessly spreads the band’s musical legacy, and at 63, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
GM: All the touring … still. Does it make you feel young? Does it ever get to you??
Doug Gray: It makes you look forward to next year. It really does. Everyone says, “How do you keep the energy up?” But what else do we really want to do in our lives? We’ve been given one big thing to take care of, and we’re all still searching for that rainbow, and it will continue to be that way. And I’m humbled by the fact that people still want to talk about how we started something so long ago and to be able to complete our partial journey, ‘cause I never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. We try to end the year by playing B.B. Kings (club in New York City), and then everybody goes home. And then we don’t see each other for a month, and that’s usually it. The most important part is why we did it, and do what we do.
GM: Toy Caldwell (who died in 1993) was such a great guitarist. I was just listening to the song “Ramblin’” and that jam … that guitar work!
DG: And you know what? He never got tired either, even after he left the band and wanted me to take it over and keep on going. We started something that freaks you out. At Kenny’s Castaways (New York club), we played in front of, like, 40 people, and three months later we were opening for the Allman Brothers at Madison Square Garden. That’s enough to make you jump out a window. ’Cause we had no idea what that would be like.
GM: There must be plenty of times when you look back and reflect on all the changes of the band over the years.
DG: Well, you know, it doesn’t really matter where you are as long as you are playing your ass off. And you’ll never be in that same place. You gotta appreciate the place where you are. We went out and did it for beer at first. Or steak.
GM: You recorded the solo album “Soul of the South” in 1981 and then you shelved (until 2011) because of your dedication to Marshall Tucker.
DG: I was offered a large contract. That’s no bull. A lot of stuff was going on then. There was no division within the band, but we had just lost Tommy, and he was such a driving force, so it came down to (Marshall Tucker) still having a couple records to do.
GM: Has the reception been good on the release of the solo record … from the fans of Marshall Tucker??
DG: I think so. I think the more that it’s out, the more it gets talked about. It wasn’t put out to change the world. It was put out to let people know what we did.
GM: Do you still find songwriting easy?
DG: Well, a lot of people spend a lot of time on songs. I think that’s a wonderful gift to have. But many times, words will come to me, and I’ll write it down real quick, and I’ll go back and look at it.
GM: And many things have influenced you.
DG: I’m kind of weird when it comes to stuff like that, because all the influences — I don’t think about it. It’s like I filtered it all. It’s almost like, with Marshall Tucker, I’m imitating my real life, the way I talk. But when you’re imitating real life, I think that’s when people get closer to you. You enjoy talking to people and what happened in their lives, too, which is something I’ve always been able to do with other writers, as well.
GM: If you talk about musical genres, it can be hard to pin down Marshall Tucker.
DG: Thank you.
GM: You can say Southern Rock, right? But you do hear a lot of different elements in there.
DG: That’s why we didn’t get the same amount of airplay as Skynyrd did. Everybody would say, ‘Hell, they’re too country.’ And then all of a sudden it would be too rock ’n’ roll. And then, later on, jazz. We had (the song) “This Ol’ Cowboy,” and we were out playing with Spyro Gyro. And we played shows — Toy and I did — with Sly and The Family Stone. We were a bunch of guys that had different backgrounds. Toy liked country. His rock ‘n’ roll songs were more country than they were rock ‘n’ roll songs. And there was Jerry — his was a little more jazz oriented.
And Paul was Buddy Rich all over the place. We were in a bowl of soup like your mom would cook. Whatever was in the refrigerator was all thrown in there, and however it tasted was what it was. I can show you articles that were written. They didn’t know what kind of band this was, because the influences come from here, here and here. So it didn’t help us get us as high on the charts as other groups, but I think longevity speaks a lot. If those guys were still around today, the original guys … If Tommy didn’t pass away, and Toy and George — I think we’d be out playing, but I think it would sound different today.
GM: A Goldmine reader once told me that we should do a story on the Marshall Tucker Band bootleg albums, because there are so many good ones.
DG: There are tons of them. And we’re doing our own vinyl. And we’re gonna do it because there’s such a demand. We started talking about it awhile back. And all of a sudden, people heard about it, and we started getting people inquiring. People started asking me on the road, after the concert, ‘Man, when are you gonna get that done? Let me know because I want to buy it!’ GM