THE LIFE OF A ROADIE
Arthur Mullins Recalls His Days with
The Marshall Tucker Band
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Spartanburg’s Arthur “Moon” Mullins was almost as popular as the band members of The Marshall Tucker Band during his tenure as Road Crew Chief for them from 1973 until 1985. Along with other names like “Puff” and “Blackie,” Moon was often talked about in countless press articles and mentioned time and time again by Toy Caldwell and the other MTB members in radio and TV interviews.
Today, Moon operates MoonLite Cycles in Spartanburg and generously agreed to an interview for GRITZ about those days gone by in which he was traveling the world and setting the stage for America’s favorite “hillbilly band.”
The MTB and Crew, 1978.
You guys all had nicknames. How’d you get the name "Moon?"
Toy actually tagged the nickname “Moon” on me. It came from a comic strip that ran up into the fifties. A lot of people named Mullins end up being called Moon. Steve got the nickname “Puff” from a football game at Spartanburg High School years ago, something to do with a powder-puff game. And “Blackie” came from the fact that he always dressed in black -- always wore a black t-shirt.
When did you go to work for The Marshall Tucker Band?
I was friends with Tommy after he got out of the service. We were both going to USC-S on the GI Bill to collect that money. During that period of time was when the Marshall Tucker Band formed and I went to work about 1973.
What was your primary job with the band?
I was responsible for stage right, taking care of Toy’s guitars and stuff. You had to learn to tune them and all that stuff. Throughout the years I basically did every job that was out there. It just happens that way.
But you were the head of the crew, right?
I was the Production Manager, Stage Manager - there are a lot of different names for it. I was with the band through 1984. But the job just rolled along. It expanded as the band got bigger and the crews got bigger. Somebody had to take charge and do all that advance work along with the other. At the time, Puff and Blackie, neither one wanted the job so it just kind of fell in my hands quite by accident. After the Tucker Band it all helped because when you drop back into the club level, it’s good to be able to mix sound or call lights. It all became handy after that. Like I said before, Toy was never hung up on where he played and I was out with him after the Tucker Band for about a year and a half or two years.
How did you guys decide who to hire?
The selection of the road crew mostly came about through Tommy. Basically, they picked hometown boys, not because of what they knew, but because of how they fit into the organization. It was important for everybody to get along, a real team effort. Tommy was pretty much the guiding light as far as making sure you did your job. It went down from there. Me being the crew chief, my ass would get chewed and it just worked it’s way on down.
That was the best organization I ever worked in, that crew. Those guys were all friends, if a guy was having a bad day everybody would pull up the slack for him. Same with you, if you were having a bad day everybody would pitch in the cover for you.
Did you see Tommy Caldwell as the band leader?
From the formation through his death, Tommy was the leader. Everything was a democratic process and put to a vote but Tommy had the hands-on control. He was a dreamer and he had a way of making you believe his dreams. I think everybody in the band always gave the crew lots of credit. The crew was a necessary and important part of the organization. The promoters would take lots of shows because they knew they were going to have an event with no problems. We were there on time, the show closed down on time. The efficiency of the crew had a lot to do with it.
What do you remember about the European Tour?
We’d gotten to the point where we had gotten a little spoiled here. Going over to Europe kind of dropped it back down to a family level where everybody had to get along. We were traveling in close quarters. It all went well as far as I remember. Johnny Lawson and I went over first. We were there for about ten days before they came. That was my gig throughout. I did a lot of advance work. Over there, we set up the rehearsal hall and set up transportation, got truck drivers and stuff. I was always involved in all of that.
What would you say was your high point with the band?
I suppose in the late '70s, Madison Square Garden, doing those big shows right before Tommy died. We did some big shows. I remember in Madison Square Garden when the lights went down and all of those lighters went up and there were thousands of straw cowboy hats out there. The electricity in the air made the hair on your arms stand up. That left a serious impression on me. The band didn’t have that many bad nights. On their worst nights they were good. They were strong on stage.
Tell us a little about Toy Caldwell.
Toy was an absolute clown, with lots of two or three line jokes. So funny. But he was such a poet. Many nights I saw him write notes on toilet paper, Gideon Bibles, anywhere he could just to have something to work off of the next day. His jokes were kind of the same way, you had to kind of just be there. Toy would give you anything. He took care of everybody. He took care of his family and he wanted to share all his wealth and all his fun with everyone.
What was a typical day like in the life of a roadie or, in your case, the head roadie?
A typical day as production manager. First, you go in that morning and meet with the union crew, whatever kind of crew is doing the show that day. You organize the union crew then you go out to the bus and wake up the sound crew because usually the stage is there on site. You wake up the sound crew and they take about an hour and a half to two hours to set up. Then you wake up the lighting crew, they move in and set up the lighting stuff. Throughout this you have to organize breakfast and be prepared for lunch. The band crew's the last ones in and you finish up about lunch time. After lunch you have a sound check or a rehearsal, whichever one is appropriate. The band would come in at probably three or four to do a sound check. Then dinner and on to the show at eight. After the show came a two to three hour load out -- two hours, generally. Then on to the hotel to take a shower. The bus departed every night at three. So it started for me at nine in the morning and went until three the next morning.
Not a lot of sleep time, huh?
We didn’t need sleep, we were young. (Laughs)
How did the band manage to write and arrange songs while touring on a virtually non-stop basis?
Well, I roomed with Toy so I got to see a lot more of how he went about writing songs. Generally, the way a song would appear was Toy had a hook line or a riff he’d worked out on his guitar. He’d sit around and play and come up with these great ideas. That’s when you realized how funny he was. He’d be doing this serious song and go off onto this silly shit, lyric wise. But as he wrote all this either me or somebody else would be jotting down notes for him. He’d come in to the show early the next day, usually at the steel guitar or on his other guitar. He’d start messing around, putting things in order. As soon as that was done the band would usually take an hour in the dressing room before the show and that’s when songs were usually worked up. It would work into sound checks where they’d work them up. They’d usually have songs worked up before studio time although they could go through some dramatic changes. A country song could become a lot more than a country song. Everybody would come in and record their parts with Doug and Jerry being the last ones on that process.
As far as your years with the band, any regrets?
Nope. I have no animosities toward anyone. I had twelve years of good work, got paid well, walked away with no problems with anybody. And seeing the world. It’s a better education out there than you’d ever get in school.