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Marshall Tucker Band front man reflects on 45 years

The earliest goal of The Marshall Tucker Band was to use the money they earned from performing to buy beer for the weekend, according to lead vocalist and founding member Doug Gray.

"We had no idea what the world was going to present to us," Gray said.

Now, the southern rock band, famous for hits like "Can't You See" and "Heard it in a Love Song," is celebrating its 45th anniversary tour and headlining Gettysburg Bike Week on July 8. Gray said fans coming out to the show should leave their expectations at the door.

"We don't do a planned set list. There's a list there, but I never follow it."

Gray, 68, discussed reaching new audiences, incorporating lesser-known tracks into shows and comparing touring 45 years ago to today.

Q: How has the tour been going?

A: You know, it's kind of like a continuous thing. It never actually goes away. It's one of those things — if your band has been around for 45 years, you go out and play. We don't chase the shows. The shows kind of chase us. All the gigs happen to fall into place, and it makes life so much easier. So you can plan around it, you can have a great time, and we've grown with the buyers and the promoters and the times. Things just get smarter and smarter and smarter — not that we do, but they do. It's just a whole lot easier.

Q: In your mind, what's the key to have lasted as a band for 45 years?

A: It has to be the songs because, I mean, it's not our picture. Let's face it — people don't come to see us; they come to hear the music and evoke some memories that they've had. It has to be just primarily the songs because the songs are still getting played in movies. They get played on TV shows. They're on commercials. It's almost like a regular thing with every club that you walk into or every place that you go to. [You see shows like] "American Idol" and "The Voice," and they're doing a Marshall Tucker song, and these kids are 17 or 18 years old. You know, I'm 68 years old. You would think I'd be 68 sitting in a rocking chair somewhere. You would think those things are something that people look forward to — retirement. You know, they sit back. Certainly, I could have retired years ago.

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference when you tour now from 45 years ago?

A: First of all, we started out in a couple of old Dodge vans, went and played the opening shows for Joe Walsh and The Allman Brothers of course. You hit the brakes as you're riding down the road — if you hit them too hard and all the guys are sitting there, guess what you hear? You hear all the beer cans and the beer bottles that are laying on the floor go flying to the front. That's the old days. And I ain't going to say there wasn't no smoking because there was. It looked like a Cheech and Chong movie going down the road. And then as we got older, we had family, we had grandkids, a few more responsibilities of what we desired, what we wanted in those years. And then as we lost the people that we did, when people ask me now, they say, 'What's the new band like?' The new band's been here for 25 years. So I get a kick out of that.

Q: What is it about touring that has never lost its appeal to you?

A: I like to walk into a hotel, and people are in awe that you're actually walking into that hotel and shaking their hand and making sure that they get an autographed picture. I love that part. And then they start telling me about how they used to get strapped in the back seat of their car seat, and their mom and dad would play the same songs over and over of Marshall Tucker. And people tell me those kind of things all the time. Marshall Tucker Band have become a part of their everyday [for] a long time of their lives. If that doesn't make you excited, something's wrong with you.

Q: What is the band's take on playing the big hits versus the more obscure tracks?

A: I've got to tell you sometimes they would, instead of listening to me, they would much rather be playing the deeper cuts. You know what, we look forward to it. Somebody played this song called "I'll Be Loving You" the other day, and that song never got any airplay at all. And we go up and do that song and we kind of leave people flabbergasted that they actually never heard that song and they go looking [it] up. The way the world is today with computers, you can find out if people are going and downloading that song.

Q: Do you have any connection to Gettysburg or southcentral Pennsylvania?

A: All of the events that we've participated around in in that area have been pretty successful. As far as the bikes stuff that we do, I've played at [Sturgis Motorcycle Rally] for 37 years straight. So we're pretty familiar with all the bikes. As a matter of fact, I still have one. I still have a Harley. We're connected to a lot of people through a lot of different ways. It's not just music.

Q: What can people coming out to Gettysburg Bike Week expect from the show?

A: I think they'll walk away with a smile on their face. They'll want to hear more at the end. They'll be excited at the beginning a whole lot. I think that they'll appreciate the fact that the band — we work so hard, and we have never let them down yet, and we don't plan to.

If you go

What: The Marshall Tucker Band at Gettysburg Bike Week

Where: Budweiser Event Stage at the Allstar Events Complex, 2638 Emmitsburg Road

When: Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $15 per one-day pass and $40 per four-day pass. Tickets are available at the gate or at