Forty years ago the Marshall Tucker Band roared out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, at the dawn of the '70s, spurred on by camaraderie and a hunger for adventure. They began forging a musical legacy that quickly turned into a legend. Their ability to blend rock, country, jazz and blues won them a fervent following and changed perceptions of what American pop music could be. On April 5, 2011, marking its 40th Anniversary, the Marshall Tucker Band released The Marshall Tucker Band: Greatest Hits (Shout Factory). The 14-track album features original recordings of the songs that made the MTB a household name.
Lead singer Doug Gray unveiled his lost R&B solo album, Soul Of The South (Shout Factory), on the same date as the MTB Greatest Hits. The unreleased 30-year-old recordings’, featuring the MTB, showcases Gray's vocal affinity for Soul and Blues.
Doug and I chatted about the music and the release of both albums, along with what else we might expect in the future from him and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Bev: I am in love with your new solo project, “Soul of the South”, can you shed some light and a little background about it and why you decided to put it out now?
DG: Well, thirty years ago, Tommy had just died in a car wreck. We were all life long buddies and we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the band. So, I came to Nashville wanting to do some background stuff for some things that I really liked, some good soulful music. I wanted to add some things to it and make it the way I remember music before there was Marshall Tucker. I was offered a record contract and turned it down. The band was already signed to a label, I think it was Warner Brothers at the time and I wasn’t about to leave. A lot of guys want to go out and do their solo career, but I wasn’t one that wanted to do that. I liked being in a band and in a group. I could have taken the easier route, but I chose to take the harder path by staying in the Marshall Tucker band and keeping it going for thirty years. You always have this gut instinct, the guys you went to high school with, you want to stay with those guys. It’s almost like being married to people. You certainly want to stay there, you don’t want to leave. Some “get too cool for school” and think they are a little better than the band they are with. I never felt that way. Some forty years later, it is still run the same way. Everyone is important to the group. There is no one person that sticks out, including me. I’m just the oldest one in the band. Being the oldest one, they give me more respect (laughter) but that doesn’t mean I have to be a boss, I just have to be a part.
Bev: In correlation with your CD, the Marshall Tucker band also has a Greatest Hits CD out. What prompted both at the same time?
DG: The reason for doing that was we haven’t had a Greatest Hits CD out for over ten years and while touring, people would come up and ask us when we we’re going to put a Greatest Hits CD out with this song or that song. I wrote these things down over the ten year period and realized that if we added these songs to our hit songs, then it really would be a Greatest Hits CD. Sure enough, this is a result of it. We added four or five songs that people wanted and this way they don’t have to carry around a bunch of Marshall Tucker CDs. The record label and the distribution both said that the Doug Gray record was good and I should have put it out twenty years ago. It fit more to the times then and it is different. It has the band on it, everyone but Tommy.
Bev: What is the one re-occurring question that everyone wants to know?
DG: They want to know when I am going to stop. I think they come to see us just to see if I am still alive — that being a joke I hope. Probably the one question is how does it sound similar, but it is different guys down through the years. The first band was only together for nine years and then the band changed. The guys matured and wanted to try different things. People want to know how it changes and how do we make it strong and keep going.
Bev: On a personal level, how have things changed for you? You started singing shortly after you learned to walk. For you to start so young and music has been a huge part of your life, how have you seen things change for you personally over the last few years?
DG: It has gotten a lot easier and people are more interested now than they’ve ever been. I am amazed. It use to be you would go out and play a version of a song and now, thirty years later someone says “you know, that version is really, really good and now, I would like to hear the other version”. I have to say to them that that was a period of time version. It is not really that much different but it is. They don’t say those things to be hurtful. I think people appreciate The Marshall Tucker band a lot more than they did a long time ago. The same people are coming out to see us, but they are not bringing Jack Daniels bottles anymore, they’re bringing cookies because there’s three generations along with them now and THAT is what is cool.
Bev: Have you ever thought of doing something else? Have you ever thought you might want to expand to another area like acting or something?
DG: One good thing about YouTube is you learn what you can do. Back when it was cool to put out all those different videos, we put them out and we did some commercials. I learned that was not my way to go. Once you look at yourself on video, you can pretty much tell and I didn’t want to look at myself anymore. It is like finishing a record. Once you finish that record, you never want to go back to it unless you have an ego bigger than the world. I don’t have that kind of ego. Once I saw myself in some of those really expensive videos that we did and they’ve been played all over and thousands of YouTubes out there, I realize I don’t need to be an actor.
Bev: When you have downtime and not doing anything musically, what are your hobbies?
DG: I ride my Harley. I go to see different people. I love the beach and I love the Harley, those two things go together.
Bev: Earlier you mentioned that you jotted notes and things down. Do you keep a journal?
DG: Of course. I think that is one of the smartest things anyone can do because no memory is that good. It is like you having to record this interview. A lot of people use to get it wrong. For me, if I can make notes on it, then I am much better in two or three days. I was never so glad when people started recording interviews. I have always been impressed with the people that were recording it because they always get it right.
Bev: You mentioned that you thought there was more interest now. Do you think social media added to that?
DG: Oh yes. When I go on my Facebook account, I can’t answer all the questions because there are so many of them at once. It lets me know that as far as the ability to communicate, I think you guys are the ones that make it easier on us. You have made it to where someone can ask the question and that question is answered 500 times. That pleases me a lot because I can’t do all those interviews. Our parents worked and we understood what a dollar was and we had to work in order to get it. That made that nine year period we had, the strongest period anyone could have. It was like working towards the final goal and those goals are being represented today I hope, by me and the rest of the guys
Bev: Are you recording or writing anything new?
DG: We are writing all the time. We have about seven or eight songs in the can. We have a bunch of things. I just finished mixing some things from England and some recorded stuff from Paris that we did in the original band and boy, it puts you back when I am sitting in there knowing I am the only one left out here doing music from the original band.
Bev: When you listen to that, what are the feelings you get? It was so amazing back then.
DG: I don’t want to go back because if you go back, you get sad. So many sad things have happened to everyone. There was a lot of sadness before we ever got to be such a popular band. We were junior high school and high school friends and we were losing friends and band members. It honestly got to where it drew us closer. I just remember everyone caring. Do I want to go back? No, let’s go on and create another step in our lives.
Bev: What is going to be next?
DG: We were in a movie called “Angel Camouflage” where we sang a Run DMC song; that’s tricky. That’s pretty unique in itself because we weren’t Marshall Tucker in the movie, we were someone else. The movie will probably come out next year. As far as recording, we are continuously recording down here. That is what you do when you come home. Also, we are getting ready to go entertain the troops in the next month or so.
Bev: Doug I am sure we could go on forever, I really enjoyed this time visiting and I know I am not alone in looking forward to all the new stuff to come. Thank you for taking time to visit with me.
DG: Bev, if I can do anything or you need anything, you just let me know. I have also enjoyed chatting and visiting with you as well.
For more information on Doug Gray please visit http://www.marshalltucker.com/