50 Years Ago: How Marshall Tucker Band’s ‘Can’t You See’ Grew Into a Phenomenon
"Can't You See" didn't have the look of a career-defining song for the Marshall Tucker Band. Initially released in 1973, the song could get no further than No. 108 on the Billboard chart.
Their move into original material seemed to have stalled before it ever began. "'Can't You See' certainly wasn't the first one that introduced us to the public," co-founding singer Doug Gray later told The Morning Call. "It was songs like 'Knock on Wood' by Eddie Floyd. It was all copy stuff."
The Marshall Tucker Band grew out of guitarist Toy Caldwell's Spartanburg, S.C.-based group Toy Cabinet, which also included Caldwell's bass-playing younger brother Tommy, multi-instrumentalist Jerry Eubanks and second guitarist George McCorkle. Toy said the goal was to play their self-written songs.
"When we formed this band," Caldwell told a Jacksonville, Fla., newspaper in 1976, "we said, 'Man, let's quit doing all this copy music and try to be a little more original. Let's play what we want to play.'"
What emerged was a genre-bending template embodied by Toy Caldwell's pleading, midnight-dark "Can't You See," as the group's debut single was introduced and closed with a dancing turn on flute by Eubanks.
"We did it without knowing there was any difference between country, rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues or jazz," Gray told the Salem News in 2022. "We put all of those together without knowing what the heck we were doing. We even got invited to jazz festivals."
Listen to the Marshall Tucker Band's 'Can't You See'
Perhaps it was simply too distinctive for the moment. "Can't You See" found a wider audience only when it was smoothed out in a cover by Waylon Jennings a couple of years later. His update reached the Billboard country chart's Top 5 in 1976, prompting a re-release of the original. Once again, the Marshall Tucker Band single somehow crept up to only No. 75 on the Hot 100 in 1977.
They'd kept going, notching the group's first Top 40 hit with 1975's "Fire on the Mountain." Then "Heard It in a Love Song" shot into the Top 15 in 1977. That helped Carolina Dreams become the Marshall Tucker Band's first platinum-certified album, after four consecutive half-million-sellers from earlier in the '70s.
The group seemed poised to finally make good on the promise of "Can't You See," before suffering a pair of huge setbacks. Their longtime label went bankrupt and then Tommy Caldwell died in an auto accident. The Marshall Tucker Band struggled along, but with rapidly diminishing success.
Toy Caldwell would die of a drug overdose in 1993, and Eubanks retired in 1996; McCorkle lost a battle with cancer in 2007. That left Gray to watch as "Can't You See" finally found a bittersweet new life. "It's difficult every day," he told the Fayetteville Observer in 2018. "It really is."
In the years that followed Jennings' hit re-interpretation, "Can't You See" became an enduring phenomenon. He'd opened the door for a new generation of country acts, but rock bands also tried their hand at it – and so have a slew of singing-show contestants.
Listen to the Zac Brown Band's Cover of 'Can't You See'
Notable covers have included Gov't Mule, Zac Brown Band, Blackberry Smoke, American Idol winner Laine Hardy, Umphrey's McGee, Kitty Wells, Black Stone Cherry, Hank Williams Jr. and The Voice runner-up Chris Kroeze, among many others.
"In country music today, I hear a lot of Marshall Tucker influences," Eubanks told the Spartanburg Herald Journal in 2005. "A lot of their so-called new country or whatever they want to call it sounds a lot like the songs we were playing back then. I think we were ahead of our time in the blend of country, rock 'n' roll, blues and jazz."
Each update seemed to lead new fans back to the original. "Can't You See" has been the Marshall Tucker Band's most-streamed song – by a very wide margin – since the advent of both YouTube and then Spotify.
"We didn't have a clue it would be so popular and be such a monumental song to this day," Gray told the Herald-Tribune in 2013. "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."
He continued playing months of shows each year alongside a rebuilt lineup, with "Can't You See" as an unquestioned highpoint of every Marshall Tucker Band set. "I don't even sing the first verse anymore," Gray admitted to the Fayetteville Observer. "I let the audience do it."