June 29, 2007 – George Freeman McCorkle (Marshall Tucker Band) was born on August 23, 1947 in Chester, South Carolina, but raised in nearby Spartanburg from the age of two. As the youngest of three brothers he grew up aware of the long and hard hours mother Mildred worked at the cotton mill.
“We were a typical South Carolina mill family,” George recalled in his web page bio. “Very poor.”So he developed a strong and active work ethic. Although his greatest achievements were from music, he took gigs as a dental lab technician, race-car driver, and car salesman, owner of both a glass company and a car lot to supplement his professional music livelihood. He believed his work ethic has its roots in his “meagre beginnings” and “growing up Southern”.
He was drafted into the navy as an 18-year-old graduate of Spartanburg High School and during two years service was stationed on the USS Little Rock at Gaeta, Italy. Music helped George survive while away from friends and family in Spartanburg. It was a key of his life from his teens as he listened to his brothers Chuck and Tony play in bands in the Spartanburg/Greenville area.
He borrowed Chuck’s guitar and learned to play it and listened to radio station WLAC out of Nashville and loved the blues he heard broadcast. “The blues was like a magnet,” remembers George. “I liked to listen to B.B. King, Albert King and guys like that. Then I would try improvising their songs with my own ideas.” Other musicians such as the “funky playing” Jimmy Nolen, rhythm guitar player for James Brown, would greatly influence George’s guitar evolution. “I’d play what I felt they were playing but in my own style.” While working part-time in a drug store at the age of sixteen, George bought a Gretsch guitar paid for via “the instalment plan.”
His stage debut was playing with The Originals at an American Legion hut. He then graduated to The Rants – a high school band that played English and Beach music at frat parties, teen clubs and high school events. After his discharge from the Navy, George decided to return to what he loved most in life: making music. George and long time friend Toy Caldwell formed The Toy Factory. Although the Toy Factory was successful George temporarily teamed up with others to play in Pax Parachute.
Forming the Marshall Tucker Band in 1972 was his career catalyst. “Playing guitar with Toy Caldwell wasn’t just playing guitar, it was sharing a mind,” McCorkle revealed. “With me at his side he had the freedom to do whatever came into his mind and I could instinctively interpret whatever that was and experiment with him. And Toy had a heart of gold.”
George was a focal point of major MTB albums Carolina Dreams, Searchin’ For A Rainbow, A New Life and Where We All Belong.
Although he would write many memorable songs with peers he experienced major success writing solo. Fire on the Mountain – his first recorded solo songwriting effort generated major recognition and fame. The lyric sheet for this Marshall Tucker Band hit, which opens the album Searchin’ For A Rainbow, is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, even though it was more rock than country in inspiration. And a label from that record is part of a display in the Aerospace Museum of the Smithsonian Institute. Another highlight was his song Last of the Singing Cowboys – focus of MTB album Running Like the Wind.
McCorkle wrote or co-wrote MTB tunes Silverado, Life in a Song, Last of the Singing Cowboys, Dream Lover, Sweet Elaine, I Should Never Have Started Loving You, Jimi, Windy City Blues, Disillusion, Paradise, Tonight’s The Night For Making Love, My Best Friend and Foolish Dreaming.
Although he quit the band in 1984 and moved to Carthage near Nashville in the mid nineties to pursue a writing career and session work, he didn’t sever his links.
“Well, I left the band in 1984,” McCorkle explained said in an interview.
“Actually, of the original band, I was the first one to want to leave. I personally made the decision to part from the band because I’d had enough. We were all musically headed in so many different directions. Everybody had ideas of what they wanted to do. And to be honest with you I was burnt out. I was dealing with some demons. I needed those demons dealt with. I made the decision I had to quit. So, I called and discussed it with everybody and everyone understood. Then I had a long conversation with Toy about it since we had been friends since we were seven or eight years old. So, we had a long discussion about it, and I told him that my decision was firm.
Toy said, “Well, I don’t feel I would want to play guitar with the Tucker Band if your not there”.
So he made his decision to leave too. Then Paul Riddle expressed to me personally, that since the two guitar players and all the main songwriters were gone, he was gonna leave also. I made it personally clear that in my decision to leave, I did not want to influence anyone else in the band. I told them I would work with anybody to make sure they would fit into the band. They had my blessing. Doug and Jerry decided to continue touring. They too had my blessings and I think the blessings of Toy and Paul too. To this day I stick firmly to it. I would love to play a Marshall Tucker reunion if Toy and Tommy could come back to life. That’s the only way it could be done. That is the only way I would care to do it. I played at a volunteer jam here in Nashville, it was the only time I have ever seen or heard the new band. Rusty Milner was playing guitar with them at the time and I have know Rusty since he was a youngster. The other guys in the band I didn’t know well. But, Rusty I have known since he was a child. I think I played two or three songs with them at that Volunteer Jam.”
He released a solo album American Street on October Street Records in 1999. George produced the album himself at two studios in Nashville and Moore, South Carolina.
George last performed with Marshall Tucker Band before 17,000 fans in August, 2006, in Nashville and wrote three songs on the band’s released The Next Adventure CD and played on their Carolina Christmas CD (2005) for which he wrote the track Leave the Christmas Lights On.
Lastly he played with The Renegades of Southern Rock – a band made up of original members of Wet Willie, the Outlaws and other groups.
McCorkle was diagnosed with cancer early in June and died less than a month later on June 29, 2007 at the age of 60 in Lebanon, Tennessee.