Laurel Canyon Utopia makes way for a new form of rustic expression
As the hippie movement began to dribble into a puddle of lysergic disillusionment, psychedelic-rock found itself gradually being usurped by music that was more country oriented. The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers were at the forefront of this shift, blending elements of country, bluegrass and rock to create a whole new genre, one that was dubbed country-rock. Heck, even Bob Dylan decided to get in on the act, issuing two country-influenced albums of his own, 1969’s Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait (1970).
So now that the LSD was beginning to wear off, country-rock bands were starting to spring up everywhere in America (although in England it was glam-rock that remained the dominant force), which meant that suddenly hippies were out, and cowboys were in.
Part of this burgeoning country-rock scene was a group from South Carolina, known as The Marshall Tucker Band who, along with The Allman Brothers Band, were ranked as one of the finest Southern Rock groups around.
Forming in 1972, the band consisted of Toy Caldwell (guitar), Tommy Caldwell (bass), Doug Gray (vocals), George McCorkle (guitar), Jerry Eubanks (flute), and Paul Riddle (drums). Signing to Capricorn Records, the same label The Allmans were signed to, The Marshall Tucker Band quickly garnered a reputation for their high standard of musicianship and ability to jam.
Released in 1973, The Marshall Tucker Band’s self-titled debut is hardly the sort of record one would have expected to hear at a Texas Rodeo, since the MTB was far more than a mere bunch of southern white boys who loved their Jimmy Rodgers; because just like The Allmans, MTB incorporated blues, jazz and R&B into their sound, thus making them an extremely versatile outfit.
The disc kicks off with two of the band’s signature songs, “Take The Highway” and “Can’t You See,” both of which encapsulate the free, jam-like quality MTB were renowned for. Gray has a superb set of lungs, while Toy Caldwell’s guitar playing is as expressive as anything by Dicky Betts. Eubanks’ subtle flute makes for a unique entry in the annals of country-rock, at a time when the piano and fiddle were the often preferred instruments of choice, giving MTB a more progressive feel.
Other cuts like “Losing You” and “Hillbilly Band” are fairly self-explanatory thanks to the titles. The former is a tender ballad, while the latter is a rousing, rollicking workout, more in common with early Grateful Dead than the Appalachian Mountains.
“See You Later I’m Gone” is the straightest country number here, and includes some fine pedal steel, followed by the Memphis-inspired “Ramblin’,” during which Toy Caldwell gets to test the endurance of his strings.
The band reveals its debt to The Allman Brothers on the rock-gospel “My Jesus Told Me So,” before rapping things up with the plaintive “AB’s Song,” a brief acoustic number that contains some tender finger-picking and vocals by Toy Caldwell.
The remaster comes with but one bonus track, the high-octane “Everyday (I Have The Blues),” recorded at Frisco’s Winterland Auditorium 1973. Based on the sheer energy captured on this recording, it’s surprising that the entire show hasn’t been made available.
If anything, MTB’s debut added further evidence of just how good those so-called dumb hillbillies from the South truly were when it came to quality playing, giving many of their northern contemporaries a run for their money in the blues-rock stakes. The late Toy Caldwell was certainly in a league of his own when it came to instrumental prowess, while the other members were also not exactly lacking in talent.
The Marshall Tucker Band is an excellent introduction to what is often labelled as ‘country-rock.’ However there is far more going on than what might otherwise be expected.