It's a typically sultry Summer Night in Memphis, Tennessee, where the air is so thick you feel like you're wading through it. At the Mud Island Amphitheater, a flute begins playing a haunting pastoral melody over a soft finger-picked guitar arpeggio. Immediately, thousands of people roar with a collective show of approval.
The song getting this intense immediate emotional response is "Can't You See," and the group playing it is the current incarnation of The Marshall Tucker Band, one of the greatest bands to come from the American South.
It was in late Summer of 1973, during that part of the year when everyone's memories are heightened by the passage of vacation time and the anticipation of a new school year, that "Can't You See" introduced rock radio listeners to the sophisticated earthiness of a new Spartanburg, South Carolina sextet named The Marshall Tucker band.
The band's self-titled Capricorn Records debut, which featured "Can't You See," arrived at a time when the term "Southern Rock" was being coined, thanks to the groundbreaking work of ensembles like The Allman Brothers band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
While those bands certainly shared a kind of musical and cultural footing, Marshall Tucker expanded the parameters of "Southern Rock" to encompass, not only rock, blues, gospel and R&B, but elements of jazz, folk and all kinds of country.
The genesis of The Marshall Tucker Band is rooted in two popular early-middle Sixties Spartanburg groups, The New Generation and The Rants.
The New Generation, which covered Motown, R&B and some British Invasion rock, was fronted by Doug Gray(b. 5/22/48) and included bassist Tommy Caldwell (b. 11/9/49 - d. 4/28/80). The rants, who drew more from the British rock style, featured the fiery guitar work and singing of Tommy Caldwell's brother Toy (b. 11/13/47 - d. 2/25/93) and George McCorkle (b. 10/11/46).
The New Generation even made a 45 on the Sonic imprint in 1965. The "A" side, "Because Of Love, It's All Over," was written by Doug Gray and Tommy Caldwell and recorded at Reflections Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Those four members of both groups formed what became known as The Toy Factory around 1966. From that time to about 1969, The Toy Factory had an on again/off again existence that had several incarnations. Part of the reason came from Doug Gray, Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle's stints in the Armed Services. One of the final line-ups of The Toy Factory had Tommy on rhythm guitar and future Marshall Tucker member, Franklin Wilkie on bass.
By 1970, McCorkle had hooked up with jazz drummer Paul Riddle in a band called Pax Parachute. During one of their gigs, Tommy Caldwell showed up (fresh from a very brief time in the Marines), eager to form a new musical undertaking.
"George told me that Tommy was going to come hear us play at The Ruins, because he wanted to start something," says Riddle. "I could see him in the back of the room with the Marine Corps trench coat and this cowboy hat on."
"When we got through playing, I nervously walked up to Tommy and he said, 'Hey man. Are you with me?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm with you.' He said, 'Let's start a band. Is that okay?' I said, 'Great.' That's how we started and we never locked back," recalls Riddle. "That was in 1970, because I was junior in high school."
Meanwhile, Toy had returned from Vietnam and after trying to give the Toy Factory one more go, decided to hang up pursuing a career in music to work at the Spartanburg Waterworks. It was a decision that only lasted only a couple of weeks, once he had the chance to hear his brother, Tommy, jamming with Riddle and McCorkle.
"The three of us got together and started jamming. Toy was working for the Waterworks at the time. I was talking to him right before we got together and he said that he was tired of playing and was just going to work. It wasn't long before Toy was banging on the door to play with us," laughs George McCorkle.
Once Toy joined up, the foursome invited Doug Gray to sing. Eventually, the line-up was solidified when flutist/saxophonist Jerry Eubanks returned from California and was brought on board.
"When we got the band together in 1970, we decided to make it or break it by playing original music," explains Paul Riddle. "We did do some cover tunes for clubs, but basically we were putting together the material that ended up on the first album."
It was in their rehearsal space on Spring Street in Spartanburg that the band chose the name Marshall Tucker.
"We found a key. with a tag that had the name Marshall Tucker written on it, in this old building where we used to practise," recalls Paul Riddle. "Marshall Tucker turned out to be a blind piano tuner in Spartanburg. He previously had owned a record shop or something like that in this place where we practised. The key happened to be left there. When Tommy (Caldwell) found the key, he said, 'Let's just call the band Marshall Tucker,' and that is how it all started."
"I had known Marshall Tucker for years, but we really weren't looking for his name when we decided to use it. It really was just there, and it was real spontaneous," adds George McCorkle. "We had been rehearsing all day and were getting ready to eat so we could come back that night and rehearse some more. How the name came about wasn't really a thought out thing. Someone said,'We need a name,' and someone looked down at the key chain and said,'What about Marshall Tucker.' Everybody said,'Hell, it sounds good to me. Let's go to supper.'It was real casual."
Not long after the Marshall Tucker Band began seriously working up material at the Spring Street warehouse, they were given an opportunity in the Spring of 1971 that opened the door for their eventual record deal on Phil Walden's Capricorn label.
"Wet Willie was playing at a Spartanburg club called The Sitar and George (McCorkle) and Tommy (Caldwell) were hanging out there that afternoon," says Riddle. "Jimmy and Jack Hall, the two brothers that played with Wet Willie, were there and Tommy was telling them about our band and they were gracious enough to ask us to open for them that night."
"Tommy called me up and said, 'Throw your drums in the car and come on,'" Riddle laughs. "We piled our equipment up there on the stage and opened for them. The guys in Wet Willie were knocked out and we told them that we were interested in going to Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia. It was close and The Allman Brothers and Wet Willie were on that label. We thought it was a compatible situation."
Wet Willie went back to Macon and told Phil Walden about the Tuckers and made him aware that they were coming tp play him their demos.
"We saved up $500 and cut this demo as Mark V Studio in Greenville that included the songs that basically became our first album. It had "Hillbilly Band," "Take The Highway," "Jesus Told Me So," "Ramblin'," "Can't You See" and all those tunes," continued Riddle.
Interestingly, the band had gone to Muscle Shoals earlier and recorded a tape at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound studio.
The Caldwell brothers took the Mark V demo to Capricorn, and managed to have an audience with Phil Walden.
"Tommy asked to see Phil Walden and the people at the label were acting like, 'Yeah, sure buddy,'" says Riddle. "Finally, he convinced Frank Fenter, the label's Vice-President, to come out and hear the tape. Still Tommy said, 'No, I want Phil to hear it, too.' So Phil Walden came out and heard the tape. When they wanted to keep the tape, Tommy said, 'No man. I'm sorry. I've got to have the tape back. This is my life. You don't understand. These are my people and you can't have the tape.'"
Capricorn booked the band in a small club called Grant's Lounge in Macon, Georgia. It was a place that wasfrequented by many bands, including The Allman Brothers, who used to jam there all the time.
"We played our set with all of the original songs and, of course, Phil Walden and Frank Fenter and the people of Capricorn Records never came in. So we took a break and then began our second set and they walked in. Tommy immediately turned around to us and said, 'We are playing the tunes again,'" recalls Riddle.
"Everybody really liked the band and were treated with a lot of respect," recalls Gray, concerning that showcase. "People knew that we were coming to Grant's and that we could play our ass off. The following week, we had some decisions to make and we came back down and signed the contract."
The showcase was even reported in Rolling Stone, which said that Phil Walden was literally dancing in the aisles. A record deal was offered and, in a matter of weeks, the Marshall Tucker band was a Capricorn Records act, with Phil Walden as label President, manager and publisher. It was an arrangement also shared by The Allman Brothers.
"I really liked Phil Walden, a lot," says Gray respectfully. "He helped make the Marshall Tucker band what it became. We gave him the material, but he knew how to go about selling the Marshall Tucker Band. He had already worked with Otis Redding and The Allman Brothers Band and shown how he could develop and sell a band."
Capricorn staff producer Paul Hornsby was tapped to worked with the band for their debut album, which was recorded in the Summer of 1972. Hornsby was also a respected session keyboardist, and had previously produced two albums, Eric Quincy Tate and Sundown.
"The label said,' Paul Hornsby is going to produce you,' and I thought, 'Great. Let's go! It's a record deal. Let's play,'" laughs McCorkle. "I'm not sure he really wanted do us, but we developed a respect for each other as we went along."
"They were handed a producer and I was handed a band," says an amused Hornsby. "I didn't dislike the band. At the time, there were two staff producers at Capricorn. It was Johnny Sandlin and myself. Johnny was given first shot at the band. He engineered the first demos, which was sort of an audition situation. He wasn't interested in producing them. I was the only other producer they had, so they said, 'Okay, you do this band.' So that's what I did."
The self-titled debut was recorded sixteen track and it took two months to record, the longest time the band ever spent in the studio during their stay on the Capricorn label.
"The band was inexperienced in the studio and I was pretty green, to be honest. I had more studio experience than they did, so I guess that's why they gave me the helm," says Hornsby of those sessions.
"We spent eight weeks solid in the studio, sometimes fifteen and seventeen hours a day. We recorded that album every day, but upside-down. We'd do it, re-do it and take it apart. We just had to make a record, and fortunately the band was eager to do anything I wanted them to do," explains Hornsby. "The project seemed to take a lifetime. After eight weeks, I didn't know if it was a great album or a horrible album, because I had been hearing it everyday for two months."
Capricorn basically stayed away from Hornsby and the band while they were recording in the studio. When the tapes were delivered to the label, the initial responses were tentative enough that attempts were made to actually place the album with another record label.
"When they first heard the album, I don't really think they knew what to do with it. It didn't sound like anything they were used to and they couldn't put a name on it or a handle or style," says Hornsby, adding that he knew the album was pitched to the short-lived Ampex label.
"You hear the music now and it sounds commonplace, like it isn't really anything new, but in 1972, it obviously was," Hornsby elaborates. "I really think they were afraid to take a chance with it. They played it for a few other labels to try to sell the master. Fortunately, I think a few people heard it and actually convinced the label that it was really good. So they decided, 'What the hell. Let's put it out and see what happens.' They didn't have a lot of money on it, and the main money they would have to spend would be from promoting it. It ended up being my first hit album."
"To be honest 'Southern' music was not a term, it hadn't been invented at the time," admits Hornsby. "At the time, The Allman Brothers Band was really the only successful band out of the Southeast. Here we came out of the chute, a rock and roll band with steel guitar, fiddle and flute. Later on, that became known as something that happened with Southern rock and roll bands and country bands."
Regardless of any tentative reactions in certain record label quarters, The Marshall Tucker Band became a staple of the fledgling FM Album Oriented Radio Format.
From the forceful opening interplay between Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle's guitars and Jerry Eubanks´ trademark flute, the opening track, "Take The HighWay," showcased the Tucker Band's ability to simultaneously convey power and sensitivity.
"That was a powerful song for us, and it showed the band off real well.
It was the first song where we played with a flute," recalls McCorkle. "Take The Highway" personified the band, because I guess it's what we really did."
"When Toy wrote "Take The Highway," it was written like a pretty finger picking James Taylor-style folk song. Just imagine the intro of the song played real pretty on an acoustic guitar and that is really how he wrote it," offers Riddle. "When we added our parts, I remember Toy looking at us like, 'Look what you've done to this thing,' He was real cool about it."
The second track on The Marshall Tucker Band featured the classic "Can't You See," a song written and sung by Toy Caldwell.
"Charlie Daniels use to say,' Toy would sing that song like it was the last time he was ever going to utter a sound,' says Riddle. "Like Charlie Daniels, I always love hearing Toy sing the tune, because he was so intense. "Can't You See" always gave me cold chills every night. It was one of those songs that I loved so much. Tommy's bass lines at the end and Toy's ride always moved me."
Another popular track from the debut was "Hillbilly Band," a rave-up number also written and sung by Toy Caldwell. It had the distinction of being the first song the Marshall Tucker band learned of Toy's in the rehearsal hall. For years, it served as the opening song for their live shows.
"When we were recording the first album, we told Paul Hornsby, 'We know this song. We can play this.' Four days and countless takes later, we were still at it," laughs Riddle. "We got hung up and almost never got it nailed down. Finally, Tommy said, 'Let's just get away from this thing.' Eventually, we went back and recorded the song and it happened. It seemed so ironic, because that was the first original tune we learned together."
The countryish "See You Later, I'm Gone" was the first song that featured Toy on pedal steel guitar. Tommy Caldwell played drums on the track.
The Marshall Tucker Band eventually made it to #29 on the Billboard Album chart and it certified gold. With the Fall 1973 release of The Marshall Tucker Band, the band found themselves constantly gigging at anyplace or on tour with anyone that would take them. It was that willing attitude that helped create a large loyal fan base that still follows the band.
"Right after we did our first record, we started playing a lot at Richards in Atlanta. We were almost a house band," recalls Riddle. "At the time , Toy was still doing plumbing with his father, and he was driving to Atlanta and then back to Spartanburg every night after we would finish the damn gig. One night, we were sitting in a hotel room and Tommy was in tears saying, 'Brother, you are not going to do this anymore. I'm going to go to the record company and they are going to give us enough money that you can quit working.' So Tommy fixed that."
"Soon after that, things started to really change, and we started opening for people like The Allman Brothers," Riddle continues. "Playing with the Allman Brothers really helped us and it exposed us to a really huge audience with compatible tastes. I'm always grateful for that. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts also said a lot of really nice things in the press, like Rolling Stone. That also helped us."
"The band was lucky in that the big boost that happened to them came from opening shows for The Allman Brothers Band and you couldn't ask for a better audience in the world," says Hornsby of the band's good turns in fortune. "They were playing for packed coliseums, and had a good new record coming out. It was just perfect, because there was a little bit of everything falling into the right places at the right time."
Not all concert situations were perfect matches, as evidenced by the Tucker Band's less-than-ideal work with Three Dog Night.
"We would open for anyone and for any amount of time they would give us," says Riddle.
"One time we were out with Three Dog Night and they kept cutting our set shorter. The problem we had with Three Dog Night was the same problem a lot of other bands had with us. We were too strong and energetic."
"Anyway, they kept cutting our time, until they finally just gave us fifteen minutes when the show came to the Forum in Los Angeles. We debated whether to do it or not, especially since Toy was feeling sick," say Riddle. "We went ahead and played "Take The HighWay" and "Ramblin'," and got an encore, which was "Can't You See." The promoter couldn't belive it."
By their own choice, The Marshall Tucker Band became touring road warriors of the first degree. In 1974, the band actually played over 300 dates.
Keeping those numbers in mind, it is amazing that the band had the time to record A New Life (released during the first half of the year) and Where We All Belong, which was a 1974 fall release.
Like all of the first six Tucker albums, A New Life was recorded by Paul Hornsby at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. It reached #37 on the Billboard Album chart and was also certified gold.
The opening title cut featured a fine vocal by Doug Gray, strong flute playing by Eubanks and a lyrical lead guitar ride by Toy Caldwell, while "Another Cruel Love" featured a driving groove that synthesized boogie and swing.
"Blue Ridge Mountain Sky," was another highlight from A New Life. It also featured George McCorkle on banjo.
"That was always a real favorite song of mine," says McCorkle. "I played banjo on that song, and I didn't even know how to play the banjo. I locked myself in a room and learned how to play that part and came back out and recorded it."
"A New Life was cut real quick and it's blur to me. We came in from off the road and cut it and went right back out. We didn't even slow down," admits McCorkle.
"The band had just come off from having a hit debut album and we were under a lot of pressure to live up to that one," says Hornsby of the band's sophomore release. "I guess we were lucky, because it was a hit, even though I don't think there was a sizable single off of that album."
Where We All Belong was a double record set, which was a popular thing to do for many groups at the time. Half of the album was studio and the other half was a live recording of the band at Milwaukee, Wisconsin show. The album failed to make the Top Forty, but it ultimately went gold.
Unlike many groups that relied on a live side to fill out the album, every track from that show really counted and underscored an important side of the band's collective artistry. The studio half contained many new gems. Both the live and studio sides of the album were recorded on 24 tracks.
The opening number, "This Ol' Cowboy" is classic Marshall Tucker, with it's conversational singing by Toy Caldwell and peculating blend of jazz and Country & Western swing. As on many great Marshall Tucker recordings, Charlie Daniels punctuates the track with expressive fiddle playing. The interplay between Daniel's fiddle, Caldwell's guitar and Eubanks flute is one of the band's signature sounds.
"'This Ol' Cowboy' was a real anthem to Toy. 'This Ol' Cowboy' is Toy," remarks McCorkle. "I remember him writing that song and us playing it in the dressing rooms before gigs. I always thought Frank Sinatra should have cut that song."
"Where We All Belong was one of my favorite Tucker Albums," says Hornsby. "It has 'This Ol' Cowboy,' which was probably my favorite Marshall Tucker song. I really liked the feel of it, musically."
"Where A Country Boy Belongs," with it's laid back groove, showcased some nice slide guitar work by guest guitarist Elvin Bishop of The Elvin Bishop Band, while 3/4 country roadhouse ballad "Try One More Time" exhibits the band's more reflectiveside nicely.
Another highlight from the studio side of this release is "My Own Way," a thoughtful statement of purpose written by Toy Caldwell.
Two highlights from the concert side of Where We All Belong, are "Ramblin',"(which initially appeared on The Marshall Tucker Band) and "24 Hours At A Time," originally from A New Life.
"That was a very good show and the theather was great. We had a good time and the crowd was really responsive that night," reflects McCorkle. "That was the first time we had ever recorded live, so we were really excited about it."
"Ramblin'" was such a powerhouse," McCorkle continues. "When you went out to play that song, you just planted your foot in one place and rode it out, until it got there. I don't think you could run ten miles and get that kind of workout."
"You should of been up there while Tommy was playing his bass," McCorkle laughs. "You'd go, 'Holy Shit, I've got to keep up with that.' As the song wore on, it kept getting stronger. It never let up. I get out of breath every time I think about that song."
Riddle has a personalized perspective on the genesis of "24 Hours At A Time," a Marshall Tucker favorite in concerts.
"I remember seeing Toy sitting in the back of the van with an acoustic guitar writing that song," Riddle remembers. "We were coming from Houston and going home to South Carolina. That is the first line of the song, 'I've been down around Houston, Texas where the sun shines most of the time.' That's what we were doing. We were going home."
It was the thrill of the band's live chemistry, however, that kept the Marshall Tucker Band out on the road for hundreds of nights a year.
"Musically, we would go out on more limbs live," Riddle conveys enthusiastically. "Sometimes we would break things down into a whisper and Toy would take us into place to where we didn't really know where it was going. We might even completely break it down and stop, and then Toy would start to play and we would evolve it into something else. We would take those kinds of chances in front of twenty thousand people every night. Some night those jams were so magical, it was like making love to someone you really cared about."
"As a drummer, it was part of my jazz background, that I would play off of the lead player, which was Toy," Riddle explains. "There were some real intricate things going on that were great. It was like musical questions and answers going on. Sometimes Toy was so musically intense that he would blow me away to point it would break my concentration. Times like that, I would just want to put my sticks down and go, 'What was that?!?!?' Tommy and the others would sometimes do that to me, but Toy was especially prone to giving me that reaction. Toy would come to a climax three times in a song and then he would take it to another step. He always had a magic."
With the Fall 1975 release of Marshall Tucker's fourth album, Searching For A Rainbow, the band hit a creative zenith. It was also Marshall Tucker's highest charting album (#15) and its first certified platinum effort.
The george McCorkle-penned opening track, "Fire On The Mountain," was the band's first Top Forty hit, peaking at #38. McCorkle had originally penned it in a last-minute attempt to land on Charlie Daniels' Fire On The Mountain album.
"I didn't really write 'Fire On The Mountain' for the band. I wrote it for Charlie Daniels," McCorkle concedes. "Charlie was doing an album called Fire On The Mountain, and I asked if he had a title track for the album. He said, 'No, we don't have a song for it.' I wrote it in about ten minutes and he said, 'That just don't fit,' and I said, 'All right.' I basically threw the song away."
"When we got ready to do Searching For A Rainbow, we were short a couple of songs. Paul Hornsby asked if we had any more and that's when this song got played to him. He loved it and we went with it," says McCorkle. "It's amazing to me, because I was trying to hustle a song, just like everybody else. It wasn't until the song was mixed, and the record company got real excited about it, than I got a sense of the seriousness of it."
The title cut, written by Toy Caldwell, is another Tucker standard with a timeless sounding melody. Allman Brothers' lead guitarist Dickey Betts whipped out the guitar solo for that track.
"Walkin' And Talkin' is a revved-up bop that features a good wailing sax break by Eubanks and solid horn section punctuations. "Bob Away My Blues," an ode to the therapeutic effects of fishing, showcases the mellow country swing side of Marshall Tucker. Toy Caldwell's pedal steel provides a dominant flavor to the overall feel of the track.
"Virginia," which also happened to be the name of Toy and Tommy Caldwell's mother, is another pleasant, easy groove of a song with a well-defined acoustic/electric turnaround that provides dynamic interest after each chorus.
A live version of "Can't You See," recorded at the same Milwaukee show that produced the live tracks on Where We All Belong, closed out Searching For A Rainbow.
The band's winning steak continued with the Summer of 1976 release of Long Hard Ride, which earned another gold record and reached #32.
The title track, Marshall Tucker's first instrumental, was a finalist in that year's Grammy competition for Best Country Instrumental. Chet Atkins won out, but it enhanced the band's country roots credibility.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen played banjo on "Long Hard Ride," and Charlie Daniels contributed fiddle. George McCorkle also got to play bullwhip for that performance.
© Rick Clark
Information on this site were copied
from the CD The Best Of The Marshall Tucker Band, The Capricorn Years