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Marshall Tucker Band’s Doug Gray Reflects on his Decades Long Friendship with Charlie Daniels

The two Southern rockers have been friends since the 1970s.

Marshall Tucker Band’s Doug Gray Reflects on his Decades Long Friendship with Charlie Daniels
Marshall Tucker Band's Doug Gray and Charlie Daniels; Photo courtesy of Absolute Publicity

On July 6, the world lost one of its greatest entertainers with the passing of Charlie Daniels, but the news hit Doug Gray especially hard because he lost one of his dearest friends. Gray, lead singer for Southern rock’s legendary Marshall Tucker Band, met Daniels in Nashville in the ’70s and the two formed a close friendship based in their love of music and shared experiences on the road.

“In our hearts, it will never be real,” Gray says of Daniels’ passing. “I was downstairs at my beach house when I heard. I was unrolling the water hose just to rinse the car off or something like that. Somebody called me who used to be a driver for Charlie. It was about 9 o’clock in the morning. It was terrible. Luckily my girlfriend was there so she made me sit there for quite a long time and I just bawled like a baby. It will never be the same. It won’t. We’ve lost a second daddy. We’ve lost a real human being.”

Gray knows his dear friend is in heaven, but will miss their conversations and Daniels’ sense of humor. “I loved Charlie. He and I saw eye to eye on things,” Gray tells Sounds Like Nashville during a phone call from his home in Myrtle Beach, SC.

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Nashville, Tenn. (July 6, 2020) — Country music and southern rock legend Charlie Daniels has passed. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member died this morning at Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, Tennessee. Doctors determined the cause of death was a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83. Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days. About Charlie Daniels From his Dove Award-winning gospel albums to his genre-defining southern rock anthems and his CMA Award-winning country hits, few artists have left a more indelible mark on America's musical landscape than Charlie Daniels. An outspoken patriot, beloved mentor, and a true road warrior, Daniels parlayed his passion for music into a multi-platinum career and a platform to support the military, underprivileged children, and others in need. The Charlie Daniels Band has long populated radio with memorable hits and his signature song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Over the course of his career, Daniels received numerous accolades, including his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Daniels helped to shine the spotlight on the many causes that are close to his heart. He was a staunch supporter of the military and gave his time and talent to numerous charitable organizations, including The Journey Home Project, that he founded in 2014 with his manager, David Corlew, to help veterans of the United States Armed Forces. For more information, visit charliedaniels.com. – TeamCDB/BW #rip #ripcharlie #ripcharliedaniels #letsallmakethedaycount #cdb #charliedaniels #charliedanielsband #thecharliedanielsband #fiddle #opry #grandoleopry #country #countrymusic #countrymusichalloffame #classiccountry #classicrock #southernrock

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“Charlie would laugh and he’d say, ‘Why do you get so dark?’” Grays says of Charlie teasing him about his deep suntan. “I’d say, ‘I’d do an interview in the morning facing the ocean, facing the East Coast, and I’m sitting out here with just my damn shorts on. Ain’t nobody going to look up at me anyway.’ We’d cut up and he’d laugh. Just the simple stuff would make us smile.”

Daniels and Gray met in Nashville in the early ’70s and became fast friends. “The first time we met was at War Memorial Auditorium. We met him backstage and not only did we see a big man, we saw somebody with a whole lot of authority once he took stage,” Gray recalls.

Gray says he also learned about Charlie’s appreciation for the military. “I was standing backstage with Charlie and [Marshall Tucker’s] Toy [Caldwell]. He knew Toy been a Marine and he said, ‘I’ve got so much respect for you guys to go out there and do that,’” shares Gray, who had served in Vietnam. “He wanted to know the old stories from Vietnam. Charlie wanted to know them all. He wanted to understand. He wanted to know the feeling. He was an American first and foremost. He was such a patriot.”

Back in those days, there were no cell phones and Gray says for musicians who toured as much as the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band, some of their best bonding time came from meeting up for meals on the road. “We’d be passing in the night or passing during the day in those small truck stops, so we got time to talk over a lot of meals and as you can tell me and Charlie are fairly good size people,” Gray says with a laugh, admitting they both loved a good meal. They’d talk about their families and their childhoods. “I was out selling newspapers from 5 a.m. till 10 a.m. when I was a kid. My daddy wouldn’t let me sit still, so me and Charlie would talk about those kinds of times and then we’d sit there and talk about touring.”

Daniels and Gray shared a lot of interesting times on the road and Gray says one of the funniest was when they thought they’d lost Daniels’ keyboard player William Joel “Taz” DiGregorio. “We always had to go find Taz,” Gray laughs, remembering their friend who passed in a car accident in 2011. “A long time ago we were all traveling together and nobody could find Taz. It was snowing and we had to get help to push our buses out of the snow so we could get started going down the road. We’d been sitting there for two hours waiting on Taz and I said, ‘Well if he ain’t in the hotel, he didn’t go very far unless he went with somebody,’ and he didn’t. So we started reaching around in there and I found Taz back in one of the top luggage bins asleep. He’d been in there for two hours. Me and Charlie looked at each other and just shook our heads. Taz was the sweetest man.”

Gray says three or four weeks before Daniels passed, he had called to discuss a tour he was planning that would team the Charlie Daniels Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. “While we’re talking and he said, ‘How are we going to do this next thing? What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Charlie, let’s go out there and play them music that will blow their socks off and show them what a bunch of old rednecks can do,” Gray recalls with a laugh. “Everybody was in love with the idea of all of us touring together. We had 40 something dates lined up. This was supposed to be this month and a lot of them because of COVID were moved to next year. . . We talked about it and he said, ‘Let’s do something different, get up there and just play together.’ Charlie played on our first five albums and a lot of people weren’t ever aware of that.”

Gray says he always enjoyed seeing Daniels perform, and he mentioned the comment at Daniels’ funeral when one of his friends talked about Charlie’s stance on stage. “Once that stride starts, that’s when Charlie opens his legs up wider, plants his feet like he’s digging in,” Gray says. “It don’t get no better than that because he’s proving to himself that he is that person that he wants to be and he can be strong for everybody else.”

Gray was among the mourners who attended Daniels’ funeral and comforted his family. “I walked in and I saw little Charlie, that’s what we call him,” Gray says of Daniels’ son Charlie Jr. “Miss Hazel was sitting there. She started to stand up and we just hugged. She told me that Charlie loved me because I sang from the heart, and I felt, at that point in time, I knew if I didn’t get away from her I would bring her deeper into that hole of sorrow.”

Gray is so grateful to Daniels for his friendship and his encouragement over the years. “‘Go on boy! You’ve got this.’ I’ve heard that a thousand times,” he says of Daniels urging him on. Daniels’ praise meant a lot to Gray because of his deep respect for the veteran performer. “I still call him the best Southern rock and roll singer there ever was. His songs meant something. He could tell you a story through them that led to his heart and that’s what I always loved about him.”

With Daniels’ death, some are worried about the future of Southern rock music, but Gray isn’t. “Certainly it won’t go away. There are a lot of young boys out there playing good southern rock,” he says citing Blackberry Smoke and Zac Brown Band as some of his favorites. “We’ve got other groups out there that are just as good, if not better than ours that can carry this thing on. When you carry it together you make it stronger.”

When asked what he thinks people will remember most about Daniels, Gray responds, “His Godliness. His belief in God is what carried him and made him who he was and of course, Hazel.”

Gray says Daniels’ kindness will never be forgotten. “Everything that Charlie did was not to make him feel better. It was to make everyone else feel better,” he sighs. “He will be in my head and my heart always.”