It’s an early Wednesday afternoon in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Doug Gray, frontman for the legendary Marshall Tucker Band, just took a walk on the beach from his nearby home. “This is what keeps me in shape,” Gray explains. “Going to the beach just makes you relax, and it helps when dealing with some of the stresses in life.”
Come the night of Sept. 6, Gray will be a short walk from Solana Beach when the Marshall Tucker Band takes the stage at the Belly Up. It’s a show that’s part of their 45th anniversary tour dubbed Long Hard Ride, though don’t let its strenuous name fool you. For Gray, he’s relished his long career playing music. “It honestly doesn’t even feel like 45 years,” he’s quick to point out. “This tour feels the same as the one 40 years ago and every tour since then.”
Known for classic songs such as “Heard It In A Love Song,” “Can't You See” and “Fire On The Mountain,” the band’s founding 45 years ago materialized because of equal parts luck and talent. Fresh off of returning from Vietnam, the last thing the various members of the Marshall Tucker Band wanted to do was work a day job.
“We looked at each other and decided to work during the day, and rehearse at night,” Gray said. Persistence to break into the music industry paid off when they were asked on a whim to open up for the Allman Brothers. The only problem is, Gray and his group of bandmates didn’t have a name. “We were more concerned about the music than our name at the time. They said, ‘In an hour, think of what we could call you.’ Someone happened to be twirling around a keychain with the name Marshall Tucker, and that became our first big break.”
The band’s trip to San Diego has been one Gray is looking forward to, noting the band’s fanbase in Southern California, who are loyal year after year. “I have to tell you, the more intimate the venue the better I like it,” says Gray, who’s played his fair share of theaters, clubs and arenas. “In the smaller ones, you actually get to see the people you’re performing for. At a place like the Belly Up you get to shake everyone’s hand.”
When it comes to the band’s 45th year of touring, Gray points to the fact that they are a jam band – who regularly invites guest artists – as the reason why the allure of being on stage continues to be fresh. “When somebody comes in to play with us it always makes it interesting,” says Gray. “We’ve been known as a jam band, so we play the songs we play and then always incorporate the jam part of it.”
For Gray, it’s the interaction from the audience that makes the shows worthwhile. “It’s all about the people you’re playing for,” he notes. “If they scream out a song, if we remember how to play it we’ll play it. We haven’t done what I call a ‘structured’ set in at least 18 years.”
That’s part of the reason why 45 years in, with their tour and latest album Live in the UK 1976, Gray and his bandmates show no sign of slowing down. Throughout the band’s ups and downs since their early days, he’s enjoyed being a part of show business. Says Gray of his career and the band’s vast legacy, “It’s so easy to get out and sing a song and be an entertainer. As long as you’re pleasing people, you’ve got it made.”
The Marshall Tucker Band will play at the Belly Up Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. (Doors open at 7 p.m.) For more information, visit www.bellyup.com or www.marshalltucker.com.