A new addition to the Journalism archives today as Cameron chats with The Marshall Tucker Band for the February, 1974 issue of Circular magazine…
The Marshall Tucker Band Is Helping Make the World Safe for Southern Bands
A New Life From the Pride of Spartanburg, South Carolina
Quite simply, A New Life is as fine an album as any band could hope to have under its belt. The Marshall Tucker Band, on the heels of a solid year of extensive roadwork, has come up with the quintessential follow-up to its a superb debut album of last year.
“The material is really great,” says the man who should know, composer-guitarist Toy Caldwell. “It represents more of what the band sounds like today. We’ve gotten a bit more polished with all the touring we’ve done in the time between this album and the first one. The musicianship is better and the tunes are much more suited to the stage.”
Like The Allman Brothers Band before them, The Marshall Tucker Band has managed to overcome major obstacles in achieving its notoriety as one of the South’s biggest groups.
“We’ve six people that nobody’d heard of, man,” explains Caldwell from his home (and the band’s base) in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Take Hydra, now they’re pretty popular without even having an album out yet. We didn’t even have that going for us, we just sold this band through our own gigs. We went out there and played our asses off.
“If you were a group of Southern musicians, up until recently the most you could ever hope to be was a club band. Before The Allman Brothers Band, hell, there wasn’t anybody making it from out of The South. Then Wet Willie and Cowboy made records and now, bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mose Jones are getting their break too. People are starting to listen. Thanks to The Allmans, a Southern group can do more than just play the hits in some bar or discotheque. ”
The emphasis on Spartanburg has The Marshall Tucker Band’s hometown is not merely a cute promotional gimmick. All band members were childhood pals from the same South Carolina neighborhood and are deeply rooted in the archetypal country small town atmosphere. Toy and bassist brother Tommy, the group’s main forces, are representative.
“My father loved country music, “says Toy,” and it was always around the house. That’s the way we grew up. He had a casual band that got together to play square dances every now and then. Tommy and I would always go along and watch. We had a guitar duo. My father would have us play for friends at Christmas parties. We’d get up and strum all the Hank Williams tunes.”
In their early high school years, the Caldwell brothers decided to make their hobby a profession. Barely teenagers, they formed their first band and traveled the teen club circuit. Toy took the rock & roll route through The Rants (“I never did figure out what that meant”), which also featured George McCorkle on rhythm guitar.
“We were playing Rolling Stones and Beatles tunes because they were what was happening. Hank Williams didn’t seem to make people want to dance, so we went into the heavy stuff. “Tommy, meanwhile, have formed an R&B outfit with singer Doug Gray called the New Generation.
Quit the Copy Music
Both groups traveled the club circuit until 1966, when the draft called most of the Spartanburg musicians, including the Caldwells, into the service.
“We all went in about the same time and got out about the same time, “says Toy. Completely detached from music the entire four years, Toy resumed songwriting in the first weeks after his discharge. The first song he penned, “Can’t You See, “was to become The Marshall Tucker Band’s first hit single.
Yet, upon returning to Spartanburg, it was back to the discotheque grind again. Toy, along with ex-New Generationer Doug Gray and sax-player Jerry Eubanks, formed The Toy Factory. Two years passed before The Marshall Tucker Band was formed with the intention of taking a more creative format. Tommy joined, later bringing with him George McCorkle and drummer Paul Riddle. They retired from the stage for six months to rehearse original material and record demos.
Toy: “When we formed this band, we said, ‘Man, let’s quit doing all this copy music and try to be a little more original about it all. Let’s play what we want to play.’ Everybody agreed, and that’s why and how this band got started. We all had day jobs. We quit to go for broke. I was a plumber. But we wanted to play what we wanted to play, and the hell with everything else. ”
It was this determination that began to surface in the band’s aggressive and intense style. Wet Willie, who shared the bill with Marshall Tucker at a Spartanburg nightclub, were impressed with the group’s gritty flair.
“They heard our stuff and told us to take it to Phil Walden. Hell, I never heard of the cat. Still, we drove down to Macon and dropped the tape off. We got a call the next day telling us to high-tail it down there for a weekend audition. ”
Held at Grant’s Lounge, the audition was an overwhelming success. As legend has it, Phil Walden danced in the aisles. As fact has it, they were signed the following Monday morning.
Their first album, The Marshall Tucker Band, shot into the low numbers of the charts and the group was thrust to the forefront. The group’s position as show-openers for all The Allman Brothers’ 1973 tours certainly didn’t work against Marshall Tucker’s success.
“The Brothers, like for us to play with them as much as we can,” explains Toy, “and we love to. It’s the greatest exposure you could have. It’s especially good for our band because the music is linked somewhat. Our songs flow right into their songs. Those tours we did with them had a lot to do with the band’s popularity. A whole lot of people saw and liked us. We sure can’t say, ‘No, man, we did it all on our own.’ It would be a flat-out lie.”
With the inevitable furor over A New Life, The Marshall Tucker band now moves into headliner status. Caldwell, however, is a bit wary.
“I don’t think we’re quite ready yet. I’ve seen too many bands that headlined when they weren’t ready and played to half-packed houses. I mean, it’s nice to see a crowd and know they’ve come to see you, but if you don’t see but three or four people out there, I’m sure it can be a little weird. It just seems to me that if a band goes up too quickly, they come down too quickly. I kind of like the idea of working our way slowly. We’ve got time. ”
Courtesy of Circular – Cameron Crowe – February 18, 1974