Spartanburg’s favorite sons, the Marshall Tucker Band, began playing Charlotte parking lots in 1973 at what singer Doug Gray describes as a “pre-hippie joint.”
Just a few years later, the group was at the height of its career, being flown in by helicopter to play the Charlotte Jam with the Allman Brothers. Its most recent Charlotte home has been the Neighborhood Theatre, but Friday, it makes the move to the Fillmore.
“It’s not where it is,” he says. “It’s how it is. That’s why we work over 100 shows a year – still having that emotional tie to the original band and playing those songs close to what it was like and having people in the band now caring as much about the music as the original band. Some of the guys have been with me over 20 years now. Their touch is just as important as the first touch.”
At nearly 66, Gray has no plans to slow down. Although many of his bandmates have died or departed the group since those initial hit-packed first eight years, Gray has kept Marshall Tucker Band on the road consistently for 40 years.
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His enthusiasm is well known. He estimates he does 500 TV, radio and print interviews a year. He admittedly snorted cocaine for 20 years, but ticks off historical dates like a musical encyclopedia (he quit the lifestyle in August 1989). He jokes that he could do interviews for five other bands.
He just returned from shows in Hawaii, and before that recorded a live album in Zurich that is planned for release closer to the fall. Another live album – which revives a set from a 1975 New Jersey festival with the Grateful Dead and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – is due in April.
“It was my time and my opportunity, and the rest of the guys wanted to stay at home,” he said of the decision to continue without the bulk of the band. “I sang 99 percent of the songs.”
The Marshall Tucker Band grew up with rock ’n’ roll peers, but the group has long been embraced by Nashville. Even early on, its singles hit both the country and rock charts. In later years, its new material was predominantly played on country radio.
It’s played the Grand Ole Opry and opened for acts like Kid Rock and the Zac Brown Band (which includes Gray’s nephew and former MTB player Clay Cook). Poison and Brown have covered “Can’t You See” live. Florida Georgia Line name-drops MTB in its multiplatinum single “Cruise.”
Gray says the music – which hits on not only country and rock, but also blues, soul and gospel – simply appeals to multiple demographics that discover it in many different ways.
“It’s wonderful to know that this kid with the long chain hanging out of his pocket and his pants sliding down is out there singing ‘Fire On the Mountain,’ ” he says of the download-heavy sales he sees from iTunes. But MTB has always cut through the cross-section of music fans.
“One minute, we would play at Sturgis for our biker friends, then go play the Kentucky Derby for pre-race night,” he says. “The music works with everybody. Some of the places and people that watch us play and put us in their movies – Johnny Depp used a song in ‘Blow.’ Clint Eastwood has used our songs in his films, and beer sponsors pick up our songs. It makes it easy.”