A quick look around the Southern rock landscape these days will show you that Spartanburg’s The Marshall Tucker Band, founded in 1972, is just about the last group standing, at least from the classic 1970s division of the genre. Lynyrd Skynyrd is in the midst of its farewell tour and The Allman Brothers Band broke up a few years back, so it’s hard to think of another first-rank group of Southern rockers still out there playing.
And it’s not like The Marshall Tucker Band hasn’t taken some hits along the way. Lead guitarist Toy Caldwell died in in the early 1990s. His bassist brother, Tommy, was killed in a car accident in 1980, and rhythm guitarist George McCorkle passed away in 2007. These days, only lead singer Doug Gray remains from the original lineup, though the current incarnation of the band has had a solid lineup for more than a decade.
“It’s a good feeling to still be out there, is all I gotta say,” Gray says. “We still have the respect and attitude that we had when we first started touring. Me and Toy always felt the same way when we started the band: We just wanted to go out there and play. We still go out there to hit the knockout, whether we’re closing the show, opening it, or in the middle.”
But at 70 years old, why does Gray, who will perform with the band on the Peace Center’s TD Stage on Thursday, keep doing it, while his peers are retiring around him?
“I could stop right now, but would I be happy for the rest of my life?” Gray asks. “No. I’d be the most miserable person you’ve ever met.”
Gray says that he simply doesn’t want to stop working, a mindset that he learned from the hardworking Southerners around him in his youth.
“It’s a work ethic,” he says. “I got that from the people that grew up being poor, going to church on Sundays and working late on Saturdays. Those people don’t just want success, they’re willing to work for it. That’s the secret. Bands need to work for what they’re aiming for. It’s not going to fall in your lap. I’ve never seen that happen. Some people think it’s automatic, but people who have good work ethics and use their heads can be successful for a long time.”
And make no mistake: Being on the road for a living isn’t easy, even if you still enjoy banging out classic hits like “Can’t You See,” “Heard it in a Love Song,” or “Fire on the Mountain” to still-appreciative audiences.
“You have to make sacrifices,” Gray says. “I travel all the time. I get paid to go out on holidays and entertain people. But we do it because we still have the drive to play.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Southern rock is that there’s a lot of variety tucked away within the genre. The Allman Brothers could improvise all night long like a jazz group, while The Marshall Tucker Band worked acoustic country, gospel, and blues into their music with ease.
“Toy would write a country song, but we didn’t play it that way,” Gray says. “We’d play it next to [the blues standard] ‘Rambling on My Mind,’ and it would confuse people; they wouldn’t know what to think. We brought in [longtime keyboard and reed player] Jerry Eubanks to play flute and saxophone because nobody else did. It gives you your own cup of soup, and there are all kinds of ingredients in that cup of soup.”
In addition to serving up that soup at one of its 140 or so shows per year, The Marshall Tucker Band will be opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd on its farewell tour, playing more than a dozen shows with Skynyrd through December. Gray says he’s looking forward to sharing the stage with his longtime friends one last time.
“You want their success to be your success,” he says. “When we go out there and we jam and have a great time, that makes us all stronger.”
The Corona Concert Series presents The Marshall Tucker Band
When: Thursday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Peace Center TD Stage, 300 S. Main St., Greenville
Tickets: $45, $75
Info: 864-467-3000; https://www.peacecenter.org/