Doug Gray doesn’t know the word retirement. The 68-year-old has been the lead singer for The Marshall Tucker Band since its formation 45 years ago in Spartanburg, SC.
Gray was faced with a decision in 1983 when original members, Toy Caldwell, George McCorkle, and Paul Riddle, along with Franklin Wilkie – who replaced Tommy Caldwell – decided they had enough of life on the road. However, Gray and Jerry Eubanks still had the passion and continued on. Then in 1996, Eubanks retired, leaving Gray as the only founding member.
“I look at all these platinum records in my house,” Gray said. “I don’t sit and bask in them, but I look at all that stuff, and how would you ever give up the fact that people love you that much and love that song? How could you ever give that up?”
The band’s current lineup consists of Gray on vocals, keyboard player and flautist Marcus James Henderson, guitarist Rick Willis, bassist Pat Elwood, and drummer B.B. Borden.
“Marshall Tucker Band is nothing but a name for a group of guys that pour their hearts out every night for you,” Gray said.
Gray, who resides in Myrtle Beach, goes out on the road to make people happy but makes time to see his daughters and grandkids. He spoke by cellphone to discuss the past and present of the band’s southern rock legacy.
What keeps you going, performing live and going on tour?
First of all I don’t know how to do anything else except pump gas. I just have to take advantage of this gift of being able to entertain people. I don’t call it singing anymore, I just call it entertainment. You just do, what you do best. I was born with it and I just try to continue it. We didn’t really think it would last this long. All we wanted to do was go out and play a show and buy beer for the weekend. That is really a true story. After Vietnam, we started getting shows from different parts of the country. Capricorn records decided they wanted to do something with us and they put us out on the road with the Allman Brothers Band for 4 years. That was a life learning experience with Jaimoe riding our bus and some of the older guys. Greg coming up to me after a show; and saying, “How are we going to go out and follow that?” And I said, “All you got to do is go out and play.”
I’m waiting right now for the next show. We do about 140 shows. Having that ability – having my health – that’s a wonderful thing. I’m really blessed with that part of it. Whether it’s a Kid Rock show or a Zac Brown show or a regular show, people always come up to me and say, ‘Man you look great, how do you do it? You’re 68 years old’ I tell them I follow the Rolling Stones advice: “Go out and do it every night and see how good you look.”
Is there a regimen you follow to stay in shape and keep your vocals where they should be?
I did have a problem for while but that’s because I was training way too hard, the wrong way. It made it tough. Then I realized, if I dropped a whole bunch of weight it would help me a whole lot. The fact is you never stop moving. Don’t stop your thumb form moving, don’t stop your back from moving and always keep your mind occupied with music or something.
Tell me about the current lineup that you tour with to keep the MTB legacy alive?
These guys are dedicated. We call it the new band, even though they’ve been together for 25 years. We haven’t been at the top of our game. We had our ups and downs two or three times. We kind of proven ourselves again. You always have to prove yourself in this business. We’ve proved it by having sellout crowds everywhere we go. Over 90 percent of our rate is sellout crowds, whether it’s a large place or not. Some of these larger companies want us to be on these particular shows because they help us and we help them by being an older band. They call it legendary but I really hate to look at myself like that because it puts me in an older group. As I look at people, I wonder what makes them give up on their body, give up on their thoughts, their dreams. I have never given up on mine and I cannot wait when I walk off stage this weekend. I want people to say, “That was so good – it took me back 35 years.” That’s what I do and that’s what gives me the ability to do this.
Have the songs changed over time?
I give everyone the opportunity when they join the band, I say, “Play it the way we played it originally, and then when it’s time, we’ll click in and go into the jam portion of the band.” What changes the song is the way the band feels at the time. We do it the original way but we expand it and they call that jamband; and it’s been around with us for so many years.
What about lyrically, have the songs taken on new meaning?
“Desert Skies” is a song that we just put back into the show. That was a song we hadn’t played for 25 or 30 years. We put it back in and the audience couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The Marshall Tucker Band has created a lot of memories of being sad and happy. Having a dog named named Marshall or Tucker or having a son named Tucker, and some of these people have lost these people. We’ve given a part of our lives away to all these people that have appreciated us so much. These people come up and hug you; or they’ll tell you, ‘I still remember the first time you played “Desert Sky,” and you played it better tonight and you gave me such good memories.”
Is this current lineup going to go into the studio and record an album?
I’ve got 15 to 16 songs our band can do and I think we should do a double-type record or a triple record – CD style. Put it out there let there be some old stuff and some new stuff, and see if the public likes it.
Are these new songs; songs the band has written together?
The new songs would involve my nephew Clay Cook from Zac Brown Band. And that we’re not just living on the past, but moving toward the future with a real plan. The whole band has a bunch of songs that we’ve recorded 15 or 16 and it’s just not enough yet. Clay will be a part of it. It’s hard to get away from my nephew.
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