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On The Road in Athens for Marshall Tucker at Georgia Theatre

Posted: Apr 13, 2007 The last time I was at The Georgia Theatre in Athens, Georgia was several years ago. We had made the hour and a half trek from Greenville to see a show by Gov’t Mule with special guest John Scofield and opener Chris Whitley. It’s hard to believe that since then we have lost both Chris Whitley and Allen Woody.

The Georgia Theatre is a really cool venue, with major musical history. Everybody has played there, from R.E.M. to The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band to Drive By Truckers. On this night, however, there would be some old school Southern rock filling the building, provided by none other than The Marshall Tucker Band, in a show produced by UGA’s Sigma Nu as a benefit for St. Jude’s Hospital.

As always it was great fun hanging out with “The Tucker Boys,” as well as various other good friends, both before, during and after the show. Backstage, all I could think about was the many great talents who had trod these very boards, and climbed the stairs to the small dressing room that we crammed a dozen people into at one point.

A couple of local bands, Part Bear and Backyard Tire Fire opened the show, while we all stood outside the stage door exchanging war stories and shooting the proverbial bull. It was a beautiful night, and there seemed to be a real old school sense of brotherhood surrounding the small group of band mates and friends gathered there together.

Pretty soon the instrumental “Long Hard Ride” cranked up through the p.a. speakers and it was time for the band to hit the stage. Unfortunately, long time guitarist Stuart Swanlund had missed his flight out of Chicago and was unable to play. On the up side, Doug Gray’s nephew Clay Cook was there to pick up the slack. Clay is a Berkley trained multi-instrumentalist and producer who has worked with everyone from John Mayer to Sugarland, and sporting his long hair and bushy beard, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the Doug Gray of the early seventies.

The show began with one of my personal favorites, “Running Like The Wind,” the first of many songs of the night to stretch into amazing jams, filled with dynamics and funky grooves. At one point, the band broke it down to a reggae beat, and the audience of hot, sweaty college kids was loving every minute of it. Clay burned up the guitar alongside Chris Hicks, another man I cannot say enough about. Hicks is simply one of the finest singers and guitarists I know, and on this night, he could do no wrong. By the way, I heard the final mixes of some of his upcoming solo record, and my friends, it smokes like Cheech and Chong on a weekend in San Francisco! Great stuff, produced by the incomparable Paul Hornsby.

Speaking of Hicks, the next song was one from his new album, albeit in a “Tuckerized” version. “Dog Eat Dog World” got the crowd to screaming, and when Clay took a seat behind the pedal steel to kick off “Fire On The Mountain,” the place went nuts. The college kids were singing along on every word of the song, prompting Doug to hold the microphone out toward them and just let them sing for a while. It was a classic MTB moment that flashed me back to the reactions received by the original line up in 1977.

Next up was the rocking “Ride Of Your Life” from their most recent studio album, Beyond The Horizon. It’s a great song, with Gray and Hicks sharing vocals. When Doug introduced the next song there was even more excitement, with the audience once again singing along on every word to “Heard it in a Love Song.” Dave Muse’s flute playing was met with screams of appreciation from the girls pressed up against the front of the stage.

Keeping the momentum, the Tuckers launched into “Can’t You See,” and everyone in the house was singing. The party was on, and Hicks and Cook simply smoked the guitars. They were having fun and it showed big time.

Throughout the evening, Doug pulled several different girls onto the stage at various times to dance and play tambourine. Too much fun.

Doug stepped aside to let Chris Hicks perform another song from his upcoming album on acoustic guitar, backed by only Clay Cook on pedal steel. “Georgia Moon” is a major hit already in my book, a beautiful song written by Paul Hornsby that was performed for the first time tonight by the Tuckers.

Hicks sang the old BB King tune that Toy Caldwell always played, “Everyday I Have The Blues,” and the soulful tune “The Rain,” and there was an all out jam on “Ramblin” that featured Clay Cook on vocals that just brought the house down yet again. That kid can sing. It was one of the finest moments in Southern rock I have witnessed in quite some time. Pat Elwood’s bass solo was amazing as was B.B. Borden’s drum solo. The jams were amazing, and when the band left the stage, the audience refused to let them go, calling them back out for the classic “Take The Highway,” which took the band to an even higher realm, and leaving everyone in attendance completely satisfied.

It was a great show all the way around, and another great visit with old friends. The next night they would do it all again in Macon, and I would head back to Greenville to prepare for my trip to Birmingham next week and the second Scott Boyer Benefit.

Keep it Real. Keep  it Southern.

Photos by Dave Peck!

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