Although Marshall Tucker lacked the musical virtuosity of either The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, they recorded a handful of gold nuggets that helped propel them into the front ranks of the Southern Rock movement of the late 1960s and early 70s. (In fact, some would say this gives Marshall Tucker short shrift: They have four platinum and two gold albums under their tooled leather belts.)
The group could veer from rocking-chair Bluegrass as in “Amy,” or ramble out west with a cowboy song like “Desert Skies,” a slow, existential number. They banged out a head-bopping crowd pleaser in “Heard It In A Love Song.” Rarely, though, did they rock deep and steady. “Can’t You See,” then, represents a bit of a blip for them.
It’s a song defined by orneriness and fear wrapped together and in the vocal tone alone we can hear just why the love affair sketched out in the lyrics has failed. This is a drinking man’s song, a man who’s run up against a woman every bit as tough as he is.
Writer Toy Caldwell’s raw, powerfully despondent voice speaks directly to the soul. You can hear the Spartanburg, South Carolina, Blue Ridge countryside in every note, the aimlessness of small town America a half century ago. You can also hear the wounded Vietnam vet come home to rebuild a life shattered by war, a man not completely healed by the normalcy of civilian life.
Before Caldwell’s vocals slide in, there is a lonely, lovely acoustic guitar intro played by George McCorkle abetted by a distant-sounding flute solo by Jerry Eubanks. The two instruments are then joined by Toy’s own facile, bluesy, lead guitar.
Although the opening is unusual in Southern Rock – the flute alone tells us that – on first hearing “Can’t You See” you would never think it would unfold into one of the most revered Country Rock songs of all time.
Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, Lord
I don’t care where it goes
Gonna climb a mountain
The highest mountain
Jump off, nobody gonna know
We are slowly treated to a routine “mean old woman” motif… but the universally touching “Can’t you see, can’t you see,” lines hurl the song across the steamy, confusing southern night. Emptiness, despair, a broke down train… everyone’s ridden one, at least in his or her head.
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
While the “end of the line” has a symbolic and metaphysical significance, a note should be made about the history of the railroad in the South.
Rail lines were often not completed as through ways, but rather stopped short from a dozen to a hundred yards from another line that would take you on your journey after transferring. Additionally, as can easily be imagined, the Civil War wreaked havoc with southern railroads, and in the period when Caldwell was coming of age, 100 years after war’s end, the damage had not been fully repaired.
An enthralling series of guitar and piano jams break up verses from chorus, the work projecting a sense of expansion, miles and miles of it, across the Georgia night. Caldwell is not Duane Allman, but in “Can’t You See,” he’s chasing the Skydog down the road and catching up fast.
As the song winds to its majestic close, Toy Caldwell makes his guitar “talk” answering his own vocals and those of the counter-harmony chorus singers. The jamming of instruments and voices represents one of the high points of not just Southern Rock, but of all Rock.