Posted April 2018
I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that even if you’re not an avid listener to music (and that’s unlikely or you wouldn’t be visiting Boomerocity.com), that you’ve probably heard the Marshall Tucker Band at least a half a million times on the radio since your teen years in the seventies. I know I probably have.
When I found out that the iconic band was going to be performing my neck of the woods at the world-renown Dollywood (April 21st), I reached out to the good folks at the theme park to arrange an interview with the band’s lead singer, Doug Gray.
Making small talk at the beginning of our call, I asked how the veteran rocker was doing.
“I couldn’t ask for anything to be any better . . . unless I’d of won the lottery and then it wouldn’t have changed the way I am, anyway. But I’d be kinda excited that I’d won and then see what happened, you know?”
When I added, “You’d see how many more friends you have?” He said, “I did that twenty years with cocaine – I knew how many friends I didn’t need. Once I quit, I was down to two friends, again; my mom, my dad, and, maybe, my sister. But, anyway, once I quit, it was the same friends. It didn’t matter to me. After twenty years of it, you just stop, and I stopped August 16th, 1989, and haven’t done any at all since then. I’m on the road to success, I guess. Ha! Ha!”
When I added that he was fortunate and wise to heed the wake-up call and has been able to live a fulfilling life and to help others, Gray said: “I’m kinda showing people that you can stop. That’s the most important thing. I don’t make a big issue out of it. I don’t stand on a pedestal. I don’t have to wave my southern flag and I don’t have to wave my Marshall Tucker flag and I wave any flag ‘cept for the United States flag. I have to do that. I just want to make sure that when we do what we do, we’re doing it for the right reason. And my band, as it stands right now . . . they’re out there to play every night. It’s just in front of a different audience – a new audience. And you would think that it would get old to them. Certainly, people think that it would get old to me, but it doesn’t get old to me because I make it interesting, first of all. I’m just that kind of person. I’ll change it around no matter what. I’m gonna make sure it’s – if the bass is sounding good that night, I’m gonna let Tony Black have that thang and I’m just gonna let him wear it out for five or ten minutes and give out because he’s working his butt off!
“These guys – their strength – not strength in numbers – putting the right people together, each one of those strengths add up to more than one hundred percent. That’s what I like to think we’re doing.”
With Gray having been in the rock and roll business for darn near 50 years, I asked him if he thought that it was going to work out.
“Ha! Ha! Well, I thought about it seriously and it’s either that or work at Krispy Kreme. I knew that at Krispy Kreme I’d be a lot bigger than I am right now, okay? Let me tell you somethin’: Dunkin Donuts would be fighting me every day if I worked at Krispy Kreme.
“No, I really believe that I didn’t have any choice but to do this. This is a God-given gift. That’s the first thing I should say. But, also, it would not have been realized if my dad hadn’t taken me into a cotton mill and said, ‘This is where you can work, or you can go out there and sing,’ because he already knew that I could sing at seven years old, ‘kay? I’d get up there and sing with everybody. I think I more or less drove everybody crazy singin’. Then they’d push me off and then push me on the road and, then – So, here I am, some fourteen years later – I think that’s what it is: I’m very interested in what people think of the band. My last interview was with people that were interested in the other bands as well; the completion of what we try to do. We’re not out there to sell a record. We’re out there every night to play as hard as we can.
“Marshall Tucker Band is a go-see band. You see that band and I promise you – I know I’m singin’ and the rest of the guys are, too – you come see our band and we’ve created a memory. By creating that memory, it extends into your grandkids and your kids. When we go play a state fair somewhere and there’s fifteen or eighteen thousand people out there, we’re gonna do autographs and you got a girl that says she’s 10 or 12 years old and she says, ‘I love your band.’ And she’s real timid about the whole thing but she wants an autograph. I say, ‘Let me ask you a question: Who are you here with?’ She said, ‘My dad and my mom and my grandma.’ And I say, ‘Where are they’ and she pointed them out. So, I go over there, and I talk to them. Every one of them had been coming to shows for over thirty-somethin’ years. You know, if it had been forty, I’d been happier, but it was thirty, so I have to live with it, okay?
“It gives me the knowledge that got to have - you know, a lot of people don’t watch American Idol or The Voice or anything like that. They’re missing a little bit. It might be a little conglomerated in certain places. But you’re getting to hear people that are fourteen years old sing that, maybe, would’ve never got a chance to get up there, have confidence, and do things. I watch it and I get tears and cold chills. In other words, I’m still learning every time I go on stage. I’m still learning that this song works or that note works or the rest of the guys should be up there doin’ somethin’ else.
“Take ‘Take the Highway’ - I sing, ‘Take the Highway’ over thirty years. When I heard the flute players that’s with me and has been for 15 – 18 years, I heard him do ‘Take the Highway’ and he sang it and I went, ‘I think you just found your new job!’ You know what? He loved it and he’d been wanting to sing it, but he never really said anything. So, it just made it better and I’m all for making anything you can better.”
Right after high school, I went to a small Bible college in Fresno, California. While I was there, I met an amazing pianist by the name of Paul Thompson. We became good friends, and, after school, he went on to become keyboardist briefly for the Marshall Tucker Band until his untimely death in 1994. I mentioned to Doug that I knew Paul.
“The saddest part and the saddest day with Paul – his dad was a minister. I don’t know if you knew that. His dad was a minister and Paul had stopped his bad habits – stopped drinkin’ so much. His girlfriend and I were friends. She’s the one that called me up and said that Paul was riding his bike in front of the cemetery where we were all standing. We were all standing right there, and this lady changed lanes, went over too far and pushed him off the road. Automatically got him.
“So, as we’re sitting there – we’re all trying to figure it out – if that’s the place everybody talked about. Sure enough, somebody went right across – right where it was. We all said our blessings to Paul and his family. Paul had a couple of kids, too. They’ve been to our shows since he’s passed.
“Paul was an exceptional guy. He really was. He’d talk me into bicycle rides that I called from hell because I told him, ‘If you pull that hill, you’ve pretty much broken through to the other side.’ We were talking about him taking that Saluda River Run I think it was what it was called. He was a helluva guy.”
Shifting gears, I asked Gray what’s been the biggest changes he’s seen – positive and negative – during his fifty years in the music business.
“The simplest thing that I can say is the electronic age has helped an old band to be better. Primarily because people can hear one of our songs on the radio and they can immediately try to Google it or iTunes or all these places and find out what song that is and who wrote it. Then they’ll YouTube it and they’ll see who we were – who the band was. That’s the positive side of it. Do I think that it helped our band? The answer to that question is that we’re still signed with Sony/Red – a band that’s 45+ years old and still’s got another 5 years to go with the company. You pretty much know that you’re sellin’ records. But, you’re not selling records anymore because there won’t be any CDs after next year – which is a sad thing because it will all be streaming. That’s a whole ‘nother step. We have to grow with the things that we’re surrounded with. There’s one thing about it: we all can re-build. There’s a lot of things you can’t rebuild but most solid things you can. You can come back to that kind of stuff.
And how has technology hurt the music business?
“I that because people can’t pick up an album cover and they can’t read about what they’re listening to on their turntable and they can’t read it because it’s so small on CDs, they have identified Marshall Tucker as being not an individual band – not an individual group. It has nothing to do with my name not being Marshall Tucker. I could care less about that. But, what we found is that – and that’s why we put records out. That’s why we went back and have the rights to put all that stuff out. So, we put that stuff back together, put album covers out, but there was a two-fold reason for a lot of things. One was nobody could read who was playing what or what the lyrics was. We kind of insisted on doing that with the new record after we reproduced them ourselves and put them out for sale.
“The other reason – and I told somebody – I think Billboard Magazine the other day – one of the bad things is that people like to sit there and roll their pot on an album cover. Ha! Ha! That being said, the truth is there! ‘Hand me the album cover. I wanna roll another one . . .’ I’ve been there. I know. My twenty years sober but I did all that craziness and stuff like that. But you got to realize that that was one of the downfalls to it because people didn’t have that to sit around and talk about. They’d rather sit there and pull something up on YouTube. That’s the downfall because they’re not personally getting the info. If everything had subtitles, that would probably be the best way – putting peoples’ names underneath because people won’t know that Tommy Caldwell played that bass solo or won’t know that I sang this song or Toy played that song. They don’t know any more. They really don’t. It’s kind of a bless for a band that’s old but it’s even more of a blessing for a bunch of bands out there now that can’t stand on their own except for one song.
“People say, ‘I sure miss this, or I sure miss that.’ Yes, you miss it, but the thing is you should be happy that hold that is exposed is just gonna get stronger for whoever comes next. I say that with all sincerity that every time Tommy – when Tommy got killed, it made a sense of desperation for a minute. Then it made it to where we had to collect ourselves and realize that what we started – the reason we started this – not because we wanted to be in a band. It’s just that we knew that we were drawn together to play music that satisfied people. Made them walk away and went, ‘Wow!’ That’s why I’m still here doin’ it now.”
When I asked Doug what can fans expect from MTB’s Dollywood show and the rest of the shows on that tour, he said:
“Well, of course, we will do the same show – I can promise you this: It will be the same set list down at my foot that we do whether we play with Kid Rock or Zak Brown. That set list will be there. But we will never follow it. That, I can promise. Fifteen years now, they’ve done the same thing. They’ve put it out there and it’s been the kind of thing where I find it right at the microphone. It’s at my left foot. Everybody says, ‘Why do you do a set list?’ Why should we stop now? This is fifteen years later. It does give reference to a lot of the songs. It’s the same one. They just keep re-printing them, stacking them out there.
“So, we will be playing ‘Can’t You See,’ ‘Heard It in A Love Song’ – all those that people are familiar with that they created their memories with. We will be recreating some memories for those people and opening up the door to some younger kids that will come in to watch a band.
“I’ll tell you a little secret: One of the funny things about this is this one girl come up and I said, ‘Where did you hear this song?’ She was probably fifteen. I don’t know. She come up for an autograph and said, ‘I’ve heard this song a million times. I love this song!’ I said, ‘Where did you learn it?’ She said, ‘My momma strapped me into that baby seat in the back. I think all I ever heard was them two songs, Can’t You See and Heard It in Love Song.’ She said, ‘For five years, that’s all I ever heard!’ And I’m thinkin’ to myself, ‘How many other people are in the same thing?’ Think of that. Because you had to be strapped in.”
I asked Gray if he were made music czar, what would he do to fix the music industry, or does it need to be fixed?
“I think it’s too late to be fixed. We are just one people. We, as a group, are just one people. The music’s gonna come whether I’m in Jamaica or whether I’m watching that guy go down the street and he’s got his radio up a million times too loud for his own ears, I don’t think I could fix anything. I wouldn’t do anything different except for some of the stuff that’s being on certain radio (stations) right now that’s become a little bit nasty. It’s been a little bit too nasty. Would I be able to listen to it? I could listen to that song all day long by myself or with my girlfriend going down the road I could listen to that song and say, ‘That’s a good rhythm and a good beat.’ But some of the lyrics have gotten filthy nasty for their own good. And they won’t be around for very much longer. They won’t. The cleansing of the whole thing is going to be – not the parental stickers. That ain’t gonna work. But, the fact is that people will start listening and they’ll go back to the original type of music that inspires them.
“And I will tell you something else. Somebody asked me, ‘Now what band am I gonna be interviewing in thirty years, Doug, that will be around in thirty years?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s pretty simple to me. Zak Brown, who is a giver. He started out givin’. He did it before he had the money and then when he had the money, he gave more. That’s the guy with all the things you could possibly have in the world. To me, those are the kind of guys that will be around in thirty years. They’ll still be giving. Look at Ricky Skaggs. Ricky Skaggs just got put into the Hall of Fame in Nashville. Ricky and I played together, and he had never sang Can’t You See before. I had him up in Nashville as a guest standing over there. He was playing with us at the River Front. He got up there and he got to playing with us. I loved it so much, I was afraid to stop! I didn’t want the world to end! He was playing so well. Then, I said, ‘How about singing a verse?’ and he went right into a verse. I went, ‘Now that’s the kinda kid you wanna be. He’s younger than me. That’s the kinda kid you really want to hang out with that does nothing but help you to move along.”
Is there anyone up-and-coming that’s on Doug’s radar and commanding his attention?
“Well, there’s two bands. One’s Scooter Brown. The second one is Blackberry Smoke. Both of those people are opening shows for us a lot of times. They are headlining, as well. They’re doing their own little thing. They’re doing like Marshall Tucker did years ago. We got in a Dodge van and drove across the country with a trailer. ‘You want a band tonight? Here we are!’ That’s what keeps bands going.
I asked Doug Gray a question I often ask tenured artists such as himself: When he steps off the great tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky (to borrow from Pink Floyd), how did he want to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy would be?
“I guess my legacy is just going to be the way I am and the way that I’m gonna be which you already know. I can’t answer that for myself. I don’t see myself as answering that. I don’t feel honored enough to put something like that on myself. If I were step off the bus and find out that, all the sudden, that was it. Couldn’t do it anymore. Was gone and was no longer on the earth, that I’m connected to the people that I love, I would want them to remember all the hugs and the kisses that I gave to them whether I was physically touching them or mentally touching them by my song.”
Be sure to visit Dollywood.comto order park passes and tickets to catch the Marshall Tucker Band’s April 21stshow there. Also, keep up with the band by visiting MarshallTucker.com.