If you spent 44 years with the same employer, you must love the company. If you’ve been in the same profession for 60 years, you must really love what you do. Both of these statements are true and apply to Doug Gray, the lead vocalist of the Marshall Tucker Band. Don’t miss your opportunity to see them Thursday, Dec. 10 at the Pickle Barrel Nightclub. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gray and what a nice and humble guy he is.
The Marshall Tucker Band is one of the major southern rock bands of the 70s with a music style combining rock, country, and jazz. From its beginnings in the early 70s when the band signed with Capricorn Records, its sound took plenty of changes musically — swinging, grooving, jamming and going country — and always stretched the boundaries. The MTB opened shows for The Allman Brothers in 1973, and the following year began headlining their own shows. With hit singles like “Heard It In a Love Song,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Can’t You See,” and “Take The Highway,” the Marshall Tucker Band earned seven gold and three platinum albums while they were on the Capricorn Records label. Over the years, the band has recorded 22 studio albums, three DVDs, three live albums and many compilations. Songs have been featured in television and film scores including “Breaking Bad,” “Cold Case Files,”“ Blow,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Swing Vote,” “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” and more. The band represents a distinct time and place in music that continues to find new fans.
I asked Gray if he had ever played in Vermont and he said, “Oh ya! Several times. We have lots of friends up there that worked with us in the past. One of my guys that works for me now lived up in Killington for a while.” This tour is taking them all over the country and Gray would have it no other way. He likes that he finished one show, hops on the bus, and wakes up at another. The MTB has played big theaters and small clubs; but no matter what size the venue, they just love pleasing the fans. They played at the Opry in Nashville, and a few weeks ago, they played a benefit concert in Nashville where they raised over $100,000 for children to be able to celebrate Christmas, who might not otherwise be able to.
Marshall Tucker Band has shared the stage with some of the best in the business. Gray says he loves playing with each and every one of them. “One night we might be playing with Kid Rock, then 38 Special, and the next night Zac Brown. You just never know.” He said it’s hard to choose who his favorites are because he thoroughly enjoys them all; but Charlie Daniels is a good choice to say they’ve played with a lot. “We’ve known him forever. He’s on our first eight records. So we’re friends and have remained friends today. All of us still go out on the road together and have a real good time. It’s just fun. We treat it like a bunch of different families all over the country and all over the world.”
We talked about the fact that some bands don’t like each other and are just in it for the money. I told him how I worked with Blue Oyster Cult and they wouldn’t even eat together. He said, “I don’t know why some of these bands have so much trouble. I’ve never been able to figure that out. What have they done to each other to cause such a problem? How can you perform for an audience that has bought millions of your records and go up there and stand on that stage and not enjoy the people that you’re with? I’ve seen bands that have number one hits and all of a sudden they don’t have a number two and … they’re gone. Forty-four years later, we’re still out there and we’ll play a small place, a large place, it doesn’t matter. All these buyers and promoters know that we’re probably one of the easiest bands to get along with. We’ve got it down, not to a science, but to an agreeable event every time we have a meeting. It turns into a joking thing and how’s your family and stuff instead of ‘I’m gonna screw you out of this or that.’”
The MTB has been performing for a long time and it hasn’t always been easy but they got through it. “We didn’t start out with gold records and platinum records and stuff like that. There weren’t 800 million records sold either. We had to work to get a fan base in order to spread that word around. We were out the first four years, playing 300 shows a year. We got to know each other pretty good in the original band. Of course we’ve lost several of the guys and most have passed away. I’ve replaced them with people that have always loved the MTB, always wanted to play the music and who wanted that camaraderie. They wanted to play those songs and those songs made them feel good. Now some of these guys have been with me for over twenty years.” This has evolved into something great for Gray and the guys playing with him.
We talked about what Gray likes about playing live and he said, “What makes us have fun on stage is we don’t play the same show every night. There’s the same set list there every night at my foot, my left foot. Same set list for the last 15 years has sat right there. Sometimes we follow it and sometime we don’t follow it. Every night is different and I change it around. Sometimes someone will scream something out from the audience, and we have 336 songs in our catalog, so I’ll try and remember it and sing a couple verses of it and all of a sudden it disappears from my mind so I say ‘That’s all I got,’ and the crowd loves it.”
MTB is not tied into any one thing. Billboard Magazine recently said, “Come see a Marshall Tucker show and prepare to be mesmerized with all the different versatile things that they do and without rehearsing.” Gray said that was a compliment in itself. “I don’t know how it happens, I wish I had an answer but all I know is it’s just damn good music.”
I personally like the MTB and have been listening to them for over 30 years and told Gray that their music is feel-good music. He said, “It is feel-good music, and if it makes us feel good on stage then it automatically is going to make people in the audience feel good. That turns into record buying and you know who buys most of our records and downloads now? 18-37 year-olds, that’s our demographic. What’s even cooler is I’m 67.”
Gray has wanted to sing and be in a band since he was little. James Brown is a big influence of his. He also likes Dionne Warwick, and, because of the age difference now, The Pointer Sisters and people like that who took a leap of faith to be who they are. His mother once told him, “You imitate all those people, why don’t you just sing?” And all of a sudden, at seven years old Gray was singing. “I went from singing, to copying other people, to really singing. That was a big difference there. Then I got to pick up the music I love the most and that’s ‘rhythm and blues.’ That was my first love.” He was in a few bands before MTB and the guys he was with all had jazz influences like he did. “Nobody knew where to put us when we got Marshall Tucker. So they put us in some jazz concerts. So we had no clue, and nobody else had a clue where we were supposed to be. We had B.B. King open the show for us for a long time. It was the craziest thing in the world and there’s really no explanation for it.”
Gray has come a long way. Before MTB formed, he joined the Army, went to Vietnam and did that whole thing. Now, many years later, MTB got to go to Iraq and perform for the troops. Gray says you don’t have to know them personally to know what they’re about. “If you see us all get off our tour bus or our plane, you figure you don’t know those people because you don’t really know us individually; but once you see us step on stage then you start understanding what we live for, and that’s to make good music.”