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Marshall Tucker Band chugs along

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Marshall Tucker Band (Angela Hanna Photography)

It would be understandable if, after 40 years fronting the Marshall Tucker Band, lead singer Doug Gray didn’t want to embrace today’s technology.

But this old-school rocker is surprisingly in tune with the digital age.

“I’ve seen it all,” he said recently. “When we started out, everything was on vinyl. We were there when 8-track tapes came out, then cassette tapes. We were there when MTV started; our music video for ‘Silverado’ got played a lot early on.

“We were there when compact discs came out, and now we’re still around with MP3s. How’s that for surviving?”

The key to longevity, Gray says, is adaptability. The Marshall Tucker Band has rolled with the many changes that the music industry has faced over the past four decades.

It helps that Gray, the only remaining founding member, and the group now own the masters to their back catalog. They release old and new material on their own Ramblin’ Records, distributed by Shout! Factory and Sony.

“Now we’ve come full circle,” Gray said, laughing. “We’re selling a ton of our ‘Greatest Hits’ on 180-gram vinyl. It’s selling like hot cakes, and to make it even better, we put a download card in there so you can take it with you anywhere you want to go.”

Gray sees changes in the Marshall Tucker Band’s audiences, too. Oh, the familiar faces are still there — Southern-rock fans who have followed them since the glory days of the ’70s — but they’re bringing their children and grandchildren to shows.

“We also get royalties from Pandora and Spotify, music services like that,” he said, “and young people are telling us they’ve discovered us that way. So we’re building a new audience, too.”

Gray and his band mates will have plenty of hits to draw from during their free Thunder By the Bay appearance in Sarasota on Sunday (Jan. 6) — from “Heard It In a Love Song” to “Fire On the Mountain.”

One song that Gray can’t keep off any setlist is “Can’t You See,” the band’s signature hit from its self-titled debut album. It was released twice as a single, in 1973 and again in 1977; it has been covered by several artists (from Alabama to Poison) and has surfaced in countless movies and TV commercials.

This fall, it was selected the top Southern rock song of all-time by UltimateClassicRock.com, beating out Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Green Grass & High Tides” by the Tampa-based Outlaws.

“That’s a great one written and originally sung by (the late guitarist) Toy Caldwell,” Gray said. “We didn’t have a clue it would be so popular and be such a monumental song to this day. There’s like a hundred different versions of it out there. We’ve been so blessed that the song has had such an impact on people after all these years.”

The Marshall Tucker Band plays 150 to 200 shows a year. After Thunder By the Bay, the Spartanburg, S.C.-based band will perform on the Rock Legends Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale (Jan. 10-14).

After 40 years of recording and endless touring, what keeps Gray going?

“People are still turning out to see us. How can you complain? They want us,” he said. “I could have retired years ago, but this is what I do. I enjoy it so much, and I’ve been able to see the world and then some.

“I would be the world’s biggest grouch if I had to give this up.”

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THUNDER BY THE BAY
Downtown Festival, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Live entertainment on two stages, vendors, demos, food. Marshall Tucker Band hits the stage at 4:30 p.m. Free. Lower Main St., Sarasota.
Last modified: January 14, 2013
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