Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Marshall Tucker's Debut"

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Friday, October 4, 2013
70s
The Marshall Tucker Band
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Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Marshall Tucker's Debut"

I know, I know, they reinvented themselves as a country act, but it all began with the incredible first two tracks on the band's debut.

They were on Capricorn, need we know more?

Yes, back when the Allman Brothers were the most credible band in the land, the thinking man's Grateful Dead, before they broke through to the mainstream in the fall of '73 with "Ramblin' Man," if it was on Phil Walden's label, we paid attention. We didn't need to hear a song on the radio, the label was enough.

And if you dropped the needle on Marshall Tucker's debut, you were wowed.

Today, bands sequence albums so they flow, so they build up to the best and there's a denouement thereafter, even though only the most diehard fans even play the whole thing, but back when vinyl records were not even forty minutes long acts knew they had to hit us with their best shot, right up front.

There was an explosion of guitars, even a flute, and the band settled into the groove of "Take The Highway." All of which was a set-up for the languid follow-up, the killer track, Marshall Tucker's piece-de-resistance, the six minute long "Can't You See."

A flute? A six minute track?

Yes, this was back in the seventies, when if you weren't testing limits, you got no attention, when there was Top Forty radio, but it was an afterthought, a place where those truly clueless discovered six months or a year later what everybody clued-in, going to shows multiple times a month, already knew.

Oftentimes acts can be made by one extended cut, ergo Lynyrd Skynyrd with "Free Bird," it doesn't have to be a single, it only has to be great, and "Can't You See" is fantastic.

It starts out quiet. And then there's that damn flute once again. It's like the act has taken you out to a meadow, where there are no distractions, so they can expose you, make you focus on greatness.

And the greatness truly begins when the guitar starts to play thirty seconds into the song. Somehow, people have come to believe it's about how fast you can play, when it's really about tone, and soul.

And then Toy Caldwell, the key songwriter, the band's genius, starts to sing.

"Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, lord
I don't care where it goes"

Ain't that the seventies, when there wasn't a red-blooded American who didn't fantasize about sticking out his thumb and seeing this great country of ours. Maybe it was "Easy Rider," maybe it was the excitement of the west coast, but we all wanted to go out and see it.

Not that this is exactly what "Can't You See" is about. It's really about desperation, being left. Still, it's reflective, back when all the great music wasn't in-your-face, telling you how much better the singer is than the listener.

And then there's some chicken-pickin', and a subtle piano, it's like it's Sunday afternoon and no one has to show off, they're just in the groove, enjoying playing music.

And despite so much air in the track, there's so much going on, very subtly, between the piano, the guitar and the vocal, your head is swirling like the crazy cups at Disneyland.

And then comes the solo, where the guitar notes are being squeezed out, like he truly means it.

And then the whole number breaks down and then reconstitutes, walks off the stage, it's like the band's going on down the road and you can't help but follow them.

"Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, lord
And I'm never comin' back"

That's what music does best, take us away. And there's no specific element of "Can't You See" that puts it over the top, it's the way it all hangs together, the way the band is locked into the groove, the way it makes us feel that makes it so great.

And even though "Take The Highway" is the opener, you get into "Can't You See" first, and then discover how great "Take The Highway" is, with its couplet:

"And the time has finally come For me to pack my bags and walk away"

That's how it truly was, before cell phones and Facebook, when you were gone it was like the other person didn't even exist. You had to go back to your hometown, where you might or might not run into them or hear some gossip. You could hit the road and reinvent yourself.

We were all reinventing ourselves in the seventies. And our guide was the music.

"Take The Highway" breaks down in the middle like a jazz number, and then comes back together, batting you over the head with its excellence. And the rest of the debut is not this great, better than serviceable, but we were all eager to hear what came next. Which after two more albums in a similar mold, but not as good and not as successful, turned out to be more country, with eventual radio hits like "Fire On The Mountain" and "Heard It In A Love Song," but really it was all about the debut.

Then Tommy Caldwell died. Then the heart of the group, Toy Caldwell, but there's still a band on the road milking the story, because the attendees cannot forget, the joy of "Take The Highway," with its improvisation and dynamics and "Can't You See," which captured the cultural zeitgeist and delivered a unique, satisfying listening experience all at the same time. I know, I know, they reinvented themselves as a country act, but it all began with the incredible first two tracks on the band's debut.

They were on Capricorn, need we know more?

Yes, back when the Allman Brothers were the most credible band in the land, the thinking man's Grateful Dead, before they broke through to the mainstream in the fall of '73 with "Ramblin' Man," if it was on Phil Walden's label, we paid attention. We didn't need to hear a song on the radio, the label was enough.

And if you dropped the needle on Marshall Tucker's debut, you were wowed.

Today, bands sequence albums so they flow, so they build up to the best and there's a denouement thereafter, even though only the most diehard fans even play the whole thing, but back when vinyl records were not even forty minutes long acts knew they had to hit us with their best shot, right up front.

There was an explosion of guitars, even a flute, and the band settled into the groove of "Take The Highway." All of which was a set-up for the languid follow-up, the killer track, Marshall Tucker's piece-de-resistance, the six minute long "Can't You See."

A flute? A six minute track?

Yes, this was back in the seventies, when if you weren't testing limits, you got no attention, when there was Top Forty radio, but it was an afterthought, a place where those truly clueless discovered six months or a year later what everybody clued-in, going to shows multiple times a month, already knew.

Oftentimes acts can be made by one extended cut, ergo Lynyrd Skynyrd with "Free Bird," it doesn't have to be a single, it only has to be great, and "Can't You See" is fantastic.

It starts out quiet. And then there's that damn flute once again. It's like the act has taken you out to a meadow, where there are no distractions, so they can expose you, make you focus on greatness.

And the greatness truly begins when the guitar starts to play thirty seconds into the song. Somehow, people have come to believe it's about how fast you can play, when it's really about tone, and soul.

And then Toy Caldwell, the key songwriter, the band's genius, starts to sing.

"Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, lord
I don't care where it goes"

Ain't that the seventies, when there wasn't a red-blooded American who didn't fantasize about sticking out his thumb and seeing this great country of ours. Maybe it was "Easy Rider," maybe it was the excitement of the west coast, but we all wanted to go out and see it.

Not that this is exactly what "Can't You See" is about. It's really about desperation, being left. Still, it's reflective, back when all the great music wasn't in-your-face, telling you how much better the singer is than the listener.

And then there's some chicken-pickin', and a subtle piano, it's like it's Sunday afternoon and no one has to show off, they're just in the groove, enjoying playing music.

And despite so much air in the track, there's so much going on, very subtly, between the piano, the guitar and the vocal, your head is swirling like the crazy cups at Disneyland.

And then comes the solo, where the guitar notes are being squeezed out, like he truly means it.

And then the whole number breaks down and then reconstitutes, walks off the stage, it's like the band's going on down the road and you can't help but follow them.

"Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, lord
And I'm never comin' back"

That's what music does best, take us away. And there's no specific element of "Can't You See" that puts it over the top, it's the way it all hangs together, the way the band is locked into the groove, the way it makes us feel that makes it so great.

And even though "Take The Highway" is the opener, you get into "Can't You See" first, and then discover how great "Take The Highway" is, with its couplet:

"And the time has finally come
For me to pack my bags and walk away"

That's how it truly was, before cell phones and Facebook, when you were gone it was like the other person didn't even exist. You had to go back to your hometown, where you might or might not run into them or hear some gossip. You could hit the road and reinvent yourself.

We were all reinventing ourselves in the seventies. And our guide was the music.

"Take The Highway" breaks down in the middle like a jazz number, and then comes back together, batting you over the head with its excellence. And the rest of the debut is not this great, better than serviceable, but we were all eager to hear what came next. Which after two more albums in a similar mold, but not as good and not as successful, turned out to be more country, with eventual radio hits like "Fire On The Mountain" and "Heard It In A Love Song," but really it was all about the debut.

Then Tommy Caldwell died. Then the heart of the group, Toy Caldwell, but there's still a band on the road milking the story, because the attendees cannot forget, the joy of "Take The Highway," with its improvisation and dynamics and "Can't You See," which captured the cultural zeitgeist and delivered a unique, satisfying listening experience all at the same time.