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Where Are They Now? Former Marshall Tucker Band Bassist Tim Lawter

by Michael Buffalo Smith

Tim Lawter played the bass guitar in The Marshall Tucker Band from 1986-2001, touring almost non-stop, recording a slew of albums, appearing in music videos, and living the life of a Southern Rock star. Of course, stepping into the spot formerly occupied by Tommy Caldwell wasn’t always easy.

“I never felt worthy of stepping into the shoes of the ones who came before me,” says Lawter. “And we were always getting folks saying ‘You are no Tommy’ or “You sure ain’t Toy,’ but I think we stepped up and proved ourselves, you know. It bothered Rusty (Milner) and me at first, but we just said, we’ve got to be who we are but at the same time, we didn’t want to get too far away from the original tone."

After the breakup and restructure of the original MTB in 1984, Spartanburg guitarist Rusty Milner wise hired to join founding members Doug Gray and Jerry Eubanks, along with a group of Nashville studio musicians. It wasn’t long before Doug and Jerry decided to return home to Spartanburg to hire some more hometown players. Ace Allen came in on drums along with Stuart Swanlund on guitar. Shortly thereafter, Tim was hired.

“They had never even heard me play. I guess they were going on what Rusty and Stuart told them about my playing, and that I was a songwriter.”

As a songwriter, Lawter penned the song “Stay in the Country,” which made it to #26 on the Billboard charts. He also wrote “Daddy’s Eyes.”

“I wrote some stuff with Doug (Gray) and Rusty. “Two Hearts Fallen” I wrote, I think Doug wrote a verse, Rusty wrote some of the music. “The Ballad of MTB" I wrote.”

Lawter says the highlight of his years with MTB was the SC Hall of Fame induction, with the original band in 1995.

“Just being a part of all that. Getting to stand there and look out on all of that, it was history being made,” recalls Lawter. “I got to play bass between two great drummers, Butch Trucks and Paul Riddle. You can’t ask for more than that. Jamming with Charlie Daniels was awesome. Dave Muse was there, and Hughie Thomasson, Chris Hicks, Ronald Radford, it was great.”

Another great memory for Tim was the huge Southern Spirit Tour. “The Southern Spirit Tour was probably one of the best tours I’ve ever done in my life. It was big, there were lots of people, it sold good. It was us, 38 Special, The Outlaws were on some of it, Charlie Daniels was on some of it, and I think Lynyrd Skynyrd was on some of it. But it was a strong lineup.”

I asked Tim if he ever got to know the late great Toy Caldwell, Tucker’s primary songwriter and lead guitarist.

“I knew Toy the last couple or three years he was alive,” says Tim. “When he played that gig at Shooters in Spartanburg he invited me and I went. I went to the dressing room to talk to him and he said man, I want you to sing on this thing so bad. But I was so sick, my throat was so sore, I couldn’t even talk. Toy also played on the original version of “Daddy’s Eyes,” in the old little studio that me and Barri Smith had. But Toy was a real solid individual and a great player. I bought the first record when I was about 14 I think, Paul Riddle and I are about the same age - Toy’s playing was so great. And one of the songs that didn’t get much air play but it blew me away was “I Just Tell Them My Jesus Told Me So.” Toy Caldwell with those hands and that tone, and the way he played - he was brilliant. You didn’t see that when you walked right up on him. It was in his hands and his talent. I always said these guys are from Spartanburg. That was a source of pride.”

These days, Tim and fellow MTB alumnus Rusty Milner operate a recording studio called Mill Street Studio in Inman in Spartanburg County.

“Rusty an I are business partners in the studio. We had our studio at 151 Kennedy Street in Spartanburg for ten years. Through channels of not buying the property, we decided we needed to be somewhere else. Me and Rusty found the space here at 25 Mill Street in Inman, an started working on it. Like I told you, all roads lead to Inman.”

And what a studio it is.
“We use Pro Tools, which is hard disc recording and editing. We have all the great players, the “A” list players, many of whom are Grammy nominated, some winning. Anyone booking the studio also gets me and Rusty engineering and playing as needed. We do anything from hip-hop to gospel, we do a lot of black artists, we do Christian music ... We do Southern Rock, we do jazz and opera. We love all music. This is what we do. We’re not getting rich, but this is what we do.”

Among the many clients of Mill Street Studios are The SIlver Travis Band. A group of Southern Rockers that are old friends of mine that I used to work with in the early 80’s. They waited over 20 years to reunite, and are currently recording their second album with Tim and Rusty at the helm.

“It’s been great working with them,” says Lawter. “When they came in, they were like kids. Their eyes were wide open. And after they laid the first track, it was like “Man, why haven’t we been here before?” And after all the years, they have been knowing each other over 25 years. And everybody has their own temperament, but these guys all get along great, and they work. They are just incredible players. They take criticism very well, and they take direction very well. Of course, I don’t need to criticize them very much. And Big Rick Cash is just an amazing singer. The way we have been doing, we lay down the bass and drums and rhythm tracks. Then Terry Collins comes in the next day and does his keyboard parts. Then Randall (Calvert) comes in and does all his guitar parts, pretty much in one day. Maybe two evenings. Then Big Rick comes in. We had six songs to do the other evening, and he came in at 4:30. He was done at 7:30. Killed ‘em. I’d say Rick can you sing ‘em one more time for me, so I can pick and choose if I need to. He says, “No problem, man,” and singe them perfect. It’s great working with those guys, and that record’s going to do real well.”

Country artist Jeremy McComb recorded his album My Side of Town with Tim and Rusty. Produced by founding Marshall Tucker Band drummer Paul T. Riddle, the record came out earlier this year on Parallel Records, a division of the same company that handles Larry The Cable Guy. In fact, McComb used to act as Larry’s road manager.
“Jeremy is a great songwriter and a great singer,” says Lawter. “He’s got an old soul.”

McComb was nominated for a Grammy for the song "One More from the Road,"| recorded and written by Jeremy McComb at Mill Street Studio. The song was played on Blue Collar Comedy TV, and featured Rusty, Tim, Ronald Radford and Paul Riddle. They also recorded songs for Larry the Cable Guy's Delta Farce and Health Inspector movies.

Tim is quick to promote all of the artists he works with, including a hard hitting Southern Rock band called Rebel

“We have been recording a band called Rebel from the Anderson, SC area. They have a lot of edge. If you listen to the tone, you might think Megadeath - not quite that far, but the grooves the guitar player comes up with are edgy. It’s Southern Rock, biker style. I think the record’s going to do well. Every where they go they blow it out. They are way up in your face. They rock. You can check ‘em out at rebel-up.com.”

“I have also been recording a duo called Radio Doll. It’s a woman that does most of the lyrics and her husband. Mark Burrell (Toy Caldwell Band) played drums. They are great artists, and she’s got a great voice.”

It’s obvious that Tim is really enjoying life after Tucker, and staying very busy. He told us he was just gearing up to do a live recording of a black gospel choir with all the instruments. Hearing Tim describe it, it sounded like quite an undertaking to me. But given the experience of this good ol’ Spartanburg boy and his partner Rusty, they are sure to “get ‘er done” with style and class.

Tim Lawter sums it up. “I’m having a great time.” And ain’t that what it’s all about?

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