- - Monday, September 14, 2015

Alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band and The Outlaws, The Marshall Tucker Band stands as one of the four pillars holding up the roof in the temple of Southern Rock. Their hits “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song” remain staples on both country and rock radio.

More than four decades in, the band still plays over 200 shows a year, including an upcoming stop in Wilmington, Delaware, September 25. And all along the way, Doug Gray has been at the helm as the band’s lead singer.

Mr. Gray took a moment backstage to reflect on his amazing career, the strangest gig he has ever played (two words: “nude fest”) who Marshall Tucker is (hint: he’s never been in the band,) and why, if you’re lucky, he may hug you.

Question: Did you ever imagine when you started The Marshall Tucker band 44 years ago it would last?

Answer: We never intended for it to last past the weekend. We just wanted to play to earn money to buy beer for the weekend. That’s a true story.

[Marshall Tucker songwriter/lead guitarist] Toy [Caldwell] and I got back from Vietnam. Before we went to Vietnam, we had been a band called Toy Factory [and] pened for Sly and the Family Stone. But we needed a new band.

Then the band became something people started following. When the buyer and promoters showed up saying “we’re gonna put a ticket price on that,” we knew it was something.

Q: There has never been someone named “Marshall Tucker” in the band. Where does the name come from?

A: We needed a warehouse space to rehearse in. We asked the guy down at the pawn shop where we would buy our equipment. He said, “I got a place I can rent: It’s the basement of this old hotel. Let me get you the key.” We made the deal for something like $25 a month.

A buyer/promoter/club owner came down and said, “Your band sounds good. I wanna put you on a show with Wet Willie and The Allman Brothers Band. But you need a name to put on the handbills and on the marquee.” We said, “Come back in an hour.”

We went around trying to come up with something. Somebody looked at the keychain the key to the space was on. It said “Marshall Tucker.” We said, “Let’s just call it The Marshall Tucker Band.”

Q: Who was the real Marshall Tucker?

A: Marshall Tucker was a blind piano tuner. That’s the reason he needed the warehouse space we ended up using. Years ago our label, CBS Records, put us together to record a video. I sat and talked with him after all the cameras and mics were off, and he said, “Thanks for not messing my name up.”

Q: Was it hard continuing on without Toy Caldwell, who died in 1993?

A: The only reason the band has lasted is because of Toy Caldwell’s talent. Toy was a major songwriter, and he would still be if he were here today. He created the songs that we still do today. Toy would always say, “You’re the one I wrote those songs for.”

Q: Was there ever a rivalry?

A: No. Integrity is the biggest thing. A lot of bands don’t understand that. They’ll say, “That guy is getting more applause than me.” Nobody gives a rat’s ass.

Q: Why did you think “Heard It in a Love Song” crossed over and became such a hit?

A: Because people didn’t know the real words to it. They thought we were singing “Pretty Little Love Song.” It took me a year and a half to record that song.

Q: Why?

A: I didn’t like it. I thought it was too wussy for the band. The band finally said, “You gotta finish this damn song.” I went down and sang it one time, and that was it. That’s what you got on the record.

Q: What is the strangest show you’ve ever played?

A: We played the world’s largest nude fest. There were 5,000 nudists. People came from all over the world. [Even whole] families. Everybody is naked out there sitting in their lawn chairs, having a good time. And they knew the songs!

Q: Was it hard to concentrate with all those beautiful naked women?

A: There are a lot of different kinds of beauty. I only saw one girl there that was a beauty.

Q: Ronnie Van Zant is gone. Dwayne Allman is gone. Doug Gray is still here. What is your secret?

A: I quit doing the things I did. I quit doing cocaine and smoking on August 16, 1989. I had diverticulitis, which had turned into peritonitis. I didn’t know, because I was snorting and sitting up there with this girl. I woke up and was tingling all over. I called the road manager. The thing had been burst for quite a while. So that caused me to quit.

I had a lot to live for. I have thousands of people that like that “Doug Hug.”

Q: What’s the “Doug Hug”?

A: It is for a guy or for a girl. People don’t expect to be hugged all the time. They’re afraid. But I hug. It is nothing that takes anything out of your heart. It just makes you smile.

Marshall Tucker Band will play the World Cafe Live in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 25. Visit Queen.WorldCafeLive.com for tickets.

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