They are one of the most loved and prolific bands in Southern rock, and this weekend, The Marshall Tucker Band brings its 45 years of crowd-pleasing experience back to Savannah. Fans can sing along to “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song” on June 15 at The Stage On Bay.
“People turned out, showed up, had a good time,” says founding member and lead vocalist Doug Gray of the group’s February 2017 visit to the Lucas Theatre. “That was probably as much fun as I’ve had; staying down there a couple days beforehand just so I could have a good time roaming the river.”
The band was originally slated to play the opening show at The Stage on Bay during that visit. However, opposition from residents in the West Bay Street area and a stalemate with the Savannah City Council forced the venue to move the show to the Lucas Theatre. The city voted in March to award the venue its license and now MTB will get a second chance to play The Stage on Bay.
Gray and bassist Tommy Caldwell started playing together in high school. After tours in Vietnam, they joined back up in 1972 to form The Marshall Tucker Band. Gray was on lead vocals, Caldwell on bass, along with his brother Toy Caldwell on vocals and lead guitar. Jerry Eubanks came aboard on keyboard, saxophone and flute, while George McCorkle handled rhythm guitar and Paul T. Riddle took on drums. Gray says the focus was always on playing good music.
“It’s fun!” he says. “Even in high school and before Vietnam, we weren’t playing for ourselves; we were playing for the people. We were just looking for where we were getting the money for the next beer.”
The fun paid off. The band’s self-titled debut album was certified gold and catapulted MTB into a touring career including upwards of 300 shows per year for the rest of the decade. The 1970s included four more consecutive golds, a platinum album, a Grammy Award nomination, and collaborations with artists like Charlie Daniels and The Allman Brothers Band.
Tragedy struck in 1980 when founding member Tommy Caldwell died after a car accident. He’d lost a brother in a fatal crash just a month before. Toy Caldwell took the deaths of his siblings especially hard.
By the mid-1980s, Gray and Eubanks were the only original members left. The Marshall Tucker Band, however, couldn’t be stopped. To date, more than 30 names have been added to the touring list. The current MTB incarnation — Gray, Marcus James Henderson on keyboard, sax and flute, Chris Hicks and Rick Willis on guitar, Tony Black on bass and B.B. Borden on drums — maintains an impressive list of 200 or more shows per year.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gray said. “It’s because of Toy’s songs at the beginning. They were the iconic things that carried us through. It’s been 45, 46 years and people are still turning out for us. We’re even playing larger venues. I still get excited and I’ve been around it for so long.”
The list of collaborations and fan covers has grown to include Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Clint Black, Hank Williams Jr., Poison and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their music has been used on the big screen and for other major projects as well. But it’s the multi-generational fan base that pleases Gray the most.
“I believe the world is a lot better because of good music,” says Gray. ”We’ve watched these kids who listened to us strapped in car seats turn around and have kids who grow up hearing us on the radio and then come to see live shows. That keeps everything rolling.”
Gray promises you’ll hear a lot of the old music and some of the new and adds that the tour is far from over.
“We’ve had a great run,” he says. “I want folks [in Savannah] to feel like they’ve seen us at the grocery store and we can talk. Still going and will be even better next year."