Toy Caldwell's Carolina Dreams

by Michael B. Smith

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        Toy Caldwell, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina on November 13, 1947, and never left his hometown. Well, he left a lot, to tour the globe as lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for The Marshall Tucker Band, but he always came back to Spartanburg, because it was home.  Unlike many other successful musicians, he was never lured away to L.A. or New York to live. Like he once said in an interview on New York radio, "I like it down South. I ain't seen no tomato vines in New York City."

        Through odd jobs, including a stint working with his father at Spartanburg Waterworks, Toy never lost sight of his purpose on this planet. He was here to rock the world with some of the hottest southern fried rock and country ever committed to vinyl or played in an arena.

        In the early '60s, Toy was a member of a band called The Rants, while  his brother Toy Caldwell, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina on November 13, 1947, and never left. Well, he left a lot, to tour the globe as lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for The Marshall Tucker Band, but he always came back to Spartanburg, because it was home. His one and only love, Abbie, and his daughters were always waiting to welcome him back home. Home seemed to be the anchor that held his life together. Toy had married Ab during the '60s, and she would remain his only wife until his death.
 
        Tommy played locally in a group called New Generation. In 1966, members of both bands merged to form The Toy Factory, and the group started gaining a lot of attention. The band swapped out members during a time between 1966 and 1969 when Toy, Tommy, Doug Gray and George McCorkle served in the Armed Forces. Toy, like his father, was a Marine, and served in Vietnam.

        In 1970, all of the elements of the band - Toy, Tommy, George, Doug, along with Paul Riddle and Jerry Eubanks, began rehearsals in a warehouse on Spring Street in Spartanburg, and adopted a "make it or break it" philosophy. and "make it" they did. By now everyone knows the story of the band finding a key ring in the rehearsal space with a tag belonging to a blind piano tuner- now living in Columbia, S.C.- named Marshal Tucker.

        Between 1972 and 1978, The Marshall Tucker Band burned up the asphalt, touring constantly, appearing on radio, TV and in your town. They recorded a total of eight LPs for Capricorn Records before moving to Warner Brothers Records to release six more records.  All this time, Toy was keeping the home fires burning by regularly calling Abbie and checking on her and his children.

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         On April 28, 1980, Tommy Caldwell died following an automobile accident at home in Spartanburg, shortly after the death of their younger brother Tim.  The deaths devastated Toy, and his pain was quite evident. The only thing that kept him going was the music, and the band hired old friend Franklin Wilkie to fill in for Tommy.

        After four more years of touring, it was time for a change of scenery for Toy. He, along with George and Paul, decided to call it quits. Doug Gray and Jerry Eubanks struck a deal with the band to continue, at first hiring the finest Nashville session men along with Spartanburg’s Rusty Milner, and later bringing in a whole set of Spartanburg boys to keep the feeling there.

        Meanwhile, Toy was back home with Abbie, Cassidy and Geneal, and putting together his own band. The Toy Caldwell band took to the road in 1985, in various incarnations, including one called The Shadowriders, and in 1992, he released his long-awaited solo record on Cabin Fever Records, flanked by the drumming of Mark Burrell, guitar of Pick Pickens and bass of Tony Heatherly. The recording featured guest stints from his old friend Charlie Daniels, as well as Greg Allman and Willie Nelson. It was a cooker. In early 2000, the album would be re-released by Blue Hat Records under the title "Son of the South."

        Toy Caldwell went to sleep at his home on the night of February 25, 1993, never to awaken again. The world lost one of its most original guitarists - he played every note with his thumb - a great songwriter and one more good ol' Southern boy.

        Toy Caldwell will live forever in the hearts of friends and family and fans. Many of us feel the same as Charlie Daniels, who once told me, "There's a big space in the world that only Toy could fill." We will remember him always, and enjoy the music he left for us forever.

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Check out more of Michael B's work at www.gritz.net

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