Doug Gray is not Marshall Tucker.
“People will come up to the bus and say, ‘Hey Marshall, will you sign this autograph,’” Gray said.
But Marshall Tucker isn’t on that bus. He’s a 90-something, blind, retired choir director living in Columbia, S.C.
Gray is the lead singer and a founder of one of the most iconic southern rock/country bands in history. He just happened to borrow Tucker’s name for his band.
“Me and Toy [Caldwell] went to Vietnam and came back and said we needed to get a real job. We said let’s rehearse for about a year and see where it takes us,” Gray said.
So Gray, Caldwell, Jerry Eubanks, George McCorkle, Paul Riddle, and Caldwell’s brother, Tommy, rented a warehouse to rehearse near Spartanburg, S.C., which happened to be the same warehouse that Tucker had rented out five years before for his piano tuning business. Tucker’s name was still on the rental key.
“This promoter came by and said we sounded pretty good and asked if we wanted to open for the Allman Brothers when they came through town. He said, ‘y’all got a name?’” Gray said. “We didn’t want to use the Toy Factory because we’d already used that. We looked around and saw Marshall Tucker on that key, so rather than spend a lot of time thinking about it, we said, ‘Let’s name it The Marshall Tucker Band for the weekend.’ And that was 43 years ago.”
Deaths and retirements have stripped the band of its original members except for Gray. The current edition consists of Gray on lead vocals, drummer B.B. Borden, instrumentalist Marcus Henderson, Pat Elwood on bass guitar, Rick Willis on lead guitar and vocals, and Chris Hicks on guitar and vocals.
But the music continues to live on, most notably classics “Heard It in a Love Song,” “Can’t You See,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “24 Hours at a Time.”
“We opened for Kid Rock recently and the Zac Brown Band. Whether it’s a small place or a bigger place, there will always be those four or five kids who come up to us and say, ‘Hey man, you guys are really good. You got any records out?’ And I’ll just think to myself, ‘Yeah, there are 33 of them. Go find yourself one of them,’” Gray said, chuckling.
The most recent album, “Live! From Spartanburg, South Carolina,” was released in May and includes the band’s biggest hits.
Despite reaching the height of its commercial success in the 1970s, the band continues to be in demand, scheduling 140 dates this year, including a March 14 gig at Hollywood Casino Toledo.
That number is limited only by Gray’s desire to spend as much time as possible on grandfather duties. And it’s also dictated by his desire to not push it physically. He’ll turn 66 on May 2. But he’s not stopping any time soon.
“All those platinum and gold records hanging on my wall, I walk by them every day. It’s crazy for me to give up on those [fans] who have created all that support for us. I could never do that, so I guess I’ll just die on stage.”
Brian Dugger’s column on country music appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.