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My 1998 Interview Doug Gray/Marshall Tucker Band  

Extreme Peach

Thought you all might appreciate my Archive May 1998 interview with The Marshall Tucker Band's Doug Gray, discussing the band's line-up at that time, their new album's at the time "Face Down In The Blues" and "Gospel", their songwriting, career, and much more!

Doug Gray Of The Marshall Tucker Band Joyously Crafting Music And Still Holding On

By Arlene R. Weiss

© Copyright April 23, 2015, 2016 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved

© Copyright May 5, 1998 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved

By Arlene R. Weiss

Doug Gray of the Marshall Tucker – photo credit: Isaac Rodrigues

In May 1998, I was honored to interview The Marshall Tucker Band’s iconic lead vocalist, singer, songwriter, Doug Gray.

I had just attended and reviewed a stellar live concert by the band the week before, in which The Marshall Tucker Band rocked the house to an enthusiastic sellout crowd at Rams Head Tavern Onstage in Annapolis, Maryland.

Doug joyously discussed the history and influences of one of music’s most esteemed and timeless bands.

The Marshall Tucker Band were also about to release on June 9, 1998, their new critically acclaimed album at the time, “Face Down In The Blues”. The band was simultaneously writing and recording their gospel influenced album, aptly named, “Gospel” which was released the following year in June 1999.

Doug exuberantly discussed the making of both albums. He also offered insight into the band’s songwriting process and the band’s tight-knit roots as well as telling me about the newest members in the line-up of The Marshall Tucker Band at the time.

Currently in 2015, Doug is the only original founding member of The Marshall Tucker Band that is still actively playing, writing, and recording with the band.

The six core original members of The Marshall Tucker Band, were Doug Gray on lead vocals, Toy Caldwell on lead and pedal steel guitars, Toy’s brother Tommy Caldwell on bass guitar, drummer Paul Riddle, rhythm guitarist George McCorkle, and Jerry Eubanks on keyboards, flute, and saxophone. All were born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, staying close to their hometown roots and families, while growing up and going to school together.

The six flagship band members were all good friends that realized their dream of making music in a world class band that became known for its incredible live, improvisational shows and stretched out jams and performances.

The band has suffered the tragic losses and passing of original founding members, Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell, and George McCorkle.

Since this 1998 interview was conducted, guitarist Stuart Swanlund who joined the band in the late 1980’s, also has since passed on. Original members Paul Riddle and Jerry Eubanks both retired from the band as well.

Through it all, Doug Gray has kept the Marshall Tucker Band together and musically fresh and vibrant with a stalwart resilience and uplifting optimism, strengthened by his endless passion and love for crafting music.

Though often thought of as a Southern Rock band, The Marshall Tucker Band have been praised for their continuous innovative fusion of many music styles including country, blues, rock, soul, rhythm and blues, gospel, classical, and modern jazz fusion, crafting a signature sonic soundscape that is uncategorizable, and always wondrous.

In CMT Cable Television Network’s insightful 2005 documentary “American Revolutions: Southern Rock” the late Phil Walden, who signed The Marshall Tucker Band to his iconic, landmark Capricorn Records expounded about The Marshall Tucker Band, that “I really don’t particularly care about what kind of music you want to do, as long as you took some chances with it.” And that The Marshall Tucker Band still do, criss crossing the musical map, deftly and beautifully embracing countless music styles and influences, to craft their special brand of “good American music” as Doug joyfully related to me.

In 2013, The Marshall Tucker Band released their much anticipated and critically acclaimed live album, “Live! From Spartanburg, South Carolina” which documented and recorded the band’s September 1995 induction into, and live performance concert at, The South Carolina Music Hall Of Fame ceremony.

On April 14, 2015, The Marshall Tucker Band helped to open the 2015 baseball season by singing the National Anthem and performing their signature song, “Fire On The Mountain” at the World Series Champion, San Francisco Giants’ home opening game. The band is currently enjoying their 44th year touring and on the road, showcasing their 2015 Searchin’ For A Rainbow Tour.

The Marshall Tucker Band has continued for over four decades, touring to sellout audiences, regularly releasing new records, all while rocking out to joyous fans, generation after generation. Indeed just as their song says, The Marshall Tucker Band continues to make music as they “Take The Highway”.

Here’s a fond look back with Doug Gray and The Marshall Tucker Band.


Arlene R. Weiss: Hello? Doug?

Doug Gray: Arlene? What?! (excited kidding tone)

Arlene: Hi! How are you doing?

Doug Gray: I’m doing fine. I just thought I’d try you early. I figured that we’d have enough time and I can give you a little bit extra. How are you?

Arlene: Very good, very good! So, as the remaining original member of The Marshall Tucker Band, tell me about the new members, where they come from musically, and what they bring to the band.

Doug Gray: Well, being new members I think that I got to first tell you that Rusty’s (Milner) been there for fourteen years. Tim (Lawter) has been there for thirteen years. Tim is the bass player, and also he’s from Spartanburg. Rusty is the guitar player, and he is from Spartanburg.

And these are the guys that moved in directly upon the other guys in the band pulling out.

Arlene: Tim writes some of the music doesn’t he?

Doug Gray: Yes. Yes.

Arlene: He wrote “Stay In The Country”, which I love. That’s one of my favorite Marshall Tucker Band songs.

Doug Gray: Yes.

Arlene: At last week’s performance (Writer’s Note: The Marshall Tucker Band’s concert at Ram’s Head Tavern Onstage in Annapolis, Maryland, Thursday, April 30, 1998, which this writer attended), you had stated that The Marshall Tucker Band is twenty six years strong.

Doug Gray: Right.

Arlene: With all the personal and professional adversity that the band has endured through the years, how have you been able to keep the band together, and to stay musically viable?

Doug Gray: Well I think that what it is, is we care so much. Being one of the people that wanted to keep the band together when everybody said, “well we’re not this, we’re not that”.

Some of the older guys, they had families that they needed to stay home with and stuff like that. And they just got plain tired of the road, or burnout, or whatever it is. One of the main things was, I wanted to stay on the road, because as I look up right now, I see gold and platinum records on the wall, along with a brand new platinum record that we just got for our Greatest Hits.

Arlene: Oh my goodness! Congratulations!

Doug Gray: Thank you! It’s been five, six months since they gave it to us. But, I looked at it and I said, this is one of the main things. What I know is how the first band was put together, and how everybody felt, and what we all did to make that band. That’s what I’ve strived to do, all along, is to keep this band happy. And keep all the guys really informed about what’s going on, and making everybody a part of it. And I think when you do that, you can’t lose.

Arlene: Right. With many bands in music, there are so many that are unable to stay together either professionally or personally even in the best of times, because of differences between band members. How is it that The Marshall Tucker Band has been able to survive the test of time? What’s your secret to success?

Doug Gray: I think it’s just, I’m not very selfish. I think that’s probably what it is. Just not being selfish and wanting all the attention and instead, wanting this, because without those guys that are in the band right now, I couldn’t be out there.

Arlene: So there’s no egos involved. It’s all a collaborative kind of…

Doug Gray: Yes it is. Even as far as picking the songs that we play in a set. I don’t do that. I let the other guys pick out the ones they think will go the best with the crowd that we have.

Arlene: Who is involved in the songwriting process?

Doug Gray: Everybody writes. So it’s worked out really good. Rusty and Tim and myself write the stuff off this new “Face Down In The Blues” album. We wrote a lot of the stuff that’s on that together. I guess that you would say that… Like Barry Borden (drummer B.B. Borden), who is the newest member of the band. He’s from Atlanta and he played with The Outlaws and Mother’s Finest for years. So being with that diverse a background, he worked out perfect for us, and he is a continuing person and band member. You know, he’s growing musically every day that he’s out there, so he works out perfect.

Then you’ve got David Muse who was with Firefall for all those wonderful years that they had. David kind of retired for a while. Then he went, and he came back to… Well he wanted to play a little bit, so I got him to come on back out with us when Jerry (Eubanks) decided he wanted to retire. So, what we did is, we just kept on going down the road. And of course, Stuart Swanlund. Stuart was five years old when I first started my first band. He used to sit across the street on the neighbor’s porch, on his grandmother’s porch.

Arlene: What was the name of your first band?

Doug Gray: The name of my first band was called The Guildsmen.

Arlene: And when was that?

Doug Gray: Oh my goodness. That was…’63. ’61.

Arlene: So how long have you been a musician yourself?

Doug Gray: Me? I have been singing ever since 1957. And I was seven years…that was ’57. I guess I was eight or nine years old then.

Arlene: Were there musicians in your family that influenced you?

Doug Gray: Oh, my mother, I mean my mother’s family, they all played… Everybody played keyboards. Everybody sang. So it was something that was just natural.

Arlene: You recently released MT Blues, a compilation highlighting the best of your blues stylings throughout your career.

Doug Gray: Right.

Arlene: And the blues have always played an influential and integral role throughout your music. Tell me about your own personal blues music influences, and how that has been incorporated throughout your music.

Doug Gray: Well, only one song, which is the new song that’s on there, which is called “I Like Good Music”, is a very simple answer to what’s going on and in my life. I like to listen to just about any kind of music because I think a lot of music is derived from blues music. A lot of it is.

Certainly country and western has got the same heart beat throbbing kind of situation and tearing at your gut kind of feeling. So certainly, that’s there.

This new record, MT Blues, being a compilation, just showed off what we had all along. What this new record called Face Down In The Blues…I don’t know if they told you about this, but this record will be out in a month. It’s called Face Down In The Blues and it is the stuff that we’ve written, which is what we call, rhythm and blues, and soul, and blues, and what Southern music to us is all about. Not as much rock and roll as it is Southern.

Arlene: Though The Marshall Tucker Band has endured some very hard times through the years, the band and its music have always continued to possess a very indomitable and optimistic spirit. Your album titles, Searchin’ For A Rainbow, Carolina Dreams, and Still Holdin’ On, all reflect this. The current artists and music of today’s industry are very filled with cynicism and pessimism. How is it that you have stayed so positive and filled with hope?

Doug Gray: I think that it is just that we feel. You know what? All of us basically come from a very close background with things.

And we believe that there’s something out there that is going to be good for everybody. Not just necessarily about the music, but about life. It’s not going to be over. It’s not time to give up. It’s time to look forward to something good.

Arlene: So music is basically, a metaphor for hope.

Doug Gray: Right.

Arlene: Right.

Doug Gray: And I feel like it should be. I mean why does anybody sing? They don’t sing because they’re sad most of the time. They do in traditionally blues situations. But most people when they were down in the blues, it was because of something that they personally felt. It had nothing to do with where they were placed at the time.

Most of the time when people sing, it’s a God given gift. What they sing is something that they feel. And what we feel, and what I feel, and what we felt all along in The Marshall Tucker Band, has been the fact that there is no end.

There is only a beginning to everything that we do. That way I don’t have to compare it to some of the old blues artists that we’ve been led to believe that it was so terrible, that that’s why they did the songs that they did.

Arlene: But even then, that music was their way of coping and having hope. So… That’s what music is all about.

Doug Gray: You’re exactly right. That’s what I was trying to say, but you said it better!

Arlene: One of your songs, “Stay In The Country”, emphasizes the importance of family, and staying close to one’s heritage. How do these values influence your music?

Doug Gray: Well that certainly is that way. I mean we all get our kids when we come home. It’s like instant kids, because we are gone and working two hundred days a year. That still gives us when we’re at home for that one hundred sixty five days remaining in the year… That is when we do our best family time and it’s twenty four hours a day. It’s not just at night when I get home from.

Most people that work from eight to five, only get to see their kids for about an hour and a half a day. And at max, two hours. So we just feel like it when. Like I’ll go get my kids from school, here in just a little bit. And she’ll hang out with me the rest of the day. I have one that’s six years old. And one that’s sixteen, who’ll be seventeen. I’ll have my kids hanging out with me beyond their obligations. They’ll do their stuff, and then they’ll be with me and we’ll go do things together. I’ll take them to concerts and stuff like that that are outside. Pop festival shows you know. Shows that they can attend.

Arlene: Do any of your children have aspirations of being musicians?

Doug Gray: Well, one of them. One of them is a great singer and the other one’s too young but she’s a show off so…(Laughing) I would think it would be the same kind of thing as what I had before. I don’t know what they’ll be. Both of them are very talented.

One of my daughters has been modeling ever since she was about twelve. She did “Twenty Something” in Europe when she was fifteen, sixteen years old. And she did “YM Magazine” in the United States, which is “Young & Modern”. She did that.

She quit simply because she wanted to spend time with her friends at school, which I admire her for doing, because she was offered a very good contract.

Arlene: Does maintaining a family circle and your heritage create a sense of stability for you, in an industry that is so filled with self-destructive lifestyles that also sometimes go along with being a musician and life on the road?

Doug Gray: We have already been through that. I went through the drug thing and came back out of it, and now I think I appreciate life more often. Just the fact that I can pick up the phone and call my daughters and know what I’m talking about when I call them. Not just because I miss them, but also, because I know they miss me. And before when you’re selfish like that, and you’re all coked out of your brains, or smoked up, or whatever, you’re a little bit more selfish toward yourself…

Arlene: Right.

Doug Gray: And I think I appreciate… I mean, I’m divorced from both of my daughters’ mothers, but I still go get my kids. I guess that kind of answers that question a little bit more.

Arlene: So, is that how you and the band got and stayed successfully on track?

Doug Gray: Oh, yes. That happened in 1989 and since then. We’ve been at the top of the charts, on the independent label charts, just never on the big charts. So, I mean we know there’s a place for us out there and that’s why we’re still out doing as many shows as we are, and people are behind us, and new records are coming out.

Arlene: I followed you on your record labels through the years. Back in the early 90’s when you were on Sisapa, and then Cabin Fever.

Doug Gray: Right.

Arlene: So you’ve always been chugging along all these years.

Doug Gray: Oh yeah. And having songs like “Stay In The Country”, “Driving You Out Of My Mind”, and “Walk Outside The Lines”, which was the Garth Brooks song that we had out that he co-wrote. We got minimal success on CMT that way, which put us in a country light.

But you know what? It was something that we were always. It wasn’t something that we just did. A lot of people go to country because that’s what they feel, like that’s the way to go when that’s hot. We didn’t do it for that reason. We already had “Fire On The Mountain” and “Searchin’ For A Rainbow” before country got hot. We were just like what Barbara Mandrell said in her song when she sang, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”.

Arlene: Now country has become chic! (Laughing)

Doug Gray: Really. (Laughing)

Arlene: You’re very proud of your hometown roots. What was it like growing up in Spartanburg [South Carolina], and how has life there influenced your music?

Doug Gray: Well, I would say that Spartanburg is a very tight knit situation. It’s about 80,000 people and when we were growing up, you had your competition with the other school across town and you were friends with them.

All of those things made you care about each other. When you really got together, everybody was friends and had the same ideals and stuff like that.

Plus having gone to church when we were little, having a family, and a close family upbringing where you got your butt popped if you did something wrong or you did all this weird stuff, and people would take care of you. They wouldn’t just throw you out to the cornfield, you know.

Course, we don’t have a lot of corn around here. They would probably throw you out in a field. (Kidding and Laughing).

Arlene: The Marshall Tucker Band developed a very unique concept of a full instrumental ensemble, incorporating rock instruments including several guitars, with jazz and classical instruments, including the flute and the saxophone. How did this concept originally come about?

Doug Gray: Well, I think because we all knew who the…. There were musicians all over town. It goes back to what we were talking about before. There were bands around, but the bands… You know how you weed out certain things when you know who really wants to do something?

Well, we were the musicians that really wanted to do what we had to do. We’re the ones that kind of stuck up and kept on going and that’s why it ended up with us playing with different styles of musicians and with those different instruments.

Arlene: The Marshall Tucker Band was a forerunner and innovator of blending rock, country, and rhythm and blues, with jazz fusion, as well as being a forerunner of today’s modern rock acts, such as The Dave Matthews Band, who incorporate the very music styles and instruments that you had originally melded together.

Doug Gray: Right.

Arlene: Their music owes a lot to ground breakers like you. How does that make you feel?

Doug Gray: Well, you know as much as anything, I’m just proud that people like The Dave Matthews Band will continue on something that we had a part of. Because it wasn’t really us. We were just a part of it. We had no idea what the hell we were doing.

We didn’t plan it. We just knew that we were the musicians who wanted to play music together and we got out there and did it by using those instruments, which were the flute and the saxophone. It just made it really nice.

Now, I think these guys came along and they probably said, “Well this would be good to have this flute there, or this guitar part there, or this keyboard part.”

I think that’s what it is. I mean Travis Tritt and some of the country artists, and Alabama, and all those guys, they say that we were one of their influences, which makes us really proud. The other bands talk about us and do songs like “Can’t You See”, and other songs like that. There’s going to be at some point in time, there will be, placed in a couple of movies, our songs.

I don’t really know which ones yet. It will probably be another six, seven months before that’s taken care of. But, you know, our songs are out there and people like them. I really don’t have a clue as to why that it all came down like it did, especially why these other groups picked up those instruments, except for that they knew it would make a good sound for that particular song.

Arlene: So did you just decide to make a mixed melting pot of everything in your music and just kind of experiment?

Doug Gray: That’s what it was. There were six individuals in the band, and each person… Like I was rhythm and blues, okay. I had been singing “Knock On Wood” and “Hold On I’m Comin’” and Sam Cooke songs all that period in time.

And then what you have is Toy and Tommy were country. You had Jerry that was into the jazz and the pop rock, and Paul Riddle was into jazz himself.

So, when we slammed them all together, you come out with a sound called Marshall Tucker, and that’s why for some twenty six years, nobody’s been able to pigeonhole us. Our first four records had gospel songs on them. We would put one gospel song on there, because that was something that we knew how to play. So we were giving everybody a dose of what we knew how to play.

Arlene: Did you initially find resistance to your style of music, seeing as how you were coming from a region where country was the prominent form of music?

Doug Gray: No. I think people found it exciting and refreshing, more than the same old thing. What a lot of people don’t know, was that there were groups in the 1950’s… There was a rock and roll group from the ’50s, that consisted of Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones that put out a song called “Black Slacks”. They played on Ed Sullivan, and they’re from here.

I see Joe Bennett, every other day. He still teaches guitar lessons. So see that was rock and roll that was coming out of here. It wasn’t necessarily country.

Then there would be rhythm and blues when Sam Cooke would come through, when he would play one of the small clubs.

Of course, then you could listen to the radio stations and hear mostly country, but every so often, you’d hear some rhythm and blues from one of the long distance stations. So there were a lot of different styles of music around.

Arlene: You use the flute throughout The Marshall Tucker Band’s music as a key element. Were either Jerry Eubanks or David Muse classically trained?

Doug Gray: No, I don’t think either of them were. Jerry learned his in high school and I think David did the same.

Arlene: Just naturals?

Doug Gray: Yeah!

Arlene: “Take The Highway” is a masterwork of arrangement. How did that evolve and come about?

Doug Gray: How that was… What you hear on the record is kind of like an edited version, and there’s a reason for it. Because when we recorded it… Everybody, if you think about it, everybody in the old days, came out and played. What we would do, instead of being selfish, we wouldn’t be selfish. We would say, “Okay, it’s your time now. You take a lead”. And that’s how “Take The Highway” came about. It was like, “Okay, it’s your turn now. You play something”. People find that hard to believe, but that’s exactly what it was.

Arlene: But look what a lush, beautiful song it turned out to be.

Doug Gray: Yeah, because everybody added their part. I think that’s the best thing that you can do, is when everybody adds their part.

Arlene: So many people, they’ve labeled The Marshall Tucker Band everything from country to Southern Rock. If you could come up with a name for the particular musical style that you created, what would it be?

Doug Gray: Oh, just good music. Good American music. That’s about all I can say, because I have tried many, many times. Many, many times and I just don’t know if I could come up with any name that really made any sense to it.

The Marshall Tucker Band – photo credit: Clay Terrell

Arlene: But that’s better, because then you’re not pigeonholing yourself.

Doug Gray: Right. It’s just good American music. It’s not made to be one way or the other. It’s just there, you know. If you like it, you like it. Some people it still pleases, because you were there. You saw what it does to people.

Arlene: What it actually is, is timeless music.

Doug Gray: I think so. I think so. And that’s why when we go to places to perform that are outside, you’ve get ten and twelve year old, eight and nine year old kids out there. That’s also who are buying our records, twelve year olds and up. If those kids are buying our “Greatest Hits” records, then what we’re doing is turning on the third generation of folks to The Marshall Tucker Band.

Arlene: Tell me about this new album that you have coming out.

Doug Gray: Ok, it’s called “Face Down In The Blues” and it’s distributed by AJK who has distribution rights to our stuff. It’s actually K-Tel, and that’s whose given us….they sell tons of records. So that’s whose give us our additional platinum record. That record is good. It’s a group effort, and I think that once you hear it…

Arlene: Is it all new material?

Doug Gray: It’s all material that was written by the band and or stuff that we found over the years from like, Leon Russell, that Leon had, and he had never done. A song that he had written that he had never done anything with.

A song from Jimmy Hall of the Wet Willie band. And stuff like that nobody had ever really got to hearing. And we liked it and wanted to do it our way. We Tuckerized it! (Laughing)

Arlene: (Laughing) So what is in the future for The Marshall Tucker Band? Are you going to be continuing to write and record new music, and keep touring?

Doug Gray: We have a gospel record that we’re working on. It’s a Southern Gospel record. We’ve got about six tracks done. It won’t be out until sometime in 1999, maybe the first part of 2000. Because it’s an inspirational thing, you don’t want to rush it or do it quite too much.

Arlene: Right. You want to put more of your heart and your creative process into it.

Doug Gray: So after we worked about six months on that gospel record, on and off, we just decided that it was time to put this other record, “Face Down In The Blues” to bed. So constantly, this has been a project that we all are working towards. It’s not something that we just throw it out there. This is something that’s been worked towards, and the gospel project will be the same.

© Copyright April 23, 2015, 2016 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved

© Copyright May 5, 1998 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved

[Edited on 5/9/2017 by ArleneWeiss]

Topic starter Posted : November 7, 2015 5:42 am
Peach Extraordianire

I will check this out but why are you posting these today in the playpen section of the forum that nobody goes to visit?

Posted : November 7, 2015 5:50 am
Extreme Peach

I will check this out but why are you posting these today in the playpen section of the forum that nobody goes to visit?

These don't have any ABB relevant stuff so I thought this might be the best place so as not to clog up the main boards. But I thought some folks might still see it here and appreciate it.

Thanks for checking it out by the way! Have a good weekend! 🙂

Topic starter Posted : November 7, 2015 6:01 am