Thursday, July 09, 2015
By Dan Armonaitis, HubCity Writers Project
It’s been said that a picture’s worth a thousand words. But what about when just four words paint a vivid picture in the minds of countless Southern rock fans the world over?
“From Spartanburg, South Carolina …” was a phrase used to introduce the Marshall Tucker Band on a nightly basis at the height of the legendary group’s career in the 1970s.
And more than four decades after the band’s launch, fans across the globe continue to be intrigued by what many of them perceive as a mystical place. Some have even made pilgrimages to Spartanburg in hopes of better connecting themselves with the legacy of the most popular band ever to emerge from the city.
While most of the places that played a key role in the Marshall Tucker Band’s hometown history have long since been demolished, there’s still enough to see to satisfy the curiosity of just about any Southern rock fan.
Any proper Marshall Tucker Band tour should start at the old Masonic Temple building on West Main Street near the intersection of Daniel Morgan Avenue, specifically at Hub City Bookshop, where renowned music journalist Peter Cooper’s book, “Hub City Music Makers,” is available. It’s an essential guide to Spartanburg’s rich music heritage that paved the way for the Marshall Tucker Band and it contains a hefty chapter specifically devoted to the group.
From Hub City Bookshop, head east a block and turn left on Spring Street, which is where the Gladstone Hotel once stood. It’s notable for being the site of the Marshall Tucker Band’s original rehearsal space, and it’s hard not to feel the ghosts of days of yesteryear even if the building is no longer there.
It was on that small street where Toy Factory morphed into the Marshall Tucker Band in the early 1970s. The original Marshall Tucker Band featured Tommy Caldwell on bass, Toy Caldwell on guitar, Jerry Eubanks on flute, Doug Gray on lead vocals, George McCorkle on guitar and Paul T. Riddle on drums.
“Whenever I go down that street, I always turn my head and look even though I know it’s not there,” said Gray, who is the only founding member left in the group. “But, man, I remember it like it was yesterday. We’d go over there and we’d sit around and have a beer and practice ‘Can’t You See’ and ‘Take the Highway.’”
The Gladstone Hotel was already falling apart when the Marshall Tucker Band rented space in its basement. Gray said there’s a faded red door on one of the buildings on Spring Street that isn’t the same one used by the band members but looks similar to it and can offer an idea of the portal through which they entered as they used a key on a chain inscribed with the name of the space’s previous occupant, a blind piano tuner named Marshall Tucker.
From Spring Street, head east again on West Main Street where, another block away, there’s a signpost in honoring the Marshall Tucker Band. It’s a part of the Spartanburg Music Trail, which recognizes musicians from the Hub City who have made a national or international impact in the world of music, and provides a great photo opportunity for fans of the band.
The Marshall Tucker Band’s Music Trail sign can be found at the edge of Morgan Square directly across from Wild Wing Cafe near where West Main Street intersects with Church Street.
The Music Trail marker “is a really cool thing,” Gray said. “Most of our fans who come to Spartanburg don’t even know there’s a monumental thing like that in town, but if they did I’m sure they’d want to see it.”
A short drive east on Main Street and a right turn onto Fernwood Glendale Road near the Hillcrest Shopping Center will lead to Greenlawn Memorial Gardens, which is the final resting place of both Caldwell brothers and McCorkle. Tommy Caldwell was killed in an automobile accident in 1980, Toy Caldwell died in 1993 and McCorkle died in 2007.
For years, Southern rock fans have stopped by the cemetery to pay their respects to the departed Marshall Tucker Band members, whose specific gravesites can be located by checking with the office upon arrival.
“I run into people all the time who say they came to Spartanburg and went to Toy, Tommy and George’s graves,” Gray said. “And the reason they do it is because they’re dedicated fans from a long time ago.”
While downtown nightspots such as The Ruins and The Sitar Club, which played a key role in the Marshall Tucker Band’s formative years, are long gone, the historic Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium on North Church Street still stands.
After the Marshall Tucker Band gained national attention following the release of its 1973 debut album on the Capricorn Records label, the group returned to Spartanburg to play shows at the auditorium.
And it’s worth noting that the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium’s connection to the Marshall Tucker Band goes back further, to the mid-1960s, as it was the site of talent show in which the New Generation, a Motown/British Invasion-flavored group that included Gray and Tommy Caldwell, competed.
“I was 15 years old, and we all wore orange blazers, and it was fun doing stuff like that,” Gray said. “We didn’t win, by the way.”
While most sites related to the Marshall Tucker Band’s early days are no longer in Spartanburg, the influence of the group can be found in the work of many of the local musicians who play these days in nightspots all over the city. Among them, Justin McCorkle (the son of MTB founder George McCorkle), Shane Pruitt (a Caldwell-inspired guitarist who sometimes is asked to travel and perform with the renewed MTB) and Trevor Hewitt (a country-flavored singer-songwriter Gray has taken under his wing).
“These guys are a continuation of what we started, and if you want to get a sense of our impact, you need to check them out,” Gray said.
That people continue to be interested in the band that he, the Caldwell brothers, George McCorkle, Eubanks and Riddle formed more than 40 years ago means a lot to Gray.
“Words can’t express what that means,” Gray said. “It kind of leaves me speechless.”
Dan Armonaitis, HubCity Writers Project