Marshall Tucker Band at Grant’s

Marshall Tucker showcase at Grant’s Lounge

Marshall Tucker Band

Original Marshall Tucker Band

Not long after the Marshall Tucker Band began seriously working up material at the Spring Street warehouse in Spartanburg, they were given an opportunity in the Spring of 1971 that opened the door for their eventual record deal on Phil Walden’s Capricorn label. “Wet Willie was playing at a Spartanburg club called The Sitar and George (McCorkle) and Tommy (Caldwell) were hanging out there that afternoon,” says Riddle. “Jimmy and Jack Hall, the two brothers that played with Wet Willie, were there and Tommy was telling them about our band and they were gracious enough to ask us to open for them that night.”

Capricorn audition for Marshall Tucker

Marshall Tucker’s Capricorn Audition

“Tommy called me up and said, ‘Throw your drums in the car and come on,'” Riddle laughs. “We piled our equipment up there on the stage and opened for them. The guys in Wet Willie were knocked out and we told them that we were interested in going to Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia. It was close, and The Allman Brothers and Wet Willie were on that label. We thought it was a compatible situation.” Wet Willie went back to Macon and told Phil Walden about the Tuckers and made him aware that they were coming to play him their demos. “We saved up $500 and cut this demo at Mark V Studio in Greenville that included the songs that basically became our first album. It had “Hillbilly Band,” “Take The Highway,” “Jesus Told Me So,” “Ramblin’,” “Can’t You See” and all those tunes,” continued Riddle.

Marshall Tucker Southern Rock

Marshall Tucker with Liz Graham

Interestingly, the band had gone to Muscle Shoals earlier and recorded a tape at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound studio. The Caldwell brothers took the Mark V demo to Capricorn, and managed to have an audience with Phil Walden. “Tommy asked to see Phil Walden and the people at the label were acting like, ‘Yeah, sure buddy,'” says Riddle. “Finally, he convinced Frank Fenter, the label’s Vice-President, to come out and hear the tape. Still Tommy said, ‘No, I want Phil to hear it, too.’ So Phil Walden came out and heard the tape. When they wanted to keep the tape, Tommy said, ‘No man. I’m sorry. I’ve got to have the tape back. This is my life. You don’t understand. These are my people and you can’t have the tape.'”

Capricorn booked the band in a small club called Grant’s Lounge in Macon, Georgia. It was a place that was frequented by many bands, including The Allman Brothers, who used to jam there all the time. “We played our set with all of the original songs and, of course, Phil Walden and Frank Fenter and the people of Capricorn Records never came in. So we took a break and then began our second set and they walked in. Tommy immediately turned around to us and said, ‘We are playing the tunes again,'” recalls Riddle. “Everybody really liked the band and were treated with a lot of respect,” recalls Gray, concerning that showcase. “People knew that we were coming to Grant’s and that we could play our ass off. The following week, we had some decisions to make and we came back down and signed the contract.” The showcase was even reported in Rolling Stone, which said that Phil Walden was literally dancing in the aisles.

A record deal was offered and, in a matter of weeks, the Marshall Tucker band was a Capricorn Records act, with Phil Walden as label President, manager and publisher. It was an arrangement also shared by The Allman Brothers. “I really liked Phil Walden, a lot,” says Gray respectfully. “He helped make the Marshall Tucker band what it became. We gave him the material, but he knew how to go about selling the Marshall Tucker Band. He had already worked with Otis Redding and The Allman Brothers Band and shown how he could develop and sell a band.” Capricorn staff producer Paul Hornsby was tapped to worked with the band for their debut album, which was recorded in the Summer of 1972. Hornsby was also a respected session keyboardist, and had previously produced two albums, Eric Quincy Tate and Sundown.