Former Marshall Tucker Drummer Gary Guzzardo Tells His Story
Gary Guzzardo, drummer for The Billy Rice Band, and former drummer for the Marshall Tucker Band, looks at his life as it was then, now, and what’s in his future as a drummer 60 years of age.
When did you first start playing drums?
I started on boxes when I was four. My dad managed a music store and I’d look at catalogs of drums and set the boxes up like that in our basement. I used a broom stick for a stand and straw hat for symbols. Then I asked for drum sticks for Christmas, ‘cuz I’d always beat ‘em up, and I got instead a whole drum set instead!
What were your early influences?
I was listening to big band stuff. My dad was in a jazz quartet (and played with him at age 7). Then in ’64 I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and that’s when everything changed. I said, ‘That’s what I’m gonna be doing … playing in front of thousands of screaming people’…that was my lifetime goal.
What were your first paying gigs like?
I was the youngest jazz drummer in town (Rockford, Ill). Then I joined Albatross – a great classic rock experience…we played Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes. I moved on to the nighclub stuff – lounge work – Holiday Inns, Sheratons.
It was in the 80’s that, after my second divorce to the same woman, I moved to Florida and that’s when stuff took off.
I met Dan and Frankie Toler. Dan heard me play and told me not to leave until he got my number. I filled in with Dan’s band when Frankie couldn’t play. Then Frankie joined Tucker and I was playing with the Dan Toler Band full time.
Later Frankie wanted to come back to Florida and recommended me as his replacement in the Tucker band, since we played so much alike. Doug Gray (lead singer and originator of Marshall Tucker) called and asked me for a tape. I’d been in a put-together band with Joe Walsh, the bass player of AC/DC and some other famous guys. I sent him that tape. Doug called me and said ‘your name has come up ten times by ten different people…you’re hired.’
Tell me about your Marshall Tucker days.
I joined them on Oct. 3, 1993 – I remember the exact day. People ask me if I was scared to play in front of 120,000 people…well, I can only see the first five rows…and I’m confident at what I do, so no, I wasn’t scared.
I was the token Yankee so the first two months were brutal. I took a lot of abuse – some funny, some mean – and finally I had a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting with the guys. I said, ‘hey, the war’s over…’ They let up after that. But I’m an easy target for abuse. I was the clown, I had the sense of humor in the band.
I met all kinds of famous people. Willie Nelson. I hung out with Waylon Jennings. Merle Haggard. Got to know Johnny Paycheck – the ‘take this job and shove it’ guy…
Country bands cut their teeth on Marshall Tucker – they all have a little Southern rock in ‘em. My jazz beginnings were a lot of help too…we had a little jazz goin’ on. Paul Riddle was their original drummer. Frankie and I took that and embellished it.
These guys (members of Marshall Tucker) all went to Vietnam and reconnected after that. They started opening for the Allman Brothers, signed with Capricorn Records…the rest is history.
We toured all over the U.S. – Southern Spirit was my first tour with them. We co-headlined with Charlie Daniels. The other bands were The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Outlaws, 38 Special and Barefoot Servants.
What was it like? Jesus, a lot of crazy times…but on the other hand, pretty routine. We played 190 shows and were on the road 265 days a year. We loaded in the bus, drove 12 hours. Got the hotel. Played the gig. Got back to the hotel, loaded up the bus. Drove all night to the next show. I would stay in my bunk usually watching the X-Files or sometimes we’d play video games and we played a lot of poker. Doug would be in the front lounge. The other guys would party all night in the back lounge and sleep all day. Doug and I would walk the towns, trying to stay healthy while on the road….I was never a drinker, never have been. No drugs either.
What was your favorite show with Marshall Tucker?
Oh my God. My favorite show was at Red Rocks, Colorado. Every mega band in the world has played there. It was incredible. My last show was with Fleetwood Mac at Disneyworld.
When did you leave and what did you do then?
I was with them from ’93 to ’96 I left due to money issues. I came back to Florida and played with Twinkle. Rick Derringer. Some others. Then Dan Toler put us back together. Frankie got sick. Dan got ALS. Sad. I just played with Pat Traverse at the Mike Koch benefit – he picked me out – that made me feel good.
Every musician has a unique style. How would you describe yours?
Every drummer is born with a pulse. I have a style that musicians say is easy to lock into the groove. It’s a relaxed style. My wrists are like rubber. I used to tell my students that they need to be so relaxed I can push them off their stool. Big session drummers get gigs with that kind of style. I was born with it, guess I’m lucky. But I’m a serious musician and I won’t play with anyone that treats it as a hobby. I practice 6 days a week.
What do you see yourself doing after this youthful age of 60?
I’m gonna keep playing as long as possible and enjoy my wife, kids and grandkids. I’m lucky to have a wife with a good job (laughs) and she’s been really supportive of me through all these times on the road – even with Tucker.
At this age you see all these musicians from our youth dying…it’s the long time abuse they do to themselves. Their bodies take so much abuse. I’m trying to stay healthy. I quit smoking two years ago and just joined Weight Watchers.
I’ve been playing with Billy (The Billy Rice Band) for two years. I practice six days a week…now I’ve got rotator cuff and back problems, so I’m transitioning to the steel guitar – that wangy-twangy thing. It’s like operating a 747 jet…very complicated. Steel guitar takes five lifetimes to learn…I’m average. I have to die and come back a couple times before I’m ‘great.’ But I can play steel ‘til I’m 80.
I’ll never work for anyone else but Billy. He is the most generous, big-hearted guy you’ll ever meet. I’ll transition to steel guitar maybe as early as this summer and we’ll get another drummer.
What will The Billy Rice Band be playing at the show and what do you expect from Marshall Tucker?
We’re gonna be playing tunes from our latest CD Just Sayin’. As far as Tucker, Doug’s the only original, so I have no idea what to expect.
Be sure to catch Gary Guzzardo with The Billy Rice Band opening for Marshall Tucker on Monday, April 4 at Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida in Bradenton. By the way, word on the street – there are no ‘refreshments’ offered at Neel…so have your ‘refreshments’ before you get there.
Need Tickets? Call Sande Caplin or Rob McLaughlin, 941 347-4500 or 941 497-6581. OR www.blueplatepresents.com/tickets
photos: Vicky Sullivan, Rock The Lens Photography, Shelby Hartshorn, Marshall Tucker Band Website & Faceook