In the 1970s the Marshall Tucker Band took its place beside the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd as a premier Southern rock band. Like other Southern bands, Marshall Tucker featured rock guitars and long solos, and built a reputation as inspired live performers. The band separated itself from its peers, however, in several notable ways. Marshall Tucker mixed jazz, rock, and country, and included unusual instrumentation including flute and saxophone. "[I]t is perhaps the way the band melded so many diverse influences into its repertoire," wrote Irwin Stambler in the Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music, "that made it popular with audiences throughout the United States and overseas as well." Despite these differences, the Marshall Tucker Band would lose much of its creative momentum due to a tragedy similar to those found in other Southern rock bands. While the band continued to tour long after its 1970s heyday, it is best remembered today for songs like "Can't You See" and "Heard It in a Love Song" that remain in heavy rotation on oldies radio stations.
Marshall Tucker was formed in the early 1970s by several childhood friends who grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Guitarist Toy Caldwell and his brother, bassist Tommy Caldwell, came from a musical family. Although they played in several bands during their teens in the 1960s, the Vietnam War delayed the development of a more permanent group as Toy Caldwell--and several other future members of Marshall Tucker--served tours of duty. In 1970 the Caldwells, along with guitarist George McCorkle, singer Doug Gray, reed player Jerry Eubanks, and drummer Paul Riddle formed Toy Factory. The band started rehearsing, booked a gig at a local club called the Sitar, and soon won audiences over.
The Toy Factory got its first real opportunity by accident. Wet Willie, another Southern band who recorded for Capricorn Records, was scheduled to play the Sitar. When the band had equipment problems before the show, the club manager called Toy Caldwell, who loaned the group two amplifiers. At the end of Wet Willie's set, Caldwell was invited on stage to play a guitar solo. "Toy Caldwell and his guitar blew away everyone present," wrote Marley Brant in Southern Rockers. "They wanted to hear more." Wet Willie's Jimmy Hall decided to help the band out: if the Toy Factory would make a demo recording, he would make sure Capricorn listened to it.
Capricorn liked what they heard, but suggested that the band find a new name. While rehearsing at the Burwell Building in downtown Spartanburg, Tommy Caldwell found a key with a label reading "Marshall Tucker," and the band adopted the name. Tucker was, in fact, a real person, and later said that he wasn't bothered by the use of his name--he was just glad that the band had done well. In the summer of 1972 the Marshall Tucker Band entered the studio and recorded their self-titled debut over a two-month period, working up to 16 hours a day. Toy Caldwell wrote many of the songs, including the standard "Can't You See." The album rose to number 29 on the Billboard chart.
Through intensive touring and a steady stream of albums, Marshall Tucker developed a reputation as a hard-working Southern band with a distinct sound. In 1974 alone they released A New Life and Where We All Belong and played 300 dates. The intensity of their live performances became legendary. Once when Marshall Tucker was scheduled to open for Three Dog Night, the band were told that their set would only be 15 minutes long, presumably to stifle competition. The band opted to play despite the time limit, and received such a positive response from the audience they were allowed an encore. "When the Tucker band was on," McCorkle told Brant, "when everybody was feelin' good, playin' good, that was a hard band to have open for ya." The following year the band's debut album and Where We Belong earned gold records. "The intensive touring plus the quality of the original songs by band members began to pay dividends during 1974-1975," noted Stambler, "as each succeeding album rose a little higher on the charts and maintained steady sales patterns."
The band recorded Searchin' for a Rainbow in 1975 and followed it with Long Hard Ride in 1976 while continuing to tour 250 to 300 days a year. Other musicians also began to cover their songs, and Waylon Jennings had a top-five hit with "Can't You See." In 1977 the band reached a creative peak with Carolina Dreams, "the most consistently well-written album to that point," Stambler wrote, "demonstrating that all the members were becoming increasingly proficient as writers." The band also found success on the radio with "Heard It in a Love Song," one of the most popular songs of 1977. Perhaps Marshall Tucker's biggest surprise, though, came when they received an invitation to play at President Carter's inauguration. "I didn't really know what to think of it, you know?" McCorkle told Brant. "I thought it was just really unique the president was letting rock and roll bands play in Washington."
The Marshall Tucker Band's success had a downside, nonetheless: years of constant touring, substance abuse, and personal differences began to take their toll. To make matters worse, Capricorn Records' financial difficulties cost the band their longtime producer. While Marshall Tucker's next three albums climbed the charts and sold well, critics complained that Together Forever, Running Like the Wind, and Tenth lacked the consistency of earlier efforts. Before the band had a chance to regain its footing, however, tragedy struck. On April 22, 1980, Tommy Caldwell suffered massive head trauma in an automobile accident. Despite surgery, he went into a coma and died six days later.
"The Marshall Tucker Band continued," wrote Brant, "but it was never the same." In 1983 Toy Caldwell quit the band to pursue other projects, and died in 1994 from viral myocarditis, an infection that attacks the heart muscle. Founding members McCorkle and Riddle left in 1984, and by 1997, singer Doug Gray was the only remaining original band member. The group continued to tour and record, however. "The Marshall Tucker Band managed to survive its deaths but never quite regained its pre-tragedy popularity," wrote Greg Haymes in the Times Union. Fans, however, whose allegiance to Marshall Tucker remained steadfast, continued to turn out by the thousands to see the band perform. "The Marshall Tucker Band," noted Brant, "in whatever incarnation it happens to be, will go on."
Members include Tommy Caldwell (born on November 9, 1949, in Spartanburg, SC; died on April 28, 1980, in Spartanburg, SC), bass, vocals; Toy Caldwell (born on November 13, 1947, in Spartanburg, SC; died on February 25, 1993, in Moore, SC; left group, 1983), guitar; Jerry Eubanks (born on March 9, 1950, in Spartanburg, SC; left group, 1993), saxophone, flute; Doug Gray (born on May 2, 1948, in Spartanburg, SC), vocals; George McCorkle (left group, 1984), guitar; Paul Riddle (left group, 1983), drums; Franklin Wilkie (joined group, 1980), bass. Addresses: Record company--K-Tel, 2655 Cheshire Lane North Ste. 100 Plymouth, MN 55447, website: http://www.ktel.com/.
Group formed in Spartanburg, SC, 1971; signed to Capricorn Records, 1972, and released self-titled debut, 1973; toured with Allman Brothers and released both A New Life and Where We All Belong, 1974; recorded Searchin' for a Rainbow, 1975, Long Hard Ride, 1976, and Together Forever, 1977; charted with "Heard It in a Love Song," 1977; left Capricorn, 1979, and signed with Warner Bros.; released Tenth, the last album before Tommy Caldwell's death, 1980; hired Franklin Wilkie to replace Caldwell; reorganized with mostly new members; Marshall Tucker continued to record and tour, 1980s-1990s.
- Marshall Tucker Band, Capricorn, 1973; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- A New Life, Capricorn, 1974; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Where We All Belong, Capricorn, 1974; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Searchin' for a Rainbow, Capricorn, 1975; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Long Hard Ride, Capricorn, 1976; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Carolina Dreams, Capricorn, 1977; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Greatest Hits, Capricorn, 1978; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Together Forever, Capricorn, 1978; reissued, K-Tel, 2001.
- Running Like the Wind, Ramblin, 1979.
- Tenth, Ramblin, 1980.
- Dedicated, Warner, 1981.
- Tuckerized, Warner, 1981.
- Greeting from South Carolina, Warner, 1983.
- Just Us, Warner, 1983.
- Still Holdin' On, Polygram, 1988.
- Southern Spirit, Capitol, 1990.
- Still Smokin', Cabin Fever, 1992.
- Walk Outside the Lines, Cabin Fever, 1993.
- Country Tucker, K-Tel, 1996.
- M.T. Blues, K-Tel, 1997.
- Keeping the Love Alive, PSM, 1998.
- Face Down in the Blues, K-Tel, 1998.
- Gospel, K-Tel, 1999.
Brant, Marley, Southern Rockers: The Roots and Legacy of Southern Rock, Billboard Books, 1999.
Marsh, Dave and John Swenson, editors, Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music, St. Martin's, 1984.
Times Union (Albany, NY), June 12, 1998, p. B7.
"Marshall Tucker," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 15, 2003).