Touring in support of their sixth album, Carolina Dreams, the Marshall Tucker Band’s February 18, 1977 performance at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey was filmed and has now been released on both DVD and CD as The Marshall Tucker Band Carolina Dreams Tour 1977. The only known footage of a complete concert with all of MTB’s original band members, the set list features four songs from Carolina Dreams: “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Heard It in a Love Song,” “I Should Have Never Started Loving You,” and “Never Trust a Stranger.”
The first thing that one notices while watching this DVD is that these six guys from small town Spartanburg, South Carolina deliver unique southern music which has more of a jazz/country feel than the “Southern Rock” tag that was applied to their work. The musicianship and tightness of the original band members is quite evident throughout the 14 song show. Jerry Eubanks’ flute work is so beautiful and perfect for the songs that one realizes he is one of the forgotten people in music history, tragically overshadowed by the minstrel-like playing and prancing of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. Lead vocalist Doug Grey is another overlooked and underappreciated frontman in the history of rock and roll. His voice is so unique and recognizable, yet I bet there are many people who if asked to name the lead singer for the MTB would pick Toy Caldwell, not Doug Grey. The real stars of this show, however, are the Caldwell brothers, Toy and Tommy, whose guitar and bass drive the performance. Toy’s guitar playing and sound is so crisp, and the interplay between he and Tommy is a dominant force throughout the evening. Toy was also quite a composer, as nearly song featured here came from his pen.
That being said, the real treat of this DVD is the commentary/interview with Doug Grey, who goes into great detail about much of the band’s past. One of the most amazing anecdotes that Grey reveals was that the first Marshall Tucker Band show in New York City was in 1974 at Kenny’s Castaway in front of about 60 people. Within a month of that show, the same band was opening for the Allman Brothers Band at Madison Square Garden.
The concert opens with “Fly Like an Eagle,” featuring some great flute and sax work from Eubanks and Toy’s famous thumb picking style. It nicely segues right into “Long Hard Ride,” where the beat is driven home hard by Tommy and the drums of Paul Riddle, producing the feeling of a knee-slapping, foot-stomping jamboree. Next up is “Searchin’ for a Rainbow,” which is a very country, honky-tonk number. The extended jam towards the latter part of the song shows the maturity that the band had developed through several years of relentless touring, and it really picks up steam toward the end, where one can hear the influence of the MTB’s tourmates, the Allman Brothers, as the song almost has a “Blue Sky” jam feel to it.
After dipping into reams of hits that showcase the well-honed interplay of the band members and demonstrate why the MTB was such a great live act, the show “ends” with a raucous version of “Ramblin’,” with Toy just ripping up lines alongside great harmony vocal work by Tommy and some smokin’ sax solos from Eubanks. The first of three separate encores is the now classic “Can’t You See,” which is the first song in the show to feature Toy Caldwell on lead vocal as well as scorching guitar. At the end of the gritty tune, he shouts, “Everybody getting their money’s worth?” and is met with a loud cheer from the crowd. “This Old Cowboy,” has a mellow, fun, and nice rolling groove, and the traditional “Will the Circle be Unbroken” ends the evening in style.
All I can say is that after watching this DVD from start to finish, had I been at the Capitol Theater that evening in early 1977, I would have walked out of there feeling as though I had just witnessed a band at their peak put their entire heart and soul into a performance that proved they were as tight as any other act at that time.