April 28, 1980 – Thomas Michael “Tommy” Caldwell was born on November 9, 1949 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. With his older brother Toy, he formed the southern rock band the Marshall Tucker Band in 1973 and played bass and was its original frontman until his death in 1980. His death didn’t end the Marshall Tucker Band, but it changed things forever – in particular for his older brother Toy Caldwell.
The pair had been playing music together since Tommy was 7, and Toy was 9. The Toy Factory, led by the elder Caldwell, became the southern-rocking Marshall Tucker Band when Tommy joined as bassist in 1972. They took their name from a hometown piano tuner in the cotton-mill city f Spartanburg, S.C., and set about recording five gold-selling albums (including four in a row starting in 1973) and the platinum smash Carolina Dreams before the end of the ’70s.
Then tragedy struck. The Marshall Tucker Band had just returned home from a concert they recorded for broadcast on the King Biscuit Flower Hour when Tommy Caldwell’s Land Cruiser clipped a parked 1965 Ford Galaxy on April 22, 1980, in Spartanburg. Tommy’s Jeep, modified for off-road driving with oversized tires, flipped onto its side – and Caldwell suffered a head injury that would ultimately prove fatal. “It was just a freak accident,” Moon Mullins, a crew member for the band, said later.
The owner of the Galaxy, who was in the car but uninjured when Caldwell struck him, was charged with improper parking the next day. Caldwell died on April 28, 1980, after lingering in critical condition at Spartanburg General Hospital for almost a week.
Franklin Wilkie, a former bassist in Toy Caldwell’s pre-Marshall Tucker group, took over for Tommy – but the band never regained its commercial momentum. Tenth, the final album to feature Tommy Caldwell, was their last Top 40 album.
Toy Caldwell was hit particularly hard, having endured another brother’s death in a traffic accident just one month before Tommy’s.
By 1984, he’d left the Marshall Tucker Band, creating a huge hole as the group lost its lead guitarist, vocalist on “Can’t You See” and principal songwriter. Toy Caldwell died in 1993, after too much cocaine stopped his heart.
“Since Tommy’s death, he was there in body only,” Toy Caldwell’s wife Abbie said in 1998. “In hindsight, Toy kept an awful lot inside of him. I cannot imagine the pain he was in after his brothers’ deaths. … Toy put up a good front for the others, but now I know he had to be torn apart inside.”
Doug Gray, who sang the group’s No. 14 hit “Heard It in a Love Song,” carries on with the Marshall Tucker Band these days. Rhythm guitarist George McCorkle died in 2007, leaving Gray as the only member from the classic era defined by the Caldwells.
Tommy Caldwell spoke to that lasting bond, as musicians and as brothers, in 1978. “You won’t find me in another band when this one’s over,” Tommy said after the release of the aptly titled Together Forever. “You’ll find me back in the country in South Carolina. Me and my brother have been playing together forever and, when that’s over, we’re going home. If you heard it, then you were fortunate enough to catch it. If you didn’t? Well, there won’t be another one, man.”
As well as being the frontman, he also sang background vocals and wrote several songs, including “Melody Ann,” which was the only song he ever performed lead vocals on. His last performance with the band was on April 18, 1980. This performance is captured on the 2006 release, “Live on Long Island”.
He died on 28 April 1980 of injures from a Jeep crash a week earlier. His younger brother Timmy, who was not a member of the band died a month before him, also the result of a car crash at age 25. Tommy Caldwell was 30 years old when he died.