Guitarist Stuart Swanlund died of natural causes in his sleep in Chicago on Saturday (Aug. 4), according to a press release.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1958 he was raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he met his lifelong friend, Doug Gray, a founding member of the Marshall Tucker band.
Swanlund got his chance to play alongside Gray in 1985 when he joined the Marshall Tucker band, this after growing up listening to Grey practice across the street from where he lived.
In a prepared statement Gray said, “Stuart, or ‘Stubie’ as we called him, was the longest standing member of The Marshall Tucker Band from 1985, onward. He recently took a hiatus from the road due to health problems and even with those issues, Stuart’s enthusiasm onstage never waivered. Our thoughts and prayers are with Stuart’s family and those who knew him. We have lost a great friend.”
Gray said that one of the highlight’s of Swanlund’s time with the band just happened last winter when he performed onstage at the Grand Ole Opry’s historic Ryman Auditorium.
Gray says the news is devastating.
“The thing I’ll miss the most is he always had a smile on his face, and others walked away from him with a smile,” he added. “He played that way. His inspiration came from just being a wonderful guy on the inside. His personality was so big. He was like a flower. He just blossomed at every show.”
He is survived by his lifelong partner, Stacy Schmaren, son, William “Billy” Swanlund, three grandchildren and sister, Suzanne Spencer.
Parker, best known for his work with James Brown in the 60’s, as well as with George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic in the 70’s, has since come into his own and has been touring under his own name since the 90’s.
Prior to Parker slapping down some funk, Fresno native Jeanette Harris took the audience on a magical ride of silky smooth jazz, with a bit of attitude. Starting off with her single “You Can Dance,” from her ingeniously titled album Saxified, Harris sounded more like a headliner than an opener.
Not disappointing, Harris continued the journey with a little bit of jazz and a dash of funk with “Down Wit’ It.” As she weaved her way through “All I Do” and “Take Me There,” I was beginning to wonder if Parker should have had someone else open for him. The band was flawless, including her brother Michael who was on the drums, Robin Bramlett (bass) and Aaron Thompson (keyboards).
Prior to Parker making it onto the stage, his manager introduced each of the members of the band while they played “Funky Fiesta!” Members included Will Boulware (keyboards), Rodney “Skeet” Curtis (bass), Bruno Speight (guitar), and Marcus Parker (drums).
Once Parker hit the stage it was obvious why he was headlining. This guy was bursting at the seams with funk, as his whole body was shaking to the beat, or maybe he just had to go. You know it happens to the best of us. (Ok already! It was a joke ““ back-off.)
Parker kicked the set off with a very funkalicious version of “Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag,” providing the band a chance to show off their seamless and funky tones.
As Parker transitioned from one song to the next, the band kept up their funky beat. Most noteable was bass player Speight pounding out one bass note after another, adding to the musical tension between songs.
At one point Parker explained how a lot of people refer to his band as a jazz band. He led the audience through a brief jazz session with keyboardist Boulware as Parker played sax (It would have been a great opportunity to bring out Harris). Once he was satisfied everyone understood what jazz sounded like, he kicked it into funk mode with “Make it Funky,” complete with horns ““ gotta love them horns!
It was disappointing to see such a sparse crowd at Pano Hall while two very talented musicians kicked some serious butt. However, the crowd made up for it in energy and enthusiasm as they clapped and hooted throughout the evening.
Kicking off the night was Road 88 led by Rachael Steele, whose vocals reigned supreme. Starting their set off appropriately with “Attitude,” followed by “Two More Bottles of Wine,” they were hitting on all cylinders.
Joining founding members Rachel Steele (vocals), Scott Prentice (guitar/vocals) and David Phelps (guitar) were Billy Haggard (guitar), Charlie McGimsey (drums), and Todd Prout (bass).
Road 88 was voted Best Local Band in Sacramento for 2011 by local television station KCRA’s A-list. At the time they had been together a couple of years and already had a hit climbing the charts in Europe with their song “Not Gonna Happen.”
Since that time there has been some shuffling of band members resulting in the lineup above. The move appears to be successful with some great guitar playing throughout their set, and a new level of energy, with Haggard bouncing around the stage, going from one performer to the next saying god knows what, but apparently making everyone laugh. The only question is – Were they laughing with him or at him?
Road 88 continued with a few of their original songs including “Drive” and “Child of Innocence.”
Prentice soloed with “That’s How They do it in Dixie,” followed by Steele closing their set in style with their original hard-driving “Faultline.”
After a quick set-change the Marshall Tucker Band took the stage with 64 year old founding member Doug Gray singing “This Old Cowboy.” As soon as the flute kicked in I was reminded of why Marshall Tucker’s music has stood out for all these years.
The Marshall Tucker band members included Marcus James Henderson (flute/sax/keyboards), Pat Elwood (bass), Chris Hicks (guitar), and B.B. Bordon (drums). The guys were the true stars of the show playing extended versions of their hits like “Hillbilly Band,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “24 hours at a Time.”
Henderson was non-stop, playing the flute, on to the sax, over to the keyboards and then back again. He did an awesome job, earning him several well deserved standing O’s.
Gray, being the southern gentleman that he is, talked to the crowd in between songs, joking about his age and how the band has been around for 40 years. Focusing on one of the younger ladies in the front row, he joked about her not understanding what Winterland meant, referencing their legendary performance at Bill Graham’s Winterland auditorium in San Francisco back in 1973.
For their finale, “Can’t You See,” Gray had the audience singing “‘Can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman has been doing to me,’ providing one of those “goose-bump” moments.
While Gray’s voice isn’t what it used to be, he still has that wonderful soulful sound, although a bit rough at times. The instrumentals were to die for, with soaring flute solos and hard driving guitar riffs. All executed with perfection.
The Marshall Tucker Band is truly an awesome instrumental group bursting at the seams with talent, making for a memorable performance and reminding me of a entire orchestra rather than a handful of performers.