That Time the Marshall Tucker Band Played a Benefit Show for Jimmy Carter
If southern rock and Democratic ideals seem like strange bedfellows, that didn't stop some of the genre's most visible acts from playing benefit shows to support the campaign of then-presidential hopeful and Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1975 and 1976. The first of these campaign fundraisers took place at Atlanta's Fox Theater on Oct. 31, 1975. The Marshall Tucker Band headlined that night, but as frontman Doug Gray explained to Ultimate Classic Rock, the band participated mainly just to be good sports.
As it turns out, the late Phil Walden, co-founder and president of Capricorn Records, the band's label at the time, threw his weight (and money) behind Carter's campaign. Based in Macon, Ga., Capricorn was also then home to the Allman Brothers Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, Elvin Bishop, the Dixie Dregs, and a host of others, several of whom played at least one of the shows that Walden organized.
"Phil Walden and [Capricorn CEO] Frank Fenter wanted to help raise money for their Georgia-peach candidate," Gray explained. "They asked us if we would be so kind as to play the show, and of course we did. We didn't think much of it. We just figured, 'Hey, bands play shows for different people.'"
For Gray, playing the shows was a matter of the band showing pragmatism and being team players to cooperating with the team behind them.
"To me," he says, "it was just another show to help show support to the people that I was working with at the time."
Growing up in Macon, Walden was referred to growing up as "that little white boy who loves black music." By the time he founded Capricorn with his brother Alan and Fenter, Walden had managed soul icons like Otis Redding, Al Green, and Sam & Dave. He told Rolling Stone in 1975 that Carter was "the type of candidate the music industry can identify with." Two decades later, Bill Clinton would pick up where Walden and Carter left off by strategically maintaining a high profile with the MTV generation.
Gray, meanwhile, is looking for other traits in a president.
"I'm a Republican," he chuckles. "These days, I go on FOX & Friends and FOX Business Network. And I was out the last four days of this past election with Governor Mitt Romney. We were out doing shows and speaking. As it turns out, we lost, but it doesn't matter. I gave it my all. But Jimmy Carter was very much a gentleman. He came over and shook everybody's hand, we all took pictures together, and we had a great time."
Aside from the Fox Theater show, the Marshall Tucker Band also appeared twice the following year at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The first of the two Gator Bowl concerts, which Gray remembers as "an incredible show," was dubbed the Sunshine Jam, a bill that featured the Marshall Tucker Band alongside heavy hitters the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, and the Outlaws. Gray fondly cites the Sunshine Jam as the genesis of the band's touring relationship with the Allmans.
The Marshall Tucker Band also played Carter's Inauguration in 1977. "It was monumental," Gray recalls before waxing philosophical: "Everything that you do and everybody that you shake hands with changes your life, whether it's the local mayor or the guy that's in charge of the fire department. It makes me a stronger person to know that that person cared enough to shake my hand. Those memories will live on forever."
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