It’s happening. Classic rock is the new delta blues. Its songs, its performers, never really went away. It’s just a matter of amplifying the music, waiting for youngsters to discover it and twist and turn and create something new with it, as they do on YouTube and TikTok. It’s hard. You’ve not only got to appreciate the music, you’ve got to know how to play it. Some are learning at the School of Rock. Others are practicing in the basement. Not everybody is straining for instant fame online, posting videos in an attempt to be known and get rich.
Capricorn Records was noteworthy from its inception, but it wasn’t noticed by most Americans until 1971, when the Allman Brothers’ “At Fillmore East” was released at the end of the summer. The first Allman Brothers album actually came out in ’69, but at this late date too many people still haven’t heard it, it’s the blueprint, with the original studio take of “Whipping Post,” never mind “Dreams” and “Trouble No More,” employing that overused rock critic word, arguably it’s the band’s best. But “Idlewild South,” the band’s follow-up, released in 1970, started to make inroads. The shift from Adrian Barber made all the difference, Tom Dowd’s production made the music more immediate, yet it still wasn’t in-your-face, those not having seen the band live would have to wait for “Fillmore East” to experience the band’s essence, its greatness. That was the Allmans’ calling card, the music, and just the music. No dancing, no theatrics… And unlike their contemporaries the Grateful Dead, the Allmans improvised, but they were anything but loose, the band was rehearsed to the tightness of a steel drum, which is why when you saw them live you were blown away, you couldn’t believe these ragamuffins from Florida could do this, seemingly effortlessly, yet so intensely and beautifully.
And southern rock was born.
And Capricorn started releasing more records. Mostly in the same southern rock vein. Dixie Dregs. Wet Willie. And there was even the L.A.-based Captain Beyond, whose music was far from Georgia, but by this time if it was on Capricorn you paid attention, not quite like you did with Asylum, but the label made a difference, it just wasn’t a compendium of albums, it stood for something, the personal taste of Phil Walden.
At this late date, when someone thinks of southern rock, the two names that come to mind are the Allmans, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But Skynyrd’s debut didn’t come out until August of ’73, it took a while for “Free Bird” to fly, while the Allmans were starting to fray.
And eventually other labels got in on the act, like Epic, with Molly Hatchet, but that Florida band’s debut didn’t come out until 1978. Yes, it took that long for the rest of the industry to catch up with Walden. Maybe because they were in the north, on the coast, whereas Capricorn was in Georgia, the south, not far from Muscle Shoals and Nashville and…Walden had his ear to the ground when most executives weren’t even listening.
The Marshall Tucker Band came from just a little bit north, South Carolina, and their Capricorn debut didn’t come out until April 1973, when despite the denigration of historians, rock music was burgeoning, this was the year of “Houses of the Holy,” never mind “Dark Side of the Moon,” rock radio dominated, AM was irrelevant, FM playlists were crowded, so the Marshall Tucker Band was an also-ran instead of dominant.
But the act had this song, “Can’t You See.”
If you drop the needle on Marshall Tucker’s debut…
They’d learned the lesson of the Rolling Stones, reach out and grab them by the throat from the opening notes, blow them away right away. We were implored to take the highway. The band was firing on all cylinders, demonstrating its chops. There was even a flute solo, but even faster and more powerful than Ian Anderson’s in Jethro Tull, “Take the Highway” did not hit you in your head, but your gut. It was not intellectual but emotional, and there was Toy Caldwell’s exquisite guitar playing, sans the effects creeping into so much rock, “Take the Highway” rollicked along, it was impressive.
But it wasn’t legendary. That was the second song on the album, “Can’t You See.”
“Gonna take a freight train”
Sing these words, just say these words, and music denizens of the seventies will know exactly what song you’re talking about. “Can’t You See” was released as a single twice, it made almost no impact, it never hit, but if you knew it, you never forgot it.
“Gonna climb a mountain
The highest mountain
Jump off, nobody gonna know”
Pain. Isolation. Nobody is watching, nobody cares, you’re caught in your own private hell from which you feel there is no escape.
“Can’t you see, whoa, can’t you see
What that woman lord, she been doin’ to me”
I don’t think you can sing these words anymore. Oh, you can rap them, #MeToo is nowhere to be found in the hip-hop world, but outside that genre whatever you feel, you’d better think twice before you say it. Women can’t be denigrated, they can’t be the source of your depression, you can’t blame it on them, despite what you might feel inside.
“I’m gonna find me
A hole in the wall
I’m gonna crawl inside and die
‘Cause my lady now
A mean ‘ol woman lord
Never told me goodbye”
The southern tradition. Life is more important than the trappings. In the north you intellectualize, in the south you feel. It is different, even though so many have never been there. Sure, at this point there are political differences, but they’re not the only ones. Life is slower below the Mason-Dixon Line, in speech, but the content, whew! So many of the greatest novels in the country’s history were written where the weather suits your clothes, and is sometimes too hot for them.
And the lyrics of “Can’t You See” come from a long tradition, these were similar to those of the aforementioned delta bluesmen. Who made records that were ignored by most until their earthy directness was embraced by young rockers in the U.K. and a whole sound was developed which then exploded.
“I’m gonna buy a ticket now
As far as I can
Ain’t a-never comin’ back
Ride me a southbound
All the way to Georgia now
Till the train, it run out of track”
He’s got to get away. He’s got to hide his face. He’s hurt, he’s embarrassed, the woman had all the power. Sure, he characterizes her as “crazy,” but in the blues, despite the language, it was the woman who so often dominated, was in charge, the man ultimately just reacted.
And “Can’t You See” was in the southern rock tradition, as in it stretched out, it wasn’t compressed for AM radio, it was an extended statement, with movements more akin to classical music than the pop ditties on Top Forty. You could get into it, it rewarded your attention, you marinated in it, it set your mind a-thinkin’.
The Marshall Tucker Band was on the road, releasing records, but they were itinerant in the way of the delta bluesmeisters. And then the sound evolved, it became more country than rock, and the band had a hit with “Fire on the Mountain,” on their fourth album, 1975’s “Searchin’ for a Rainbow.” But really, it was two years later, on their sixth album, 1976’s “Carolina Dreams,” that the band truly broke through, that everybody knew their name, with the track “Heard It in a Love Song.”
And the band’s image changed. Cowboy hats were prevalent.
And the truth is George McCorkle wrote “Heard It in a Love Song,” but essentially all of the rest of the material was written by Toy Caldwell, although these hits were sung by Doug Gray.
But not “Can’t You See.”
Go on Spotify, the arbiter of popularity. “Fire on the Mountain” has 25,934,560 streams. “Heard It in a Love Song” has 24,221,750. “Take the Highway,” has 5,989,716, but “Can’t You See” has 125,082,944. You see, people know.
Toy Caldwell, was a wunderkind, certainly a genius in a world where that term is too often used indiscriminately. He wrote the songs, he played lead guitar, and occasionally, he sang.
But his bandmate brother died as a result of a car accident. And then Toy did too many drugs…and at this point you can see the Marshall Tucker Band live, but the only original member is Doug Gray. Kind of like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but at least Gray sings, whereas that’s not Gary Rossington’s role, although with Ronnie Van Zant he was the soul of the original band.
Yes, you know “Can’t You See” by the lyrics, but really it’s a record more than a song, it starts with some lyrical picking, and then the flute comes in to set the mood, this is not the speed limit tester of the opener, this is more controlled, an afternoon in the park as opposed to a night in the bar, reflective as opposed to active. The intro is a full minute long before Toy Caldwell starts to sing. And you can tell he feels it, he believes it, he’s not singing the phone book, these are his words, he wrote them, they’re channeled from his heart.
And that stinging guitar jumps in and out as well as the piano, which is mixed high, it’s not overwhelmed by the electric instruments. Listen with headphones, there’s plenty of air, there’s a whole environment.
And then Toy starts to solo, he’s speaking through his guitar. He’s bending the notes, he’s feeling it, the message is as clear as it is in the words.
Warren Haynes is a giant. Although it does appear from this video that lockdown has slimmed him. No, seriously, one can argue strongly that Haynes embodies southern rock, he’s the man carrying the flag, and everyone respects him. This is the opposite of the starmaker machinery. Haynes is just picking and writing, he’s not making news for the gossip columns. And he’s everywhere, but he’s never had a hit, not by today’s metrics. But we live in a post-Top Forty era. Now it isn’t about competition, but pursuing your art individually, maybe in collaboration with others, but the music is primary as opposed to the image, despite what the media will tell you. And Warren’s played with Dickey Betts, the Allmans themselves, has his own group Gov’t Mule as well as doing solo work. And he’s marching forward as he’s keeping the past alive.
Warren Haynes closed me with his cover of “Wasted Time” on his “Live At Bonnaroo” album from 2004: https://spoti.fi/3imf2Ql “Hotel California” is the most famous song on the album of the same name, but the most meaningful cut is “Wasted Time.”
“So you can get on with your search, baby And I can get on with mine And maybe someday we will find That it wasn’t really wasted time”
Maybe it wasn’t wasted time listening to music, knowing all the songs, all the players, being invested in the scene, what was happening. It all seems quaint today, but there’s more truth in “Wasted Time” than in a host of twenty first century number one songs, never mind movies and novels.
And the truth is Don Henley has gotten his due, he’s had his hits, the Eagles own the best-selling album of all time, but in his canon “Wasted Time” is an album track, many people know it, but not everybody. Kind of like “Can’t You See,” at least when it comes to younger generations.
So I’m sitting on the pot, yes, why lie, reading the news on my phone, and I see that Warren Haynes covered “Can’t You See” at Love Rocks. It seemed so perfect, so right. And even though I was in the acoustically unfriendly bathroom I couldn’t help but pull it up, I needed to hear it, see what he did with it, because I know Warren respects the music, and he never gets it wrong.
And Warren can pick the intro effortlessly, even though those of us at home could never get it right, no matter how hard we tried. And he’s playing a Les Paul, not a computer, and when he picks the lead figure it sounds so right, he and me are instantly in the groove.
And Warren’s got the slightly husky voice of Toy Caldwell, being from North Carolina. And this is a large band, with two drummers, a flautist to replicate the exact sound, even Robert Randolph picking on the pedal steel, but the glue is this balding long-haired sixty year old, who is anti-image, he’s letting the music speak for him, like the Allman Brothers, the southern rockers of yore.
And I was thrilled that Warren was keeping the tradition, that he knew, that he was elevating this classic, giving it the respect it deserves, but it’s a reproduction of the record, an homage, until just after four minutes in Warren starts to solo, when he takes the song to new heights through the skill, the beauty of his playing, it’s not about effects, studio tricks, you can only sit there going WHOA!
No, in truth you can’t help yourself from moving, like those on the screen, watch them as Warren starts to wail, they all start to sway, they’re dancing, this is the power of the sound, the music, in a world where too much is digitized it’s positively organic, it’s a throwback to what once was.
And is coming back again.