Carolina Dreams, released in 1977, was The Marshall Tucker Band’s sixth album and an ode to the band’s home state, South Carolina, USA. Focusing on Western themes, it spawned their biggest hit to date, “Heard It In a Love Song”, which rose to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, taking the album with it to #22 and #23 on the Country and Pop charts, respectively. They toured early that year to promote the album. A bonus live version of “Silverado” appears on the 2005 reissue which was recorded the year after the death of bassist and founding member, Tommy Caldwell. (by wikipedia)
The Carolina landscape seems to lend itself to dreaming; it’s no wonder that James Taylor wrote in one of his most famous songs that “I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.” This two-state region, with its rich and fertile soil, its mild year-round climate, its courteous people and rich culture, is a singularly lovely place in which to sit back and dream. For that reason, it seems appropriate that the Marshall Tucker Band gave their fine 1977 album the evocative title of “Carolina Dreams.”
The Marshall Tucker Band came out of Spartanburg, South Carolina – a center (with nearby Greenville) of the Upstate region, and a city with a mill-town heritage that, by 1977, was already in decline. Spartanburg and its environs are worlds away from the coastal gentility of Charleston; Pat Conroy, in one of his books, described “the upcountry of South Carolina” as a place that combines “the Bible Belt, sand-lot baseball, knife fights under the bleachers.”
But it was also a place where the musical heritage of the American South – including both African-American blues and Anglo-Appalachian country music – had long helped the people of the region through lives of hard work and hard times; and the Marshall Tucker Band’s work on this album is steeped in a sensibility that combines blues and country in a musically fruitful manner.
The album begins with “Fly Like an Eagle” — *not* the Steve Miller Band hit from 1976, but rather, for my money, a much better song. It is a crunchy, bluesy, riff-based rocker with high clear vocals from Doug Gray, and a soaring quality that characterizes many of the songs on this album. The song that follows, “Heard It in a Love Song,” was deservedly a big hit (#14 here in the U.S.A., #5 in Canada), and to this day it makes its way onto just about every Southern rock compilation that one can find. What gives this song that lyrical quality that sent it racing up the North American charts? To my way of thinking, it’s Jerry Eubanks’s flute solo. With a few exceptions (Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues, Peter Gabriel in Genesis’ early years), the flute has not had much of a presence in rock music; but here, Eubanks’s flute combines seamlessly with flat-picking, Carl Perkins-style guitar, a lovely piano solo, and effective use of organ in a supporting role. The lyrics are fairly typical – a rambling, roaming rocker really loves the girl he’s with, but tells her he needs to move on – but musically, the song is so well-composed and so well-played that I’m not disposed to quibble.
“I Should Have Never Started Lovin’ You” is slow-paced and bluesy; it unfolds slowly, gently, with effective use of the saxophone. The Toy Caldwell guitar solo in the middle is fairly long, but it complements the song well; in contrast with a lot of songs from the 1970’s heyday of Southern rock, the guitar solo doesn’t overwhelm the song. “Life in a Song” is funky and fast-paced; a kinetic guitar plays the dominant role here, while Hammond organ and a Muscle Shoals-style brass section provide fine support. “Desert Skies,” another slow and bluesy number, achieves something different by deploying guest star Charlie Daniels’s fiddle to establish a wistful, country-and-Western quality, in a manner that looks back to the earlier MTB album “Searchin’ for a Rainbow” (1975).
“Never Trust a Stranger,” with lap steel guitar and walking bass backing up a chunka-chunka guitar sound, keeps that Western sound going, as further emphasized by the song’s “outlaw” lyrics; but this song, with its minor-key delivery, has more of a foreboding quality, and once again Eubanks’s flute playing shines. The country influence is comparably important on the slow-paced, mellow “Tell It to the Devil”; but what stands out on this song is the piano, which switches back and forth seamlessly between barrel-house and gospel sounds. The harmonies, as throughout this album, are strong, and flute and acoustic guitar develop some lead melodies together very nicely. And, as a CD extra, this album offers a live version of “Silverado,” recorded in 1981 at the Winter Garden Theater in Dallas; it’s a fast-paced, riff-based number, heavy on the snare drum, with strong Hammond organ fills; if the guitar solo seems somewhat disorganized, hey, that’s live rock-and-roll!
Today, Spartanburg is probably best known for three things. It is home to a large BMW factory; its Wofford College is the training-camp home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (whose panther-head logo cleverly incorporates an outline of the states of North and South Carolina); and it gave the Marshall Tucker Band to the world. The “Carolina Dreams” album, the only MTB studio album to go platinum, shows this classic Southern rock band at their best. (Paul Haspel)
Tommy Caldwell (bass, background vocals)
Toy Caldwell (lead guitar, steel guitar)
Doug Gray (vocals)
Jerry Eubanks (flute, saxophone, background vocals)
George McCorkle (guitar)
Paul Riddle (drums)
Charlie Daniels (fiddle, background vocals on 05.)
Paul Hornsby (keyboards)
Chuck Leavell (piano on 04.)
Leo LaBranche – Horn section arrangements and trumpet on “Life In A Song” and “I Should Have Never Started Lovin’ You”
Dezso Lakatos – Tenor sax as part of the horn section.
01. Fly Like an Eagle (Toy Caldwell) 3.05
02. Heard It in a Love Song (Toy Caldwell) – 4:55
03. I Should Have Never Started Lovin’ You (Toy Caldwell/Gray/McCorkle) 6.50
04. Life In A Song (Eubanks/McCorkle) 3.23
05. Desert Skies (Toy Caldwell) 6.23
06. Never Trust A Stranger” (Tommy Caldwell) 5.14
07. Tell It To The Devil (Toy Caldwell) 6.27
Still on the road: