When Southern rock architects Lynyrd Skynyrd launch their upcoming two-year farewell outing, The Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour on May 4 in West Palm Beach, Florida, the tour will feature a choice assembly of Southern rock and country artists. Among the performers are Kid Rock, Hank Williams, Jr., Charlie Daniels Band, Bad Company, Blackberry Smoke, and Marshall Tucker Band, a group that has been with Lynyrd Skynyrd from the beginning.
In the mid-1970s, both Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker Band were riding high from hits including Skynyrd’s iconic “Gimme Three Steps,” “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” and MTB’s “Can’t You See,” “Fire On The Mountain,” and “Heard It In A Love Song.”
“They would open shows for us and we’d turn around and open shows for them,” recalls Marshall Tucker Band founding member Doug Gray. “This is a tour in remembrance of what I call the ‘original band’ because we were there for that original band.”
“Heard It In A Love Song,” became a hit in June 1977, approximately five months before Southern Rock would be dealt a ruinous circumstance with the deaths of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, guitar player Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines and road manager Dean Kilpatrick in a plane crash on the evening of Oct. 20, 1977. After the crash, Lynyrd Skynyrd would go on to regroup after a hiatus; with Ronnie’s brother Johnny at the helm.
“It’s hard to talk about, because [original Lynyrd Skynyrd singer] Ronnie Van Zant was one of my best friends for a long time before the tragedy,” gray says. “Some of the crew that was in the plane crash still comes to hang out, [former Lynyrd Skynyrd stage manager/guitar and drum tech] Craig Reed being one of them. These guys are part of my history.”
Both bands released their debut albums in 1973. As bands with similar influences and similar audiences, Gray says they often played shows together in the early days. He says their shared love of music, and the tediousness of life on the road, would help their sets evolve into spontaneous jam sessions.
“The bus took us out on the road for four years, and we would get bored at times,” Gray says. “So we would change up the music to free up that space for the next person to come in and play.”
Musical influence wasn’t the only bond between the two groups; like countless musicians before them, members from both bands would use music as an escape from other blue-collar, labor-intensive career options. Ronnie Van Zant’s father was a trucker from Florida, while Gray’s worked in a cotton mill.
“My father took me to the mill when I was 12 years old and said, ‘Do you want to do this boy, or do you want to sing and try to make you some money?’ And if that’s not the way Ronnie Van Zant thought at the time…”
Gray’s decision was life-changing, and now, after more than four decades of touring with Marshall Tucker Band, it’s clear that Gray and company still share a youthful exuberance for performing, and a dedication to the fans that make it possible.
“Fans will give me notes or gifts after the shows, and I put them in my bunk so I can look at it before I lay down at night when we are out on tour. At the end of the year, the band will laugh and say, ‘How do you get in your bunk?’ I only clean it out once a year, after we get off the road. I’ve been doing that for 30-something years. The whole year of touring, I see little items or notes people have given me,” he says, recalling when a fan presented him with a blanket made of old Marshall Tucker Band t-shirts. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things we’ve gotten.”
“A woman came backstage with her husband the other night, and said she remembered her parents bringing her to one of our shows when she was eight years old, and we brought her onstage with us when she was a girl. She wanted to come and see the show again.”
Though the trek is billed as a farewell tour for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gray says The Marshall Tucker Band’s touring days are far from over.
“As long as I can do it, I will,” he says. “If you make great memories for people, they will always be there. They think, ‘I want that same feeling I had that same night I went to that Tucker concert.’”
Newly Added Dates For The Last Of The Street Survivors Farewell Tour
July 13: Darien, NY
July 14: Hartford, CT
July 20: Mansfield, MA
July 21, Bethel, NY
July 27: Cleveland, OH
Aug. 3: Tinley Park, IL
Aug. 4: Noblesville, IN
Aug. 10: Detroit, MI
Aug. 24: Syracuse, NY
Aug. 25: Burgettstown, PA
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