Marshall Tucker Band at Coyote's

By Cary Stemle

Seeing the Marshall Tucker Band after a dozen years was interesting. I'd heard they were spent. Founding guitarist Toy Caldwell, who penned most of the band's material and provided its most identifiable persona, had left the band in 1984.

His brother, bassist Tommy Caldwell, had been killed in an automobile accident some years earlier. Drummer Paul Riddle and rhythm guitarist George McCorkle had departed as well.

Singer Doug Gray, one of the two originals who stayed, was said to be washed up, his voice ragged because of cocaine and alcohol abuse.

All in all, not a nice image. But, somehow, the band held together and the Spartanburg, S.C. gang brought its new line-up to Coyote's on April 26, entertaining a well-oiled and appreciative throng.

Gray is now three years clean and sober and sounding great. Reed man Jerry Eubanks, the other original who remained in the band, is properly grayed and stately in appearance and continues providing the sounds that helped define the band.

Guitarist Rusty Milner, previously of the Artimus Pyle Band, was plucked away in 1984 to replace or succeed Caldwell. It's impossible to follow a legend, but Milner's talent supersedes comparisons. Milner kicks out properly reverent approximations of the original licks when called for, but also adds elements that are clearly his own.

Other additions included slide specialist Stuart Swanlund and, more recently, one-time Allman drummer Frankie Toler and former Randy Travis sideman Ronald Radford on a variety of instruments.

The show was a good mix of familiar "Searchin' For a Rainbow," "Heard It In a Love Song," "24 Hours At a Time" and the quintessential Tucker song, "Can't You See" and new material, much from the band's brand new album, Walk Outside the Lines, with the title track co-written by Garth Brooks.

It's ironic and also a nice bit of poetic justice, that the band is around to enjoy the country music resurgence. While never marketed as such, MTB always had a foot firmly rooted in country.

The band seemed to be genuinely appreciative, both for the opportunity to play and for the Louisville response. And in a poignant moment, Gray made a solemn dedication to Toy Caldwell, who died tragically just a few months ago. Although he wasn't in the band, Toy cast a long shadow over the whole southern rock movement. He deserves the homage.

Henry Gross, formerly of Sha Na Na and a solo artist who had a mid-'70s hit with "Shannon," opened.

Touring on the strength of his latest album, Nothing But Dreams, Gross proved a formidable entertainer and dexterous fretman. Working with only bass and drums behind him, Gross had the crowd, many who remembered him fondly, en-Grossed for more than an hour.

Nothing But Dreams, recorded in Nashville with ex-E Streeter Garry W. Tallent as executive producer, has been nominated for independent album of the year.

Gross seemed also to be having a great time and proved he deserves to be known as more than a nostalgia act.