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Bryant brothers ride again

Over a period of 36 years, I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times I’ve attended a concert in which the Marshall Tucker Band was included in the musical line-up.

Up until this past Friday night, I didn’t have to use any of my body’s digits to count the times I’ve witnessed a “Tucker” concert with my brother.

The Bryant brothers, famous years ago for their many road trips (most destined for Nags Head), took the highway on Friday to the boondocks outside of Franklin, Va. There, thanks to Tommy’s keen sense of direction….he’s worked the back roads of Virginia over his long career in the modular housing business…we found our way to the Franklin/Southampton County Fairgrounds. It’s a good thing he wasn’t relying on me for directions as we’d be still riding at this point.

From the opening licks of “This Old Cowboy” to the finale of “24 Hours at a Time” (which almost took that long to perform), T-Bone (Tommy) and I stood tall and proud in front of the stage to listen to one of our all-time favorite Southern Rock bands.

As much as I love Tucker’s music, they ain’t want they use to be.

Sadly, lead singer Doug Gray is the only original member remaining in the band, founded in 1973 in Spartanburg, S.C. I guess old Doug has belted out “Ramblin’ on My Mind” too many times over his near 40 years on the stage. For those of you not familiar with “Ramblin”, it was Gray’s powerful vocals that made that song. He didn’t attempt to sing it on Friday.

Instead, Doug chose a song selection that was more low-key. Even then, his once golden voice was reduced to almost a whisper.

Yet we still heard Tucker’s music, famous not for the verses, but rather for its long instrumental jams. We got that again on Friday….plenty of guitar licks from Stuart Swanland and Rick Willis, booming bass from Pat Elwood, a steady beat from drummer B.B. Borden (formerly with Molly Hatchet) and flute, sax and keyboards from Marcus James Henderson.

While the classics were performed – “Can’t You See,” “Take the Highway,” “Fire on the Mountain,” Heard It in a Love Song” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Sky” – it was a song I never heard performed live that, to me, stole the show.

Willis – who from a distance resembles founding member Toy Caldwell – nailed a performance of “Midnight Promises” – a song written by Caldwell in the 1970’s but it took until 1992 to release on his first and only solo album – “Son of the South.” Caldwell died one year later. Never again will we “Tuckerheads” be able to hear the awesome songwriting talent this man possessed or witness his extraordinary guitar skills, using his thumb instead of a pick.

I can’t recall the number of times I heard the original cast of MTB members at a live concert. I do remember the first…. August Jam held Aug. 10, 1974 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, an event that to this day stands as the largest outdoor concert (200,000-plus) ever held in North Carolina. In addition to Tucker, the concert featured the Allman Brothers Band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Foghat, Black Oak Arkansas, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Grinderswitch and PFM.

After that, the guys I grew up with in Northampton County would take road trips to Norfolk Scope and Hampton Roads Coliseum to see Tucker when they were in town. That was 30-plus years ago and those road trips with friends stir a lot of great memories, but seeing Tucker this past Friday night with my little brother at my side now stands at the top of my favorite concert list.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and the Gates County Index. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.