The Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Kentucky Head Hunters
August 5, 2022
When you wake up and want to put a smile on your face, you think of the songs that always manage to reach down and touch your soul the moment
you hear the first note. The Marshall Tucker Band is one such group that continues to have a profound level of impact on successive generations of
listeners who’ve been “Searchin’ for a Rainbow” and found it perfectly represented by this tried-and-true Southern institution over the decades.
“I’ve been in tune with how music can make you feel, right from when I was first in the crib,” explains lead vocalist and bandleader Doug Gray, who’s
been fronting the MTB since the very beginning. “I was born with that. And I realized it early on, back when I was a little kid and my mom and dad
encouraged me to get up there and sing whatever song came on the jukebox. It got to the point where people were listening to me more than
what was on the jukebox! There’s a certain gift I found I could share, whether I was in front of five people or 20,000 people. I was blessed with
that ability and I’m thankful I can share with others.”
The Marshall Tucker Band came together as a young, hungry, and quite driven six-piece outfit in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1972, having duly baptized themselves with the name of a blind piano tuner after they found it inscribed on a key to their original rehearsal space — and they’ve been in tune with tearing it up on live stages both big and small all across the globe ever since. Plus, the band’s mighty music catalog, consisting of more than 20 studio albums and a score of live releases, has racked up multi-platinum album sales many times over. A typically rich MTB setlist is bubbling over with a healthy dose of hits like the heartfelt singalong “Heard It in a Love Song,” the insistent pleading of “Can’t You See” (the signature tune of MTB’s late co-founding lead guitarist and then-principal songwriter Toy Caldwell), the testifying “Fire on the Mountain,” the wanderlust gallop of “Long Hard Ride,” and the explosive testimony of “Ramblin,’” to name but a few.
Indeed, the secret ingredient to the ongoing success of The Marshall Tucker Band’s influence can be seen and felt far and wide throughout many mainstream digital outlets (Netflix, Amazon, etc.). In essence, it’s this inimitable down-home sonic style that helped make the MTB the first truly progressive Southern band to grace this nation’s airwaves — the proof of which can be found within the grooves and ever-shifting gears of “Take the Highway,” the first song on their self-titled April 1973 debut album on Capricorn Records, The Marshall Tucker Band. “We had the commonality of having all grown up together in Spartanburg,” explains Gray about his original MTB bandmates, guitar wizard Toy Caldwell and his brother, bassist Tommy Caldwell, alongside rhythm guitarist George McCorkle, drummer Paul T. Riddle, and flautist/saxophonist Jerry Eubanks. “The framework for Marshall Tucker’s music is more like a spaceship than a
house,” Gray continues, “because you can look out of a lot of windows and see a variety of things that show where we’ve been and what we’ve done,
and how we’ve travelled through time to bring those experiences out in all of our songs.”
The Marshall Tucker Band’s influence can be felt far and wide through many respected contemporaries and the artists who’ve followed the path
forged by their collective footsteps and footstomps. “MTB helped originate and personify what was to become known as Southern rock, and I was
privileged to watch it all come together in the ’70s, night after night,” said the legendary late Charlie Daniels. “In fact, The Charlie Daniels Band has
played more dates with The Marshall Tucker Band over the past years than any other band we’ve ever worked with. Even after all these years — after
the tragedies, the miles, the personnel changes, and the many developments in the music business.” Daniels added that he never got tired
of seeing his MTB brothers on the road: “Whenever Doug Gray walks into my dressing room with that big ol’ smile of his and then we hug each other
and sit and talk for a while, the evening is complete.”
“I remember seeing Marshall Tucker and The Outlaws play together in Jacksonville many years ago, when I was just a kid,” recalls Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Johnny Van Zant. “And I heard them all over the radio back then too. They were just so cool and so unique that I fell in love with the band, and I also fell in love with the music. Having them open for us on all those dates was like a dream come true, and they’re still as good as I’ve ever seen them. It brought back a lot of memories for me, because I really looked up to those guys when I was first starting out.”
Ed Roland, the lead vocalist and chief songwriter for Collective Soul, adds “The Marshall Tucker Band had a big influence on me and they still do.” Roland, who’s lived the majority of his life in and around Atlanta, also proudly points out that his band’s biggest hit, “Shine,” owes a clear debt to the musical structure of “Can’t You See,” and he’ll often start off by singing the opening line to that song — “I’m gonna take a freight train” — whenever Collective Soul performs “Shine” live. “We don’t want to stray from what we grew up listening to,” Roland continues. “I think that’s something important for people to hear. It’s just who we are, and I don’t think we should run from it. Hopefully, people see that southern connection to the bands we love like Marshall Tucker in our music.”
Doug Gray sees no end to the road that lies ahead for The Marshall Tucker Band, whose legacy is being carried forward by the man himself and his current bandmates, drummer B.B. Borden (Mother’s Finest, The Outlaws), bassist/vocalist Ryan Ware, keyboardist/saxophonist/flautist/vocalist Marcus James Henderson, guitarist/vocalist Chris Hicks, and guitarist/vocalist Rick Willis. “You know, I think it was Toy Caldwell’s dad who said, ‘There’s more to gray hair than old bones,’ and we still have a lot of stories yet to tell,” Gray concludes. “People ask me all the time what I’m gonna do when I turn 80, and I always say, ‘The same thing that we’re continuing to do now.’ We’re road warriors, there’s no doubt about that — and I don’t intend to slow down.” May the MTB wagon train continue running like the wind on a long hard ride for many more years to come. One thing we absolutely know for sure: If you heard it in a Marshall Tucker Band song, it certainly can’t be wrong.
—Mike Mettler, this ol’ MTB chronologist
For The Outlaws, it’s always been about the music. For more than 40 years, the Southern Rock legends have celebrated triumphs and endured tragedies to remain one of the most influential and best-loved bands of the genre. Today, The Outlaws have returned with new music, new focus and an uncompromising new mission: It’s about a band of brothers bound together by history, harmony and the road. It’s about a group that respects its own legacy while refusing to be defined by its past. But most of all, it’s about pride.
It’s About Pride was also the title of the band’s acclaimed 2012 album, universally hailed as their victorious comeback. “Because The Outlaws had been out of the public eye for so long, it was almost like starting over,” original singer/songwriter/guitarist Henry Paul explains. “But because of the band’s history, we’re still seeing this as a new chapter. What our fans loved then is what they still love now, because we are just as good or even better than we were.” For co-founding drummer/songwriter Monte Yoho, the journey is both bittersweet and jubilant. “I still think about the friends we made when we first came into this industry, how we struggled to define this thing that became known as ‘Southern Rock’,” Yoho says. “The Outlaws still embody all the things we shared musically and personally, most of all the relationship we have with our fans to this day.”
History lesson: Formed in Tampa in 1972, The Outlaws – known for their triple-guitar rock attack and three-part country harmonies – became one of the first acts signed by Clive Davis (at the urging of Ronnie Van Zant) to his then-fledgling Arista Records. The band’s first three albums The Outlaws, Lady In Waiting and Hurry Sundown – featuring such rock radio favorites as ‘There Goes Another Love Song’, ‘Green Grass & High Tides’, ‘Knoxville Girl’ and ‘Freeborn Man’ – would become worldwide gold and platinum landmarks of the Southern Rock era. Known as ‘The Florida Guitar Army’ by their fans, The Outlaws earned a formidable reputation as an incendiary live act touring with friends The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band and The Charlie Daniels Band as well as The Doobie Brothers, The Who, Eagles and The Rolling Stones. Henry Paul left after the group’s third album to form The Henry Paul Band for Atlantic Records, and later co-founded the multi-Platinum country trio Blackhawk. Over the next 20+ years, The Outlaws would experience rampant personnel changes, tonal missteps, ill-fated reunions and bitter trademark battles that left fans – not to mention Paul and Yoho – frustrated and saddened. And with the tragic deaths of co-founding members Frank O’Keefe and Billy Jones in 1995, and especially songwriter/vocalist/lead guitarist Hughie Thomasson in 2007, it was feared that The Outlaws’ trail had come to an end.
“The Outlaws were the one area of my career where I had regrets,” admits Paul. “More importantly, I think it was the one area in my career where I thought I still have something to prove. I felt compelled to stick my neck out and take a chance of putting this band back together. I knew we would be judged, but I hoped we would be judged on our abilities.” Along with founding members Paul and Yoho, the band features several of Southern Rock’s most respected veterans: Keyboardist/vocalist Dave Robbins is a co-founding member of Blackhawk, and has written hit songs for artists that include Restless Heart, Kenny Rogers and Eric Clapton. Longtime Outlaws’ bassist/vocalist Randy Threet has performed with Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis and Blackhawk, and is familiar to TV audiences from USA Network’s ‘Nashville Star’. Lead guitarist Steve ‘Grits’ Grisham was a member of the Soldiers Of Fortune era Outlaws, as well as a noted songwriter whose tracks include The Henry Paul Band’s Top 40 hit, ‘Keepin’ Our Love Alive’. Co-lead guitarist Dale Oliver is one of Nashville’s most versatile producers/songwriters/musicians and was formerly Blackhawk’s lead guitarist and bandleader for more than 10 years, co-writing their hit ‘Almost A Memory Now’. “From the very beginning, The Outlaws had heart,” Monte Yoho says. “And a lot of people who come out and see this incarnation of the band now are responding to the exact same things we used to put on stage in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
On that stage, the band burns hotter than ever: “The Outlaws helped define Southern Rock for me and for generations of fans,” wrote music journalist Bill Robinson in The Huffington Post. “Seeing them onstage with The Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd or countless others was, for a long time, one of the best experiences I could have. And so it was again when I saw The Outlaws play recently.” The Outlaws’ live shows –vividly captured in their 2016 double album Legacy Live – are blazing 2+ hour tributes to the band’s rich history and fiery rebirth. Classic tracks and fan favorites from the first three albums – as well as The Henry Paul Band’s definitive ‘Grey Ghost’ – share the spotlight with new songs that are already being embraced by audiences. “I think our new material goes back to those first three classic albums, when the band was proud of its influences from country, blues and jazz,” says Paul. “Plus, Steve and Dale have honored and maybe even stepped up the legacy of the ‘guitar army’. Fans are coming away from shows feeling a renewed part of the Outlaws experience.”
The Outlaws are now headed back on the road, back on the radio and back into the hearts of fans nationwide. “I’m seeing this thing we’ve had for more than four decades be exposed to whole new audiences,” Monte Yoho says. “We’re having a second life as a band, and it feels better than ever. Best of all, I’m still doing it with some of the same people I’ve known for most of my life.”
“I want people to see our show, hear our new songs and realize that The Outlaws are back,” says Henry Paul. “Our goal is to unite the fans and bring the band back into the light. In a way, this is like a second chance at my first love. It’s about finishing what we started.” For Henry, Monte, Dave, Randy, Steve and Dale, it’s also about a band of brothers who love playing their own brand of rock, and who 40+ years ago first got the chance to share it with to the world.
For The Outlaws, it’s still about the music. And now more than ever, it’s about pride.
The Kentucky Headhunters created a hybrid of honky tonk, blues, and Southern rock that appealed to fans of both rock and country music. The origins of the Kentucky Headhunters lie in 1968, when Fredand Richard Young began playing together with their cousins Greg Martin and Anthony Kenney at the Youngs’ grandmother’s house. Mark Orr also later joined them. The first incarnation of the band was called the Itchy Brothers, and the group played together informally for over a decade. After about 13 years, the bandmembers began launching separate careers: Richard Young went off to write songs for Acuff-Rose, while Fred Young began touring with country beauty Sylvia. Martin became a member of Ronnie McDowell’s band, while Kenney dropped out of music. In 1985, Martin decided to reassemble the Itchy Brothers. When Kenney declined to rejoin the group, Martin remembered Doug Phelps, whom he had met while on tour with McDowell. Phelps joined the new project, which was named the Kentucky Headhunters. Besides Martin and Phelps, the band also included the Young brothers and Doug’s brother Ricky Lee Phelps.
The Headhunters started playing twice monthly on The Chitlin’ Show, a program on Munfordville, Kentucky radio station WLOC. From these 90-minute performances, the Headhunters built up a following. They sent an eight-song demo to Mercury, and soon after, the label signed the group. The original demo tape was remixed, and became the basis of the band’s first album, 1989’s Pickin’ on Nashville, which received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release and quickly became a hit. “Dumas Walker” reached number 15 in the spring of 1990, followed by the group’s biggest hit, the number six “Oh, Lonesome Me.” In 1991, the Headhunters released their second effort, Electric Barnyard. The album received mixed reviews, couldn’t muster a single, and sold weakly. In summer 1992, the Phelps brothers left the group to form Brothers Phelps, a more traditional country group.
The remaining Headhunters brought ex-Itchy Brothers Anthony Kenney and Mark Orr to the group, and the rehashed lineup released Rave On! in 1993. The album marked a progression toward bluesy Southern rock, which came to fruition later that same year with That’ll Work, a collaboration with former Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson. In 1996, Doug returned on lead vocals, and a year later the band issued Stompin’ Grounds. Songs from the Grass String Ranch followed in 2000, and Soul appeared in spring 2003. Big Boss Man was released in 2005 and Flying Under the Radar in 2006, both from CBUJ Entertainment. Dixie Lullabies, the group’s 12th album, and first studio recording of new original material since 2003, appeared from Red Dirt Records in 2011. In 2015, the Headhunters released another collaborative album with Johnnie Johnson, Meet Me in Bluesland, drawn from unissued sessions recorded in 2003, two years before Johnson’s death. Just before entering the studio to record their next studio LP, bandmates Richard and Fred Young lost their father. That loss, combined with the excitement of the band’s first European tour, added an emotional poignancy to On Safari, which was released in 2016.