BRISTOL, Tenn. — When I met Doug Gray in Kingsport, Tennessee, in 2016, it had been only a year after I had first stood on the ground where his original bandmates are buried.
That’s in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the birthplace of the long-running Marshall Tucker Band, one of the original outfits of southern rock’s first era in the 1970s.
Today, at 71, Gray is the last of the singing cowboys still taking the highway from the first version of the band.
Three members — Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell and Jerry Eubanks — now lie at rest at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens in Spartanburg, where the cemetery staff hands out maps to visitors wanting to pay their respects to the band’s chief songwriters and guitarists (Jerry and Toy) and the band’s leader (Tommy).
Even so, despite deaths, the Marshall Tucker Band has never quite gone away.
The band regrouped in the early 1980s, behind Gray, the lead singer, and forged on as a country act.
Then it regrouped again as a straight-ahead, southern rock outfit, offering extended blues jams and jazzy, improvisational solos.
On Thursday, you can catch the Marshall Tucker Band performing at the Paramount Center for the Arts on State Street in downtown Bristol, Tennessee.
“This is such a wonderful life,” Gray said during a recent telephone interview. “We’ve already gotten dates in 2020.”
Roughly a half-century since its formation, the Marshall Tucker Band endures thanks to the popularity of classics like “Can’t You See,” “Heard It In a Love Song,” “Fire On the Mountain,” “This Ol’ Cowboy,” “Blue Ridge Mountain Sky” and “Ramblin’.”
The fun-loving Gray stands at the helm, now looking the part of a folksy grandpa or wisecracking uncle, full of stories about how the band took its name from a piano tuner named Marshall Tucker as well as thoughts on the current state of politics (“One day they’re impeaching somebody,” he says, “and the next day they’re eating peaches with somebody”).
On stage, Gray recalls how the band’s “Take the Highway” and “24 Hours at a Time” came to life.
And he talks about the big breakthrough. Around the time of the band’s debut album in 1973, the Marshall Tucker Band hit the road with the Allman Brothers Band, playing to thousands each night and expanding the band’s fan base.
Today, Gray lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, yet he loves to hit the road and share the spotlight with current members like Marcus Henderson (flute), B.B. Borden (drums) and Chris Hicks (guitar).
“We don’t play any particular set the same way every night,” Gray said. “Intensity comes from the band.”