Doug Gray remembers well the members of the Marshall Tucker Band posing for a snapshot near the Eiffel Tower in 1976.
The seeming incongruity of the burly, bearded Spartanburg, South Carolina group standing in front of the Paris landmark was not lost on them. As the band’s lead singer recalls with a chuckle, people were “mesmerized because we were big, country-ass looking boys.” Out on their first European tour, the Marshall Tucker Band weren’t sure how their brand of boot-stomping southern rock was going to translate across the pond.
As they surveyed the Hammersmith Odeon stage in London they were uneasy but excited. “Let’s face it, the Beatles played there. And the Queen went and hung out and listened to music there. And some amazing orchestras had played there,” says Gray. “I thought, ‘This is either going to be real hard or real good.'”
There was culture shock on both sides of the stage, but it ended up being real good.
“We were amazed and stunned at the response” to the tour, he says, which included stops in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France before concluding with four gigs in the U.K. Those last shows — in London, Manchester, and Birmingham, England and Glasgow, Scotland — have been memorialized on the 10-track collection Live in the UK 1976, out today. “The music crossed lines,” says Gray. “The minute we started ‘Can’t You See’ or ‘Take the Highway,’ people were up and digging it.”
Hear the epic version of “Take the Highway” — flute solo and all — from the show at the Apollo Theater in Glasgow below in a Rolling Stone Country exclusive premiere. The album also includes other familiar MTB tracks like “Searchin’ for a Rainbow,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and a version of the country classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with guest Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie fame.
The album captures the original line-up of the group—including Gray, chief songwriter and guitarist Toy Caldwell, his bassist bother Tommy, flute and saxophone player Jerry Eubanks, drummer Paul Riddle and guitarist George McCorkle— in its vital early years and Gray wanted to be sure the sound quality was up to snuff.
“I didn’t take any of the music away or add any music but I knew that we had to update it and make it sound it fresh,” he says of the tweaking he did to the live recordings.
Averaging more than 100 shows a year, Gray says there is no chance of the Marshall Tucker Band — who have played with everyone from jazz fusionists Spyro Gyra to descendants like Kid Rock and the Zac Brown Band in the last 44 years — slowing down anytime soon.
“We go out there with these guys who have a blistering fever to play this music as good if not better than the way we played it then,” Gray, the sole original member, says of the current line-up. (Both of the Caldwells and McCorkle have passed away and Eubanks retired.) And the crowds keep coming as new generations hear the music. Says Gray with a chuckle, “They got trapped in the back seat and their parents kept playing that 8-track over and over.”