Toy Caldwell was the core force behind The Marshall Tucker Band, one of the southern rock movement’s defining acts who came up with their name after finding a piano tuner’s old key ring in one of their early rehearsal spaces. With Toy’s impressive guitar skills (he had a unique playing style – preferring to play lead with his thumb instead of a pick), and utilizing instrumental trends like flute work, the South Carolina-born-and-bred group created a whole new sound countless listeners couldn’t get enough of.
From cowboy songs to love songs, Caldwell had killer writing range. The band wasn’t afraid to experiment with their sound either, balancing traditional roots and innovative production.
From their signature hit ‘Can’t You See’ to their more obscure tracks like ‘Ab’s Song,’ we break down the best Marshall Tucker Band songs below.
To round out this list of the best Marshall Tucker Band songs, we’ve added this special, sometimes forgotten gem to the mix. ‘Ramblin” contains all the Marshall Tucker Band elements you know and love with countryfied electric guitar and relatable lyrics about lost love and life spent on the open road. But no other song exemplifies the band’s tightness more than this track. Whether it’s their use of stop-time techniques, engaging the listener by temporarily suspending their ear over open, silent space, or their effortlessly accentuated solo notes, the tune is a must-add to any southern rock playlist. To prove their production prowess even more, the band added a highly effective horn section to back their fun rhythm. This song will have you wanting to hitch a ride to the nearest saloon in no time.
9. Hillbilly Band
“Ain’t nothin’ in this world I’d rather do, then to guitar pick them country blues.” Founding member Toy Caldwell’s guitar chops are on full display in ‘Hillbilly Band,’ a powerhouse track from their self-titled debut album. In an interview, country icon Charlie Daniels once said in regards to performing with Marshall Tucker Band, “[They] came onstage and just blew it out from start to finish.” Listeners can see why Daniels was so complimentary when they play this spirited effort. Though its lyrics focus on the unique way country music livens every party, dynamic guitar solos alongside complimentary fiddle work give the tune a distinct rock feel. It wasn’t ever a top ten single, but it sure plays like one, and that’s why it comes in on our list at number 9.
8. Desert Skies
“Well I’m ridin’ along, singin’ the same ol’ cowboy song that’s been sung a hundred times before.” By the time they released their album Carolina Dreams, their penchant for writing cowboy songs proved to be fruitful, and their place in southern rock history was already solidified in part because of this successful songwriting formula. Caldwell was at his songwriting peak, writing one lonesome yet hopeful track after another. ‘Desert Skies’ digs into their “sound” and tells yet another riveting tale of a traveling wrangler and his stallion making their way through unforgiving territory, ruminating on life’s wins and losses during the journey’s quiet moments. “Seventh” chords popular in country music, or 3-note chords with an extra “note on top,” give this track coming in at number 8 on our list a particularly laidback, western vibe.
7. Searchin’ for a Rainbow
The title track to their fourth studio album, ‘Searchin’ for a Rainbow’ is a classic country song, complete with pedal steel and fiddle sawed by the one and only Charlie Daniels. Full of the same yearning tone as ‘Can’t You See’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain,’ this single tackles man’s mortality and the struggle between carrying on amid trying times and one’s desperate need for rest. While the band’s earlier hits were rock heavy, this single once again proves the group’s artistic scope, showing they can release a country tune that will tug at your heartstrings just as easily as they can release a southern rock anthem.
6. Take the Highway
Similar to the theme found in fellow southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird,’ Marshall Tucker Band’s ‘Take the Highway’ tells the story of a lone wolf type who can’t be tied down to one woman. The group once again makes good use of open-road imagery, with the highway signifying the main character’s need to roam unencumbered. ‘Take the Highway’ served as the first track off their debut album, so its introduction feels appropriately wide-open and expansive, with several different instruments including electric guitars and flute panning the speakers. Contemporary southern rock group Blackberry Smoke covered this classic on their Live from Capricorn Studios album.
5. This Ol’ Cowboy
‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ songwriter and violin scorcher Charlie Daniels joined the band for ‘This Ol’ Cowboy,’ a lesser-known track, but a unique effort that shows the group’s range. Hints of jazz-fusion are present, especially when the listener zeroes in on the shuffling drum beat, and Jerry Eubank’s flute skills once again give the song an airy feel despite lyrics focusing on a series of failed relationships for a seasoned cowboy who’s been “around the block” a few times, if you get my drift. In true jazzy fashion, each musician takes a solo in ‘This Ol’ Cowboy,’ making it a jam-style song musicians who are also fans of the band love to dissect and discuss still to this day. It wasn’t a big hit, but it’s still considered to be a Marshall Tucker Band classic, and charts halfway through our list at number 5.
4. Ab’s Song
A gentle declaration of love, Caldwell wrote ‘Ab’s Song’ for his wife Abbie and included it as the last track on their debut album in ’73. Though it’s a short number, clocking in at just over a minute, the lyrics were written with such precision the listener immediately knows the effort is coming from a very real place. Caldwell once again makes use of otherwise gothic lyrics, coloring them with an uplifting hue by making natural elements of the earth, like the sun and grass, central parts of the lyrics: “If I die at 23, won’t you bury me in the sunshine?” As the songwriter laments on the years that go by, he reassures his wife in the song, “My love for you will always grow.” ‘Ab’s Song’ is a marginal track for the band. It’s short timestamp and stripped down fingerpicking production make it more folk than southern rock, and during their heyday in the mid.-’70s, audiences were definitely clamoring more for the latter. However, once fans do discover this gem, they put it on repeat, which is why it clocks in at number 4 on our countdown.
3. Heard It in a Love Song
Though Marshall Tucker Band’s main genre was southern rock, they included elements of the blues, classic rock, and country in their music, laying claim to a fresh sound listeners gravitated towards. With their country and blues influences, many of their tracks often featured darker stories that highlighted hardships and heartbreak, like the ones found with ‘Can’t You See’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain.’ However, with their hit ‘Heard it in a Love Song,’ they lighten things up a bit. Flutist Jerry Eubanks provides feel-good solos and fills throughout the song featuring a classic cowboy character who’s wrestling with something a lot tougher than cattle, love. Despite the crossroads the song’s protagonist has come to, dancing piano and cleancut chorus harmonies keep the song light, giving listeners every opportunity to tap their feet and sway along to the rhythm. While it’s not their most recognizable release, ‘Heard it in a Love Song’ was one of several hits for the southern group, and comes in on our list at number 3.
2. Fire on the Mountain
History is brought to life with this popular Marshall Tucker Band single. Hailing from South Carolina themselves, the bandmates take listeners on an adventure featuring a family leaving their “Carolina home” and traveling west to California. The narrative song takes place in America’s gold rush days, an exciting and dangerous time for those who made the journey to the nation’s unbridled western territories in hopes of striking it rich while prospecting and mining for gold. While Doug Gray’s vibrato-laden vocals float above instrumentation, core band member Toy Caldwell trades in his electric and takes a seat in front a pedal steel, providing atmospheric and, at times, eerie fills as the song’s heartbreaking story unfolds.
1. Can’t You See
Written by founding member and lead guitarist Toy Caldwell, ‘Can’t You See’ was Marshall Tucker Band’s debut single but it would go on to be their biggest hit. Though Doug Gray often held down vocals for the group, Caldwell stepped up to the mic for this one, his gravelly, pained performance etched into the memories of southern rock fans everywhere. Not only does ‘Can’t You See’ open and close with a signature flute solo, Jethro Tull’s flutist talents sparking a mid.- ’70s trend, but Caldwell’s soaring, open-road-feeling guitar work steals the show as well. Many critics have considered the single to be the best song Caldwell ever wrote, and it rightfully takes the top spot on our list of the best Marshall Tucker Band songs.