Marshall Tucker Band makes Hawaii debut
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / email@example.com
The Marshall Tucker Band has been on the road for 40 years, but in all that time, the band has never performed in Hawaii.
MARSHALL TUCKER BAND
» Where:: Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, 1680 Kapiolani Blvd.
In a warm Southern drawl, lead singer Doug Gray said in fact, he’s only been in the islands twice before: on his way to and back from Vietnam.
Gray and fellow founding member Toy Caldwell, the group’s original lead singer (who died in 1993), were both Vietnam vets. And Gray says how our nation treats its returning veterans is a top issue outside of his performing life.
He’s appeared on TV talk shows such as the conservative program “Fox & Friends,” suggesting that aid for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome or wartime injuries should be a top national priority.
As the “Fox & Friends” reference suggests, Gray says he’s “off to the right” politically. But lest that raises an inference that the Marshall Tucker Band is socially conservative, he assures that while the years have caused band members to slow down here and there — they won’t be trashing any hotel rooms on this tour, though he has stories to tell from the early ’70s — this act still enjoys a party.
GRAY IS the sole original member of the Marshall Tucker Band. Calling from his home in South Carolina, where the band got its start, he said the current members have been playing together for years to form a tight bond.
Along with an American appetite for jam bands and roots music, the Marshall Tucker Band’s popularity has rebounded over the past decade, adding to his enthusiasm.
“People come because they want to see if we can still rock their socks off,” Gray said. “We do.”
In 2013 the band benefited from a shout-out in hit country band Florida Georgia Line’s single “Cruise,” in which the girl of the singer’s dreams is “sippin’ on Southern and singin’ Marshall Tucker.” With a remix featuring rapper Nelly, that song hit the Billboard Top 10.
Data from iTunes on those who are buying music from the band show that the bulk of these digital fans are between 17 and 35.
“That’s crazy,” said the 65-year-old Gray, cheerfully.
“We’ve been playing more over the last three years than we had in the previous five,” Gray said. “And it’s looking even more promising in 2014. It might be a record year. We’ve already got 50 shows booked.”
Kona Brewing Co. is sponsoring the Hawaii leg of the band’s tour, with shows on four islands.
PEOPLE TEND to think the Marshall Tucker Band is a Country rock act, and Gray’s Southern accent certainly fits the bill for that. But jazz and R&B are also strong influences on the six-piece band. The inclusion of keyboard and flute player Marcus James Henderson should be a clue to that.
Gray grew up listening to rock and soul music; he singled out Dionne Warwick as a particular influence.
The band’s first tour was with the Allman Brothers, who stretched the boundaries of American music; this also left a mark on Gray.
In live performances the band might draw out one song to 10 minutes or more, segueing from a country rhythm to a lyrical instrumental that is more syncopated, embellished with a line from Henderson’s flute.
“Each musician fulfills their personality onstage,” he said.
It’s a trait that makes the band harder to label accurately but makes performance that much more fun, Gray said.
“Had we been just a plain old ordinary rock ‘n’ roll band that came from the South, a bunch of crazy rednecks, I think we would have been gone already,” he said. “We brought into the world a lot of different kinds of music, different styles of music, from the time when we first started.”
“The Allman Brothers were the ones who showed us. They would listen to jazz, to soul.
“The only thing I can say is I still don’t know why it works. All I know is when we get on stage, we really do play. And people respect that.”
THE BAND got started shortly after Gray and Caldwell returned from Vietnam. Gray said he’s always felt compelled to connect with people in a big way, and performing gave him that outlet.
The band put out its first album in 1973. That was also the year of its first hit, “Can’t You See.”
That album’s “Take the Highway” still sounds remarkable, with its yearning vocals, flute solo and extended guitar and keyboard vamps. The band has named its 2014 tour that kicks off in Honolulu after this early song.
“Carolina Dreams,” a 1977 album, was the band’s most successful. It included the track “Heard It in a Love Song,” which reached No. 14 on the Billboard charts. The album went platinum the year it was released.
In concert, Gray promises to include the band’s hit singles, which also include “Searching for a Rainbow” and “Fire on the Mountain.”
“Coming over there is going to be special,” he said, both as a new experience for the band and as Gray’s return to a place that holds youthful memories.
While a batch of original band members chose to retire from touring in the late ’80s, Gray said it wasn’t in the cards for him; he wants to get up on stage for as long as he is able.
And unlike performers who are drained by the attention of fans, Gray says he thrives on it: Band members tease him about his trademark, big “Doug hug,” which he’s likely to lay on fans seeking autographs after the show.
In the past year the band has played at arena shows and festivals, opening for acts including Zach Brown and Kid Rock (a fan, by the way), and at showrooms like Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, where the Marshall Tucker Band plays on Wednesday.
Gray said he feels amped to play no matter the size of the venue, though it’s more personal, he said, in a showroom setting.
“You put me in front of four or five people in a room and I just get excited, then more excited,” he said.
“How can you turn your back on something you feel so good about?”