I had the chance to talk to Doug Gray, lead singer for the MSB for over 40 years! Marshall Tucker Band’s first album came out in 1973. A true southern gentleman, whose answers were both heartfelt and funny for this interview.
Who were your early influences?
Oh lord, I loved BB King, Hank Williams, Sr., and Al Green, mostly black artists in the very, very beginning of the band. Then I realized I could sing country music, growing up country it was pretty easy (laughs). When we put the band together we had all factions of music like country and rock & roll and that’s why we are still around today because we have so many people who have been in the band over the years and the original band had so many musical tastes, which is why we can play a jazz festival one day and a blues festival another. Our music fits in just about anywhere.
What was it like in the early days of Capricorn Records when southern rock was hitting it big?
“There were us, the Brothers (Allman), Wet Willie, if you wanna go all the way back there was White Witch and Eric Quincy Tate. Those guys were there before us, went back to pre-Otis Redding days. Dr. John, us and the Brothers (Allman) would walk into the studio and want to play on each other’s songs and we got to be friends. There was a publicist there that said why don’t we print up a bumper sticker saying “Support Southern Music” and that’s where the “southern music” thing came from, from a publicist at Capricorn Records. I was in there with him when he had done it. Since then, we print them up every so often and give them away to different people.
“The Support Southern Music people had no closed door policy and today there is still no closed door policy. It’s us, Charlie Daniels, Molly Hatchett, and everybody else from the south. The new southern bands like Zac Brown and Blackberry Smoke, that’s who is carrying it on. In 40 years, people will be doing interviews with Zac Brown talking about the old guys and the new guys coming up because that’s just what we do down here, there is not a whole lot of competition and it is not that cut throat. Most of the good guys like me and Gregg (Allman), Huey Thompson from the Outlaws, we were all friends, ate breakfast or lunch together or had a beer together. We looked forward to traveling down the road together. The Marshall Tucker Band has always been accessible; we do cruises and walk around. There is never any trouble. Most bands today are protected by 35 people. A lot of the southern bands are really laid back. We worked with Gregg earlier this year on a cruise and all of us kind of meshed in together. It’s been great.”
My first festival show at Tampa Stadium in 1975 was MTB, Outlaws, Doobie Brothers and Baker Gurvitz Army. I will never forget that. What was a show or venue that stands out for to you?
It’s hard for me to pick. The last show of the year every year is at BB Kings in Manhattan and we look forward to that, it gives us a goal knowing it is the last of like 135 shows. I don’t really have a favorite. We played Madison Square Garden with the Allman Brothers but a month before that we played Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker Street in the Village for 60 people! The MTB growth was not sudden, the band was out there but radio had to catch up with it, it took a year and half for the first gold record. The original band, we went to high school together, driving around in an old van. We were from not making any money to becoming multi-platinum record people and not losing your cool and treating people right.
Have you been around the Sarasota/Bradenton area before? We have many music people in our area like Rick Derringer and Dickey Betts among others.
Oh yes, we played the Charlie Daniels charity gig for probably 10 years straight. Gary Guzzardo, who was our drummer years ago lives down there. He is a good guy. His father was a great jazz guitarist back in the old days. We have had many, many players over the years in the MTB but some of the guys now have been around for over 20 years. Rick Derringer and I are friends and I love his wife, Jenda. As well as some other musicians down there and some guys that used to work for me. Twinkle is my buddy. I knew her daddy and uncle back then. I don’t call people up and invite them, I just say come on down! Before the Toler Brothers left the earth, Frankie played for me for about 5 years. Danny played with us for a bit too. I had Carlos Santana play some dates with us too. When people to come out, you will see people you have played with over years.
HOW HAS THE MUSIC BUSINESS CHANGED?
People bring their grandkids to see us at our shows! Our largest selling download audience is ages 18-37 and we sell a ton of downloads. Marshall Tucker Band has its own label called Ramblin’. I look forward to the next wave of whatever comes and it will, just like cassettes, 8-tracks and CD’s did. People laugh that I watch American Idol and The Voice but people do our songs on there and why wouldn’t I wanna see how good these younger guys are. I bring a lot of younger kids on the road with us to show them our relationship with the audience. We know our relationship with each other and what we need to do, it the audience relationship that is most important. My nephew Clay Cook, is in the Zac Brown Band.
ARE YOU STILL PLAYING KEYBOARDS AND WRITING MUSIC?
I don’t play keyboards anymore since I have too many good players around! (laughs) I have been writing in the studio with a young guy named Trevor Hewitt. I like working with other people. We have five songs in the can so far. Check him out on YouTube. I have probably written over 100 songs in my career. A couple of the songs have been in movies with Kevin Costner and Billy Bob Thornton who is a fan of Marshall Tucker. What’s great are the young kids who are hearing this music. It doesn’t make me feel old, it makes me feel good to be a part of it!
The Marshall Tucker Band will be playing in Bradenton at the Neel Auditorium on the campus of SCF on Monday night, April 4th. The Billy Rice Band is the opening act! Tickets will be available at the door or call 941 497-6581. Don’t miss out on a great show! Be on the lookout for Doug Gray, he likes to drive the tour bus, you just might see him in the driver’s seat rollin’ into town!
all photos property of The Sarasota Post, Vicky Sullivan & Rock the Lens Photography