Lightning in the Air
An Interview with George McCorkle
by Michael Buffalo Smith
There truly was “fire on the mountain and lightning in the air” on June 4, 1998 when I caught up with George McCorkle by telephone from his Nashville home. His house is located at the top of a mountain and there were weather warnings calling for “tornadoes and dangerous lightning.”
I spoke to Marshall Chapman the other day and she said you guys had written a new song together.
Yeah, we did that a couple of weeks ago. It was me and her and Gary Nicholson. I was real glad to get a chance to write with both of them. They are both fine writers.
What’s the name of the song?
The song is called “Let the Night Tell Me What to Do.” It turned out really good. A lot of times it’s tough on a three-way write but when you get three people who are giving and forgiving -- I guess the bottom line is you get three professionals, they start understanding one another a good bit.
What do you do after you write a song like that? Do you place it with a publisher?
You can. But all three of us are self-published so I just run it through my publishing company and assign it to BMI, demo it and have my company go out and plug it, work the song.
I went up to Nashville for a while just to check it out and feel out the competition in the songwriting market and it scared me half to death. It is scary. It’s very, very scary. There are so many people here from Donna Summer to John Hiatt. Everybody lives here and it’s so competitive, it’ll scare you to death. It scares me every day. But, you know, I just sort of take my guitar and jump in the middle of it.
What was the first group you played in with Doug Gray?
The Toy Factory. I didn’t really know him until then. I knew the name, but I didn’t know him. And the next band was the Tucker Band.
Before that you were in The Rants and Pax Parachute, right?
Yeah, that was my first band with Paul (Riddle).
Someone told me when you guys originally got your contract and began recording your first album, everybody rode down to Macon every weekend in your car. Is that true?
That’s exactly right. I had a ‘66 Chevelle. That thing made so many damn trips to Macon! That’s how we traveled. It’s all we had. We were cutting a record but we still didn’t have anything.
But you had a lot of fun!
We used to have some fun, now. Doug and Jerry and all of us were probably as tight during that time as we were with our own families. We spent more time with each other than we did with our own families.
Lots of old interviews addressed the fact that when you all were home you spent as much time with your families as possible, but that you were always anxious to go back out on the road again.
That band loved to play, now. There was one thing about us, it was hard to keep us off the bus. We really did love to play. That was the highlight in all of our lives, I think. Every show we played.
Do you think there will ever be a reunion of the surviving original members of the Marshall Tucker Band?
It seems like I heard a little something about Capricorn Records might be interested in doing something, I’m not sure. But you know, Michael, I am a very open person. My phone lines are always open, my doors are open. I don’t say yes or no either way. If somebody approached me with it I’d be more than happy to listen.
What are your thoughts on Charlie Daniels?
I hold him in high praise. He has been doing it a long time and he is still doing it. Even living up here, I don’t see Charlie that often because he’s out working all the time. Me and his son see each other a lot. He is the president of Charlie’s Wooley Swamp Publishing company.
What is your favorite Marshall Tucker record?
I have two favorites. I love Searchin’ for a Rainbow. I just think that was the turning point for us, that opened a lot of doors. And I like Tenth. It was one of my favorite sounding albums. And I love the live album. I think that Toy and Tommy and Doug did some monumental things on that record that set the pace for the future. Doug’s voice, like on “Ramblin',” was amazing. He delivered the songs as good as a writer would deliver his own work. That was a big plus for us. As a writer, you have to consider that you have a singer that can deliver that song just like you hear it in your head. Tommy’s bass and Toy’s lead, ain’t nobody else could do that.
When I was first getting interested in playing music in high school, that album scared me to death!
(Laughs) It scared me, and I was there!
I said, hey, is this real?
And I had the honor of being a part of that. Also, it was half live and half studio which was unheard of.
Who do you listen to a lot now?
I listen to a lot of John Hiatt and I still listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Eric Clapton. And I love Garth Brooks. I just like him and what he stands for. He speaks for all of us.
I love Garth. He’s a master showman. I just got his new video and he really has one of the best shows goin.’
To me he’s the spokesman for all of us. Singers and writers. He’s the real deal. I was just with him the other day. I’ll tell him you said that. He’s a very warm human being.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into the music business today?
Get a real job. (laughs) No, I’d say follow your dreams. Follow it 'til you just can’t follow it no more. If you really, really want to do it you have to jump in with both feet. You can’t just put one foot in and expect it to happen. You have to totally commit. And when you totally commit it’ll happen if your heart tells you it’s going to. You have to do it all the way. You’ve proven that. You started out knowing what your dream was and you’ve done it. We both have. We’re both still chasing a dream but we have to. I’ll probably die still chasing a dream. There’s a lot of worse ways to die.
So true, buddy. "Carolina Dreams” (the book) started out as a dream, didn’t it?
I wrote it with absolutely no idea who was going to publish it but I felt in my heart someone would and they did. There’s a big tape trading thing going on in the Marshall Tucker fan circles now, the same as the Deadheads. All sorts of board tapes and live tapes have surfaced.
Yeah, there are a couple of guys in the country that that’s a real big deal to. It really helps keep your name out there.