Checking Back in with George McCorkle
Rockin’ Blues on an American Street
by Michael Buffalo Smith
George McCorkle was a founding member of The Marshall Tucker Band and, for the past several years, has risen to popularity as a solo artist and songwriter. His new album, American Street, is one of the finest Southern records we have heard in a long time and he shows no signs of slowing down.
We spoke to George by phone from his Nashville home to talk about Marshall Tucker, Nashville and his solo career.
How long did it take you to record American Street?
We went in and had some tracks -- I’d say, probably to record it, it took about two weeks. I had all my pre-production down before going into the studio. Once the tracks were done I’d let people go and work with others doing overdubbing. That way I could put my mark on it doing it that way.
Who produced the album and who plays on it?
I produced the record and it was all my production. Goodness, about 30 people played on it. The main rhythm section was a guy named Brian Owens of the Amazing Rhythm Aces. He is a real good friend and my favorite drummer to play with. The bass player was Ron Eoff -- he plays with Delbert McClinton a lot. Those two were my main rhythm section and a guy named Randy LeAgo who is a keyboard, saxophone and flute player. He was my main utility guy. Guitar player-wise, I used 2 or 3 different guys. Mike Giger, who played acoustic with me and Bill Bipperman who played acoustic. Both are top session guys here in town; they both play in the same vein I do. There are probably better and worse players in town but we are friends; they are studied in Southern music, one is from Georgia and the other from Florida. The background vocals were added at the last minute. I just wanted to add some color with the girls' vocals. I wanted to stay in the same vein that I always played music but put some George into it. The horns and girls are parts of me, or the sound I hear coming out of myself. I have a lot of blues and R&B influences. A lot of people tell me that. My main influences are the swing influence, Texas Swing, Bob Wills and that type of thing. That is where a lot of the shuffle comes from.
That music still holds up. Bob Wills and Texas Playboys...
Man, I am telling you. Ray Benson is carrying it on. He is finally getting his due with Asleep at the Wheel and he has carried that tradition on for years.
But those are the basic people. Mike Battle is the co-writer and he played harmonica on the record. All of these people had some reason to contribute to it. They were all a very big part of everything. I chose my friend, Buddy Blackmon, who played banjo on “Fire on the Mountain.” I was at his house a few years ago and everybody wanted to hear “Fire on the Mountain.” I said I would play it if Buddy would play his banjo. So, he did. I told him if I ever recorded it I would use him, so, I did.
The album is on an indie label called October Street. How do you feel about indie labels in relation to major labels?
I feel like it was destined to happen because of the new music business. I consider major labels a profit thing and the indies are doing it purely for the music; that is the big difference between the indies and the major labels. I think the web has changed our whole outlook on things. The indies take a lot of pressure off the musician and the artists themselves. You are able to create what you feel instead of what an A&R department feels. That is the big thing with the indies.
On this album did you write all the music on it?
Yes. I either wrote them or co-wrote them. I am waiting about one more year to go by because I have about 300 more songs to record. (laughs)
It’s good to know that you are wanting to do more records.
I plan on doing lots more!
Do you have a favorite song or two that you have written in your life?
There are three songs that I have written that I am very proud of. I am extremely proud of the “Last of the Singing Cowboys” that I wrote by myself when I was with the Tucker Band. That was a landmark for me; I am a story writer; if you listen to them I write stories. “Last of the Singing Cowboys,” “Fire on the Mountain” and “American Street” are all three blessings and gifts. These are gifts that came to me and I do not know how I got them. They just came and I accept them. It is a blessing that a man can write a few songs in his life that he is proud of.
You are blessed because these songs will be around forever. If I list my top ten songs by anyone, “Last of the Singing Cowboys” is one of them. Lyrics are my favorite thing and this was also a really cool story.
There was so much thought that went into it. The story is just awesome. Back in those days if you looked at all of the people we were playing with and hanging out with, this was just a story of what happened to one of us, maybe in the long run, maybe the one of us that might have lasted through the century. This was the one that that guy in the story ran into. He’ll be there yet. To be honest, I always thought it would be Toy. I could just see him an old man, sitting in a chair playing an old beat up guitar and singing old cowboy songs. He was so prolific it was scary. I always accepted him as a friend, not really for all the ability he had. I just didn’t think about it at the time but he was real, real good.
Speaking of Marshall Tucker, do you ever feel that you are still living in the shadow of your past contributions or does it get in your way now that you have moved into solo work?
I will always think that the 14 years of the Tucker Band was something great that I got to do. I will always live with that knowledge of who I was in that situation because of the impact that band made on the average person, you know what I mean? That band made such an impact on the average man that all of us, the six that started the band, will always be remembered for that -- you cannot outrun it. I respect so highly that aspect of my life and at times it is hard to stand on my own. I accept it and I accept the challenge and I make that very plain every time I stand in front of a mike.
I guess people will always ask you to perform “Fire on the Mountain?”
Yes, and I used to get irritated with that but I have grown up a lot for one thing and learned to accept it and am glad that people ask me for that. I used to be irritated because I worked all the time but now, give me the guitar and I’ll play.
What was your inspiration for “Crazy Molly Monroe?”
Two co-writers of mine were sitting in a room and tried to write this song. One of the guys had read a story about her life somewhere out west in the 1800s. Bobby Taylor is an actor and Doug Gill a good melody man and between all of us we came up with a good story. We were feeling sorry for this woman and she truly did die in prison in the early 1900s because she wouldn’t wear female clothes. It’s just what it is. There are some female singers in this town that would like to sing it but it is just no way to make it a female song. I pitched it to Garth Brooks just after we wrote it and he called me from the road and said he liked the song but he wasn’t going to cut it because it wasn’t right for him. I thought, why did he call me if he doesn’t want it! (laughs)
Tell us about “Peace Stories.”
Bruce Burch who works for EMI threw that title out and it just blew me away. It took us a year to write that song; I could not make it feel right. I got into Babyface’s way of approaching songwriting and I started thinking about him with that fingerpicking thing. This developed into the groove it is with the fingerpicking and the chord progression. The message of “Peace Stories,” the lyrics, came quicker but it took us a while to make it as powerful as it is. Another girl, Jonell Mosser, who sang on the Hope Floats soundtrack, heard it one day and went berserk over it and cut it on her album. I believe that it's a hit song.
I thought it was ironic that Charlie Daniels re-issued Toy Caldwell’s solo album at the same time your new record came out. Have you heard it?
Oh, yes. The first time it came out, I thought Toy was just in his own place. After I listened to it and talked with him I think that he was in a dark place. I think that “Mexico” was a strong statement about where his head was at the time. He was releasing a lot of dark feelings at the time.
How do you feel about the reissues of the Tucker Warner Brothers albums?
I am actually happy for the fans and I am happy for myself as well. I look forward to the day that I can put those CDs on my player and hear them. I am very happy about it, mostly for our fans. I am not happy with the business arrangements but the fans are really being treated with some great music in those records. Stewart Levine and Tom Dowd as producers were great at making incredible music from our band. I am proud to be a part of all that.
Tenth was one of the best records we did. I always liked Dedicated; I thought it was a touchy record but I did like it. And especially Running Like the Wind. “Running like the Wind” and “Last of the Singing Cowboys” back-to-back are powerful.
Then all of sudden you come up with Tommy’s “country to the bone” love song, “Melody Ann.” The first time I heard the album I was hooked on the variety of music.
This is what American Street is all about. You don’t have to play just one kind of music. I am tickled that people can get this. Fans that I talked with on the internet are thrilled to have the reissues.
I was just listening to some old live tapes of MTB and the thing that really sweeps me away to this very day is the chunky rhythms and driving beat.
People used the word “tribal” -- we were very tribal -- in a group and it was like falling into something. We physically, spiritually and musically connected in some way.
I like to get to that point when I’m jamming with a band, too. It’s like you leave your body for a bit.
I don’t know if that is a space you are talking about, but this space you fall into is something like meditation and like a state of enlightenment that the Zen masters fall into. I am into meditation and getting in this groove is like meditation.
What are you doing next?
I am playing some dates in Texas and in South Carolina, in October, I am hoping to bring a 12-piece band that I am playing with to the Music Camp. Three horns, three back-up singers, two guitar players, one drummer, one bass player and me. This is a part of me that people don’t know. They look at me as a writer.
UPDATE: George is playing with The George McCorkle Band as well as The Ghostriders and working on a new solo record. Visit www.georgemccorkle.com