Dad was a piano tuner and rebuilder, a skill he learned from his older brother. Many of my relatives worked in the Spartanburg area (and still do) as piano technicians. My father’s brother-in-law, George Case, owned a piano and organ business that is still in operation today.
I can remember that during my high school days, my Carolina cousins would boast endlessly about this new band they all knew and loved called The Toy Factory, that had several guys they knew in its lineup.
My cousin Dude Turner said they were “even better than the food at the Beacon,” referring to Spartanburg’s famous Varsity-styled drive-in eatery.
Dude (yes, another piano tuner) sure did enjoy his burgers, fries, and hot dogs there, so for once I believed him … and he was right!
Later he told me The Toy Factory were changing their name to the Marshall Tucker Band after Marshall Tucker, who was a blind piano tuner we Turners knew extremely well!
The Marshall Tucker Band was founded by two brothers, Toy and his younger brother Tommy Caldwell, both of whom had recently finished stints in the Marines. Other members of the original band were guitarist George McCorkle, drummer Paul Riddle, multi-instrumentalist Jerry Eubanks, and singer Doug Gray.
Even though Toy Caldwell was the band’s primary composer, he was not the main lead singer, leaving the very talented Gray the vocal duties most of the time on Tucker recordings.
THE FIRST THREE DEPT. The band was signed to the Capricorn Record label and issued their eponymous debut in 1973. That fine first album featured eight tunes all written by Toy and contained the classics Take the Highway and the Caldwell-sung Can’t You See.
A New Life followed the next year as the band became major road warriors all over the country. The disc included the rocking Marshall Tucker staple 24 Hours at a Time that became a major extended jam for the band in concert.
The band’s third disc Where We All Belong was a half-studio, half-live affair that featured another Toy Caldwell lead vocal on This Ol’ Cowboy. Their good friend, ex-Dylan sideman and former Youngbloods producer Charlie Daniels, plays fiddle on the track. The album, like the first two, sold over a million copies.
SEARCHIN’ FOR A HIT DEPT. Marshall Tucker’s album prowess was rewarding to the band, but a hit single still eluded the group. Their first top-40 hit came from the most unlikely of places as guitarist McCorkle brought his tune Fire on the Mountain to the band.
Included on their fourth release Searchin’ for a Rainbow and sung by Gray, it was the first song written by McCorkle for the group. The band also included a live version of Can’t You See on the album in yet another attempt to garner commercial airplay.
1976 brought Long Hard Ride, a disappointing disc as it was obvious that the band’s ceaseless touring had taken its toll. However, that was about to change as Toy had something very radio-friendly waiting in the wings.
CAROLINA DREAMS GOLD DEPT. The band’s sixth album proved to be the high-water mark for Tucker. Carolina Dreams was the biggest-selling album for the band, propelled by the unexpected success of Caldwell’s Heard it in a Love Song. It remains their best-known song today as Gray’s sweet-as-honey vocal delivery and Eubanks’ inviting flute solo helped propel the song into the upper reaches of the Billboard singles charts.
Unfortunately, the band never achieved further commercial success after this point as the albums Together Forever, Running Like the Wind, and Tuckerized were met with increased apathy from fans. The death of Toy’s younger brother Tommy in 1980 from injuries sustained in a car accident effectively ended their days as major recording artists and the group disbanded in 1983.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? DEPT. Toy Caldwell died in 1993 from heart problems, and McCorkle died of cancer in 2007. Drummer Riddle teaches drums in Spartanburg where Eubanks still resides. Gray still fronts the current Marshall Tucker Band that you can enjoy Friday, June 14, at Lady Antebellum Amphitheater in Evans.
Gates open at 5:30. Tickets are $20 in advance from etix.com, Fatz Cafe and Greubel’s Mixed Martial Arts and $30 on the day of the show. County Line and Mason Jars will open the show.