Classic Rock Corner

Is the Marshall Tucker Band's Doug Gray the Last Southern Rocker Standing?

The Marshall Tucker Band, 2024: B.B. Borden, Ryan Ware, Doug Gray, Marcus James Anderson, Rick Willis, and Chris Hicks.
The Marshall Tucker Band, 2024: B.B. Borden, Ryan Ware, Doug Gray, Marcus James Anderson, Rick Willis, and Chris Hicks. Photo by Mariah Gray/MG Photography
If you think metaphorically about Southern Rock, its barstool has three legs serving as its base: the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.

The Allmans quietly dissolved in 2014, and now drummer Jaimoe is the only surviving member of the original lineup. Skynyrd continues on their farewell-but-not-really-farewell tour. But with last year’s death of guitarist Gary Rossington, now have no original or classic members currently taking the stage (though former drummer Artimus Pyle sometimes performs with his own group).
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Early MTB publicity shot, circa 1972: Toy Caldwell, George McCorkle, Jerry Eubanks, Doug Gray, Paul Riddle, Tommy Caldwell.
Marshall Tucker Band Official Archives/Provided by Absolute Publicity, Inc.
The leaves the Marshall Tucker Band, still touring regularly, and still with their founding/classic lead singer Doug Gray. So, the question must be put to the 76-year-old bearish vocalist: Does he feel like the Last Man Standing?

“None of the Southern Rock bands ever toured the way we did. And our new agency is working us like dogs! But at the same time, dogs like to be on the road anyway!” the amiable Gray chuckles while talking from the front porch of his home near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, birds audibly chirping in the background.

“I still consider Gregg Allman was and is the best Southern Rock singer ever. And [Skynyrd's] Ronnie Van Zant had all the intensity of satisfying the crowd. And they’re gone. You get to know them over the years and it’s like losing a family member,” Gray says.
“As you age, Bob—of course, I never age! But you think about these things. It’s not being the Last Man Standing, it’s more like being the One That’s Still Around,” he continues.

“And I feel the respect that people give me at shows. It’s an honor. I mean, I walk on and they applaud automatically. How great is that? And then they applaud for the band and that’s showing respect for the music.”

Gray adds that he loves peeking out before a show and watching the crowds arrive, some now with multi-generational representatives in the same family.
The Marshall Tucker Band was founded in 1972 in their hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. They took their name, oddly, from a real-life blind piano tuner in town whose name was on the key to the band’s then-rehearsal space. Tucker died only last year at the age of 99.

The lineup included Gray, Toy Caldwell (vocals/lead guitar), his brother Tommy Caldwell (bass), George McCorkle (rhythm guitar), Jerry Eubanks (sax/flute) and Paul Riddle (drums).

Signed to the Southern Rock-centric Capricorn Records, the band racked up a slew of hits and well-received tunes like “Can’t You See,” “Take the Highway,” “This Ol’ Cowboy,” “Fire on the Mountain," “Searchin’ for a Rainbow,” "24 Hours at a Time" (which namechecks Houston), “Long Hard Ride” and “Heard it in a Love Song.”
Tommy Caldwell died in 1980 after suffering severe head trauma in a car wreck, right around the time the band’s heyday was over as popular music tastes shifted. But the MTB continued to tour and record with varying lineups, leavings, and returns over the past four decades.

The current group includes Gray, longtime MTB members B.B. Borden (drums), Rick Willis and Chris Hicks (guitars/vocals), and Marcus James Henderson (sax/flute/keyboards). All have served between 15 and 25 years with the group.

By comparison, the clearly much-younger Ryan Ware (bass/vocals) has held down his spot for just a couple of years. Though there is a past history with the band.
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The hit years MTB: Doug Gray, Paul Riddle, George McCorkle, Tommy Caldwell, Toy Caldwell, Jerry Eubanks.
Marshall Tucker Band Official Archives/Provided by Absolute Publicity, Inc.
“The beautiful part is that his dad, Ronnie, worked for me as my bodyguard for eight years. Ryan had inherited Tommy [Caldwell’s] favorite bass when he was just born. He plays that bass every night on stage now,” Gray says. He also notes that Ware had gigged with “20 or 30 different country bands while living in Nashville,” but told Gray that he was at one point "exhausted."

“I told him that if he was in this band, he’d work more with me that he ever would with them!” Gray laughs. “So, be prepared! I’m already booking shows into 2025!”

The Marshall Tucker Band also have a better-than-usual grip on their recorded music and history. Their own Ramblin’ Records label not only currently issues—often with new vinyl—their storied records on Capricorn which they purchased back from the label, but a still-ongoing series of archival live recordings from (so far) 1973-81.

Their last proper studio effort was 2007’s The Next Adventure. But, echoing a sentiment spoken by many a Classic Rock-era band, putting out “new” material that will only be absorbed by their most diehard fan base may not be worth the effort.
“We have plenty of songs. But do we put records out now and convolute what we had before? Can we make them as good? Only God knows that. I don’t sing the way I used to. That’s from 50 years of trying to do ‘Ramblin’!” he says.

“We kind of let the audience decide what we put out, and they really like those [older] records maybe they don’t have any more or lost. And we find that some new fans respond to different songs, like ‘In My Own Way.’ I guess because it’s a cross between more country and Southern music,” he says.

He notes that some of those new fans like MTB in the same way they do a current artist like Carrie Underwood or Lee Brice or Jason Boland. Some artists, he says, even call him up for advice, to which he always gives them the same suggestion: “Write, write, write! Write music that touches the heart and the soul and the mind. You don’t have to always live on the edge to have good music.”
Just then, the chirping sounds in the background of Gray’s front porch get a little extra loud, making it hard to hear him. “Hold on,” he laughs. “There’s some military planes flying around doing exercises or something today, and its got the birds all riled up!”

As for retirement or putting up his singing spurs for the last time, Gray doesn’t even want to hear it.

“I’m in pretty good shape. But what makes me want to keep doing it is the crowd that I see when I walk on that stage,” Gray—who also does frequent benefit shows for military veterans and first responders—says.

“People know that we care about them. We pay it back. And it’s important to keep the love alive. I see the 15-year-olds in the front and grandma and grandpa in the back. That’s something special.”
Finally, while you might think that Doug Gray is only listening to Southern Rockers of a Certain Age for his own pleasure, think again. Turns out he’s a big fan of Taylor Swift (especially the earlier, country-tinged material). And one artist that he’s taking his 14-year-old granddaughter and her friends to see at an upcoming show in New York this October: Billie Eilish.

“She’s a person who I think is different enough to be great. And she’s got her brother with her, and he won’t lead her in the wrong direction!” Gray says. “She’s starting to get into her own, and I love a lot of her lyrics. I hope we can go say hi and get a picture. We’re going to have a great time!”

The Marshall Tucker Band plays at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 14, at the Home Run Dugout, 1220 West Grand in Katy. For more information, call 833-384-6881 or visit HomeRunDugout.com. $45 general admission/$60 VIP standing.

For more on the Marshall Tucker Band, visit MarshallTucker.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero