01/22/12 — Marshall Tucker Band coming to Duplin Events Center

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Marshall Tucker Band coming to Duplin Events Center

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on January 22, 2012 1:50 AM

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Singer Doug Gray belts out a song during a Marshall Tucker concert. The band will perform at the Duplin County Events Center on Friday, Jan. 27.

Celebrating its 40th year as a group, the Marshall Tucker Band will bring its jazzy southern rock sound to the Duplin County Events Center Jan. 27.

Led by singer Doug Gray and the late Tommy and Toy Caldwell, the band was one of the major practitioners of the unique style of rock and roll styled "southern rock" that flourished mainly in the 1970s but has never quite faded from the music scene.

The band's soulful lyrics on tunes such as "This Old Cowboy," and "Heard It in a Love Song," mixed with its members' range instrumental talent, displayed in songs such as "24 hours at a Time," gave the band a lasting reputation as an original, sophisticated force in rock and roll.

Today, with an almost completely different lineup, the band maintains its musical core by playing with the same near-ferocity as its original incarnation. The key, Gray said last week, speaking from the band's studio in Spartanburg, S.C., is the passion the newer musicians bring to the stage.

Gray, a Vietnam veteran, said he looks forward to playing in a venue so close to several military bases. The band was overseas entertaining troops in Iraq when Osama bin Laden was killed. Gray said he hopes a lot of airmen from Seymour Johnson will attend, as well as troops from Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg.

"You can't give enough back to the people who are fighting to keep people out of your back door," Gray said.

Gray said the band experienced a new thrill this past fall when its members were given their first chance to play the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Although the band is more rock and roll than pure country, what is considered country music now is actually more rock and roll than a lot of the music that southern rock bands played in the 1960s and '70s, Gray said. Musicians like Keith Urban and Travis Tritt play harder rock than Tucker, which depended on fiddle, saxophone and flute for many of their songs, he said, so playing the Ryman came naturally. The band received a standing ovation, and Gray said it represented one of the high points of his life.

"As tough a guy as I like to think I am, I had tears in my eyes," he said.

Gray was just a teenager in Spartanburg when he formed a band in the late 1960s. The Caldwell brothers, also from Spartanburg, had formed their own band.

"We started playing just to have beer on the weekends," Gray said.

Members of both groups wound up pulling tours in Vietnam and when they returned, the bands united, driven mostly by the songwriting and guitarship of Toy Caldwell. But the band wasn't like other country rock bands. Tucker had a jazzy flavor that Gray said didn't come from any one influence but just from the way the Spartanburg boys meshed. He and Caldwell both enjoyed jazz, Gray said, and would attend jazz festivals. They looked for ways to add that to their music. Having a saxophone and flute gave the band a chance to explore that jazzy edge.

"It's just country that happened because of the team of people we had," he said.

After getting a chance to tour with the Allman Brothers, the band gained its own national audience, reaching its peak when "Heard It in a Love Song," reached the Top 15 in 1977.

Fans of the band have argued for years that they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but the honor has always eluded the Marshall Tucker crew, who took their name from a key ring one of the band members found that carried the name of a local piano tuner. Gray said the honor would be nice, but it's nothing the band feels strongly about.

"It might be a different story, if it was based on merit," he said, "and I'd be honored to be included, but we're in the South Carolina Hall of Fame, with people like Etta James, Hootie (Darius Rucker) and Aaron Tippin, so it doesn't really matter to us as long as the people at home appreciate us."

The band has continued to maintain its roots in Spartanburg. Gray, who is now 63, said the group plays about 100 shows a year.

Gray released his own solo album, "Songs of the South," two years ago. It carries much more of a rhythm and blues feel, almost like beach music. Gray said the entire album came from recordings made more than 30 years ago. It features Caldwell on guitar and a variety of other artists, including drummer Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers.

In recent years, satellite radio has allowed the band to gain new fans, he said. To mark its 40th anniversary, the band re-released all of its original albums on vinyl. Gray said so many longtime fans showed up at concerts with the old vinyl albums, asking for them to be signed, that the band decided to go retro and make them available again. In November, they released a "Greatest Hits" album, which contains a digital download card to go along with the vinyl record, since very few people have turntables anymore.

Gray said he sometimes finds it hard to believe that Marshall Tucker is still going after all these years. He compared it to owning a car that never seems to wear out.

"It's like, I can't believe it actually made it this far," he said.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for the Duplin show, which will feature the Classic Collection Band as the opening act. Tickets are $20, with a $5 military discount. Children 12 and under are $10 and groups of 15 or more also get a $5 discount.

The Events Center is located just south of Kenansville, across from James Sprunt Community College. For more information, call 910-275-0009.