Matters of the heart have always mattered to The Marshall Tucker Band.
Even if the Southern-rock cowboys from Spartanburg, S.C., seemed too tough and independent to get all hung up on women — being known more for lyrics about whiskey-drinking, freewheelin’, rambling souls — they’ve always had a way with a love song.
It took a long time for singer Doug Gray to realize that The Marshall Tucker Band had such an elevated romantic side.
“I guess we could talk to our beer a little better,” laughs Gray. “Maybe that’s what it is — talk to the beer a little better and take your shot and know your love life’s all to hell, and so you’ve got to sing a love song.”
And The Marshall Tucker Band did just that. Two of the band’s biggest, most enduring hits, “Can’t You See” (from its 1973 self-titled debut album) and the 1977 big-seller “Heard It In A Love Song” — off 1977’s Carolina Dreams — both deal with heartache and broken-down relationships.
The single versions of both are included on a new Marshall Tucker Band compilation titled Love Songs, a Shout! Factory-Ramblin’ Record release that gathers 13 of the finest love songs of the band’s 35-year history.
Guitarist Toy Caldwell, a man who is said to have had a rock-solid marriage until his death in 1993, wrote “Heard It In A Love Song,” as well as many other Marshall Tucker Band tracks about troubled male-female issues.
“You know what, a lot of times, to be straight with you, you never knew where Toy was coming up with different songs,” says Gray. “You know, everybody says they’d like to relate to this or that, and some people do do that, but Toy ... you never knew where he was coming from,” says Gray. “‘This Old Cowboy’ — I’m pretty sure it’s not on the [new] record [it ’s not] — you know, a lot of those things were done simply because we were all together, and everybody was just writing songs, you know? And Toy would take this lick and that lick, and ‘This Old Cowboy’ was a very, very strong thing about being beat up in a relationship — you know, lied to, cheated on. I guess that was the country side of what we did.”
A keen observer of the human condition, who took inspiration from the foibles and the tribulations of others, Toy was an underrated storyteller who had a great empathy for people with real problems.
“Everybody that loves Toy’s songs has had those things happen to them, one way or the other, OK?” says Gray. “I know that things are the way they are, but I think Toy was the one guy that could write a song would make everybody think.”
And Gray means everybody. While “Can’t You See” would appear to be more in touch with the male propensity for hitting the road when problems at home get to be too much (see also the song “Ramblin’”), it’s not a gender-specific temptation. At least if Marshall Tucker Band concerts are any indication.
“Guys love to sing it, and the women love to sing it more than the guys,” says Gray with a laugh.
Founded in 1971, The Marshall Tucker Band — featuring original members Gray, Toy Caldwell and his brother, bassist Tommy Caldwell (who died in 1980), guitarist George McCorkle (who died in 2007), drummer Paul Riddle and reed player Jerry Eubanks — blended country and rock with surprisingly soulful jazz to create a jam-based, at times even psychedelic, sound. Their apple didn’t fall far from The Allman Brothers’ tree, with Marshall Tucker engaging in long, extended instrumentals that seemed to go on fore