Far From Farewell
Singer Doug Gray on Surviving The Marshall Tucker Band's "Long Hard Ride"

By Lee Valentine Smith

Beginning in 1972, The Marshall Tucker Band's blend of country, rock, jazz and progressive quickly elevated the group to international popularity and chart success.

Though formed in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Georgia has played a big part in their history. After an early '70s show in Macon, they signed with Capricorn Records. Atlanta has long been a favorite and frequent tour stop and the MTB continues to play for a hard-core fanbase all across the southeast.

Calling from his home in Myrtle Beach, Gray spoke with INsite about Marshall Tucker's enduring legacy.

Your itinerary seems to be just as demanding now as it was in the '70s.

It's getting to be kind of a blur because we've always played big dates and small dates. But now we're playing 20,000-plus-shows and festivals. I think people are realizing that we're still a valid, touring band that just happens to have been out there running for all these years.

You don't seem tired of it yet.

Naw, the good part is we still have fun. I don't think we'll ever stop. If anything ever happens to me, they'll have to roll me out of the concert hall. A lot of musicians just can't handle the road. No disrespect, that's just the way it goes. So you step down, you step back, or you step over. But all I've ever done was step up. Now they're calling the Marshall Tucker Band "legendary."

How do you feel about that?

Well I don't know. You never called your grandpa "legendary," you know? My friends who are legendary are people like Otis Redding and people who've passed on. It kinda freaks me out a little, if you want to know the truth. But it's an honor that I'm taking with me, that me and Toy and Tommy and George and Paul and Jerry all shared when we first started. You know, it only lasted eight years, the original band.

But you didn't give up the spirit of Marshall Tucker and southern rock in general. I remember when you moved from Capricorn to Warner Brothers, that was the end of an era.

Yeah but I just kept turning it around and playing the songs. For a while, I didn't have the right positions for the right people that I have now. They put us on the big stage out at Stagecoach, this big festival in California a while back. There were bands with two and three hits, still active on the charts and there we were - we had three times more people coming to see us! The buyers and bookers were just amazed. They caught on that people still really like the band. So we started getting calls from all over the world. It just shows that our music was great in the old days and it's still appreciated. I guess people are still puttin' up with what we do.

Your connection with Lynyrd Skynyrd goes back to the '70s.

Oh yeah, as you know, I was good friends with Ronnie [Van Zant]. When he passed, I not only lost a friend, we lost a band. They had to regroup and work hard to get the point where they are now. But they're doin' it! They sound great and now we're back out on tour with 'em. I miss all my friends who aren't around. I miss the guys from Marshall Tucker who aren't around. But what can you do? We're still out, hittin' these big spots together and it's bringing back so many great memories for everyone.

It's billed as a Farewell Tour for Skynyrd. Do you think this is the end of the line for them?

It's not really a farewell. I know companies may not like me sayin' that, but it's not. It's a continuation. For them and for us. When we all get to the show, it comes down to this: we're here and we're gonna play our asses off. And that's really it. That's what we all do every night.

You don't need a flashy video screen or light show.

On no, not at all. The other day, somebody called us the best no-frills band they'd ever seen. Some bands have these big ol' million-dollar light shows, but we don't need that. We don't need a movie and we don't go by a script. We start out with "Long Hard Ride" and then we just go. People can come see us from night-to-night and never hear the same show twice. We're just lookin' for that explosion of love from our hearts to their hearts.

The Marshall Tucker Band joins Lynyrd Skynyrd's Last Of The Street Survivors Farewell Tour, Saturday September 1 at Lakewood Amphitheater. For more information, please visit thelakewoodamphitheater.com.

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