Gary James' Interview With Doug Gray Of
The Marshall Tucker Band
You know him best as the lead singer of The Marshall Tucker Band. But back in 1981 he recorded eight songs that never were released, until now. It's Doug Gray like you've never heard him before. Titled "Soul Of The South", it's even released on Doug's own record label, Ramblin' Records. So, we talked with Doug about "Soul Of The South" and a whole lot more!
Q - Doug, it's just too bad that this "Soul Of The South" CD wasn't released around the time it was recorded. I say that because there was a commercial AM / FM outlet for this type of material. Now commercial radio is just a mess.
A - I agree. As much as I love all radio, it's unfortunate that we are stuck in a time where the same thing is repeated once an hour. That used to bother me, but I finally got over it. Hey listen, not just for Marshall Tucker Band, but you know, there's a lot of people that's gettin' left out simply because... we still get a great deal of airplay, but unfortunately there is bands from the South that would never make it more than two or three years. Well, there are bands all over the country like that, that never had an opportunity to let a DJ spin that sucker and see people's reaction. That'll never happen. I do know it's gettin' a little easier because people like yourself likes to put people and say "Here it is." You can make something that's not local bigger than what it is. That's very important. That's what I think and basically that's what all my interviews have been about over the last two and a half months and not just promoting this record, but promoting the fact that 'live' music is still pretty hip. Southern music was Southern music because it was guys from the South. But a lot of times they weren't from the South. They just loved it. They grew up by it and with it. That's why we're still out there. We created memories for people that nine years of the original Marshall Tucker Band created. Good ones and bad ones. People wanted to bury their kids and family members to some of our songs and then some of 'em wanted to get married to 'em.
Q - This guy Scotty McCreary, the winner of this year's (2011) American Idol, I don't know what kind of career he will have. But he won't have the whole machine in place that Marshall Tucker had with the AM radio and the promoters.
A - You know there's some of those same promoters that even though they're managed by other people now, we still deal with 'em, some forty years later. It's because they know we come into town; we might not be as popular that year, but in two years from now, because of time changes and life changes and people growing up or people just starting to do whatever they do to have fun when Marshall Tucker comes, it has been a life-changing thing. I think that sustained not only our popularity, but this Scotty boy, as far as I was concerned, that other girl Haley had the voice that warranted anything in the world.
Q - Let's not forget Lauren. She could sing Country.
A - But she could also sing Rock 'n' Roll. She was sixteen years old. What they're gonna do with her is not only make them a bunch of money, but make her a bunch of money. Listen, I'm friends with
Bo Bice. He's Southern all the way. He's still gettin' a little airplay around. There's so many good entertainers out there. As we go back to the original subject, they don't have that ability to sustain. Why ours did, I don't have a clue. The only thing I can attribute it to is the fact that every night when we walk off stage, we have people come and say man, you put me in a place I've wanted to be for five years or ten years or twenty years. If that's what I'm doin' and I'm keepin' it up with great, great, great players, I'm not gonna lose anything. I'm certainly proud of it. Toy and Tommy would've been proud of it. I would've been proud of them if I had been the one that passed. All we did in reality was to make enough money to go buy beer and liquor on the weekend. That's the way it all started.
Q - Tell me about your record label, Ramblin' Records.
A - Ramblin' Records has been around now for over ten years. We set it up primarily because we do have all the masters. In our Buy / Sell agreement a long time ago, I ended up with all that stuff. So, we started it and it's been very successful and we bought other things that was related to Marshall Tucker Band and tryin' to focus on puttin' good material out as well as the old stuff. Somebody needed to make it, not slicker, but more of today's sound. We just signed a deal last Friday to have a limited amount of vinyl of Marshall Tucker records. We're goin' back to that. We're not the first by any means, but we are doing it. We have a lot of people who are really getting into it, the audiophile guys and a lot of women like that turntable stuff too. I was truly amazed. Only Ramblin' Records gives me an opportunity to package videos and stuff like that, that a lot of people would never get a chance to get, even if they have a computer. There's me and a variety of things on YouTube, but they are on YouTube. They're not very clear and they're not very good. Between you and I and the wall, I've probably got four thousand things stored that have not been completely re-mixed, re-mastered. I got us and The Outlaws in '74 and things like that. I talked to Hughie's wife not too long ago about releasing some of that. She's got no problem with it. You gotta love Hughie (Thomasson). He was a very down to earth guy. His music meant a lot to a lot of people. We're doing' a couple of shows with The Outlaws this year. (2011). It's good to keep it alive, but a lot of people have told me it's just not the same without Hughie. And I wouldn't have thought it would've been the same without Toy had I not put people who wanted to be in (the band) and make the Marshall Tucker music sound that we have.
Q - You and Marshall Tucker recently went over to Iraq. Was that a "meet and greet"? Did you play any concerts while you were there?
A - We got on the C-130s, black jackets, helmets, the whole thing. We flew into Kuwait, which is really different. Don't forget, I was a sergeant in Vietnam in '68. That was a weird time 'cause it was changing time. It wasn't until four of five years later that the whole thing crashed down, but I was already gone. As far as playing for the troops, we took a fourteen hour flight over there. Got off, went straight to Kuwait. Went into Baghdad on a C-130. Got off at four or five places. The troops loved it. It was OK to play for the kids. I call 'em kids. But the most important part is when we stood around and they had 'em all lined up and we'd stand there two hours and a half after the show. That was the most fun that I have had. Every night it was the same way. We had a sandstorm one night so that cut us back one show.
Q - You were playing to thousands of troops at once? Where did you perform?
A - A couple of times it was in big buildings that wasn't closed in. And sometimes they had us sitting in a room. We actually got to stay in the Baghdad Hotel where Dan Rather did that last interview with Saddam Hussein. That was pretty cool. It was kind of outrageous if you want to know the truth. It was just a little weird. Then we got to go to his largest palace where he killed all those people, well, they said he killed all those people. I think all those pictures are linked to
http://MarshallTucker.com, which is kind of neat.
Q - What's unusual for the troops is to get to see and talk to a performer who has that past connection to Vietnam. You don't see that.
A - The only thing that's changed is it's been 40 years since I was in Vietnam. By doing that and knowing that those kids were the same age I was... those guys were flying C-130s, jets and stuff like that. They would land and when they landed at the airport they'd come over. I got to meet a four star General that was over in Baghdad! There was a two star General that took us around and showed us his palace and how they built it and some of the ways they found out they buried all those people. He was tryin' to show his enthusiasm 'cause we were over there to play for his troops. But the most popular thing for all of us is when we had tear pictures, they're pictures of the band. We're signing autographs and this man said "Man, my Grandpa heard that you all were goin' to be here. Get an autograph for me to." That was pretty cool, OK? But I also thought it was cool that these 21, 22 year olds were over there, flying us around in C-130s with our equipment in the back. We'd land, they'd come take the equipment off. Then we'd get out, take our helmets and put 'em up. Then we'd put regular old clothes on and get up there and play a show. Totally unbelievable. I'd been trying to do it for some time. It's unfortunate that a lot of people go over there, they play. It's giving back is what it does. One of the stories was: "My Mama made me listen to you since I was two years old." On Mother's Day (2011) is when we were over there. I happen to be in one of those places at the time they had a sandstorm. We couldn't play. The guy said "Yeah, it's Mother's Day and I just won Soldier Of The Month," or something like that. I don't recall. He come up to me and said "My Mom thinks you're the best band in the world. I hate it that I'm not gonna be able to hear you tonight." I said "Have you talked to your Mom today?" He said "No, I'm gettin' ready to go over." They got this little stack of phones that you can use, OK? There must've been six or seven of them over there in that tent. We went over there and we called his Mom. (laughs) Now, that's pretty heavy 'cause see, my Mom's gone. So I got to talk to his Mom. He started crying. I started crying. His Mama started hollering. You know, it was pretty cool.
Q - Did you place the call to this guy's mother and say "This is Doug Gray of Marshall Tucker"?
A - No. I let him do the talking. He said "Mom, I got somebody I'm standing here with that you might like." He said "Happy Mother's Day." I got to talk to her for about three to five minutes and then I gave the phone back to him and let him finish up.
Q - Marshall Tucker started in 1966. You got a record deal in 1972. So, it took you six years to get a deal?
A - No. See, I was in Vietnam in '68.
Toy (Caldwell) was in Vietnam in 1967. When we came back, we both knew what we were gonna do and that was to give it one big shot and say to heck with it, if it didn't work. We'd been in bands eight or ten years prior to going into service. Both of us were back working, doing stuff about '69, '70. In 1970 we decided "let's practice every night." We did. We made sure to do it. Had this little warehouse and sure enough, we went down there and recorded about four songs, one of 'em being "Can't See You" and one being "Take The Highway". We recorded those in one place in Muscle Shoals and we were asked to come to Capricorn in Macon, Georgia and we did that. Then we went out on tour. We were gone the first four or five years for three hundred dates a year.
Q - How many dates a year are you working these days?
A - We're doing about a hundred and forty shows a year and have not been below one hundred in the last forty years.
Q - What type of venues?
A - Well, last night (we played) Redondo Beach. It holds five hundred. It was a very nice place and it was a place we never played before, but I also got a Fair on this gig. So what were doing is, we put in four extra shows just to make this a good, even run from South Carolina to California.
Q - Marshall Tucker was a real man who was a piano tuner. That's who the band was named after. Is he still alive?
A - He lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He has retired from doing music at the church. He's 94 years old.
Q - Would people believe him when he said "My name is Marshall Tucker"?
A - Remember all the P.M. magazines and stuff like that? Inside Edition? He was really overwhelmed with that TV stuff. He was asked to do a bunch of TV interviews and he said "I can't do it because I've got choir practice at the church." We sent him a bunch of Gold and Platinum records. He still goes to church but he doesn't do the choir thing anymore.
Q - If you hadn't happened upon that guy, I wonder what the name of your band would have been? It fits the band perfectly.
A - It fits the ruggedness of the band, the hell raising, go along for the football. The Hail Mary kind of thing. That's the way we've continued to be. It's surprising people look at us like, "where the hell have you all been?" Honestly, Toy (Caldwell) didn't want to become Toy Factory. We had that band for four years before we went into the service. He said "I don't want the pressure on me." So we made that decision and that was it. We only expected to keep that name because we were opening, believe it or not, for Jimmy Hall and the Wet Willie Band. "Keep On Smilin'" was their big hit. Jimmy is still a good friend. We see each other at least twice, three times a year. He's still one of the most entertaining guys there is onstage. We opened the show and the guy said "We need a name for the marquee and the handbills." We said "Alright. Here you go. Call it Marshall Tucker for the weekend." And here we are forty years later.
Q - In the early days, did you ever lose hope that you become a recording act?
A - Yeah. Well, listen. What we did is put our hearts into touring, burn up cars, vans, just pulling stuff around getting to the gig. A lot of times I remember Tommy Caldwell coming up and saying "OK, now that we're paid all the expenses, here's the profit." And it was a penny apiece. There was eight of us and he handed eight cents out. "Here's your profit this week." That's the way we handled it. That was in the very first year of touring. Then we had to get a lawyer and set up the company. We were smart enough to get a really good lawyer and really good tax lawyers in the very beginning. Tommy had a lot to do with the way things are today. Some of the guys are still active in our career.
Q - If you weren't making any money, how could you afford to live?
A - Unfortunately and fortunately at the same time, we all weren't' married at that time. So we got married and then we had enough money. As far as those first few years, nobody cared. We didn't even think about it. A few of us lived together so that's three or four people in one big house. It was in the '70s. It was cool. People would come and go. You'd get high as you could and then you'd go back and leave to go back on the road again. So, if you look at three hundred dates, you ain't got a lot of time to be at home. Nobody really, really worried. There was not a point where we worried about money. I hate to say it that way because it sounds a little bit throwed out or thrown out into the hall, but we cared more about the music and our being unique that we all went to high school or war together. When we got on the stage, there was never any argument. There was never one fight out of that nine years. That's longer than I ever been married to one woman, OK? Most marriages don't last that long. It's just unfortunate that Tommy got killed and the year before that his younger brother had got killed. Toy didn't feel right up there without Tommy and Toy said "I'm just gonna give it up."
Q - Why do you think there was such an interest in Southern music in the early 1970s?
A - We were just getting out of the (Vietnam) war. People used to party a lot. '60s was cool to party. Mid '70s got a whole lot cooler and it was open sex door. It made life a lot simpler. Then all of a sudden things started tightening up. When it tightened up, it wasn't only for the bands, it was for the people who were trying to pull their life together in the '80s. Then you got your '90s and it's kind of weird to talk about it this way, but it's like we're almost grown up now, so what do we do? That's my way of thinking. I knew that most of my failure in marriages was because I'm a workaholic, alright? My kids are both beautiful and I can't deny that fact. I'm actually home enough for them 'cause one of 'em is in college and one of 'em is graduating. I'm home enough from them to appreciate who I am. I couldn't do that in the first ten years of Marshall Tucker because the life change that was goin' on. But look, I knew it was my career. I knew it was something I was going to be doing forever. It's a God's gift to be able to sing and perform in front of people and make them forget they had a nine to five job. That's my job. If I can take them away, give 'em a little bit of memory and a little bit of new memory and then have a little buzz on a beer or maybe not have anything, which is cool with me. Sometimes I've watched people go through all those phases of stages and I love it. But they still stand there the same way. I don't want to get no calluses pattin' myself on the back, but there's a lot of great people out there, a lot better than me and I think they stand up for just the real values of what our music was all about originally, which is one of the questions you asked, what made it that way. It was because I'd stand there for hours at a time to all the people in the hall who had already folded up the chairs and I got to know people. Now, those people are startin' to come back again for the second or third time.
Q - I like your version of "More Today Than Yesterday" on this new CD of yours.
A - (laughs)
Q - You did it because the producer said you couldn't hit the high notes.
A - That song is incredible. I wouldn't even attempt that song today. But for that five dollars the producer bet me, I still got that five dollars. I promise you I folded it up somewhere.
Q - You're saying you don't sing that song in concert?
A - Couldn't do it.
Q - It's just a memory that you're glad you have recorded.
A - Yeah.
Q - You would agree that one of the biggest changes in the music business from when you were starting off to today is technology, isn't it?
A - It makes a star that's not. (laughs) Star is another word I don't like. It makes some people more visible, but they're also more transparent as far as I'm concerned. Once they get through two or three songs and they try to perform it, you usually know it's more of a performance than it is a soulful feeling song to let you know they feel that way.
Q - Forty years ago when you started, I bet you didn't think you'd still be doing this.
A - Listen, I've stayed in more hotel rooms than I ever want to admit. More hotel rooms than Hilton has or Comfort Inn or whatever together. I will tell you, nobody would have ever thought that we could still be out here, still playing and people still likin' it! They honestly, truly like it! We don't use a formula. We get up there and play. If we want to change it around, we do. I had absolutely no idea that this would last past a weekend.