The first time I met George McCorkle, I was bagging groceries at a Community Cash store in Spartanburg, SC. During those days, many of the Marshall Tucker Band and their wives shopped at the store for their food. Sometimes I would see Holly Riddle, the first wife of drummer Paul T. Riddle, and sometimes Abbie Caldwell or Melody Caldwell, wives of Toy and Tommy. I think the one that came in the most was Elaine McCorkle, George’s first wife. Sometimes George would come in with her.Of course, back then, I was pretty shy about speaking to strangers, other than the required “Thank you and come again.”
I did eventually get into a dialog with Tommy Caldwell, simply because he got it started, and we spoke each time he came in after that. He was a great guy, just like George. I spoke to George a couple of times during those days, but never got into what could be called a conversation.
Sometime during the 1980’s when my band The Buffalo Hut Coalition was playing every weekend at a dive in Cowpens, SC called The Breakaway Den, George came out to jam. It was after he dropped by the record store where I was working my day job, and we got into a little conversation. I told him that David Haddox was my drummer, and George’s face lit up like the 4th of July. See, David was the man who taught Paul Riddle to play drums back when the red headed kid was only 15 years old. Haddox was a drumming monster, and a dear old friend of George.
I invited George out to the gig that night, and was thrilled when he and his fiance and soon to be second wife Mary showed up. George didn’t bring an axe, so I happily hooked him up with my pink paisley Telecaster and assumed lead vocal duties.
We had a blast, playing “Kansas City,” “Stormy Monday,” “Can’t You See” and a few others. When we were done, he handed me the guitar and pick - a baby blue MTB pick with his name on the reverse. It could have been solid gold as far as I was concerned. I still have that pick to this day.
On break we went outside and the band huddled around George for a photo. We later discovered their was no film in the camera. Sigh.
I was really a fan. I must have seen The Marshall Tucker Band with Tommy and with Franklin Wilkie after Tommy died over 30 times.
Jump forward to the mid 1990s. The MTB was inducted into The South Carolina Entertainers Hall of Fame and held a big reunion concert at Spartanburg memorial Auditorium. The current line up jammed with Jerry Eubanks, Paul Riddle, and George, along with Frank Wilkie, Charlie Daniels, Hughie Thomasson and others. It was a great show, and I finally got in a little face time with George. Shortly after that event, I attended a book signing party for Marley Brant at The Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which ended with a jam featuring Stillwater, Ed King, Chris Hicks, George and others.
After I started Gritz in 1998, one of my earliest interviews was with George. After that interview, we became fast friends. We spoke on the phone almost weekly and e-mailed each other a lot. When his solo record American Street was released, I followed up with a second interview.
George came to Huntsville, Alabama to play the second night of my CD release party for Southern Lights, and it was great fun. He and I, along with the legendary Pete Carr, played an acoustic set of McCorkle originals. When it came time to do his signature song, “Fire On The Mountain,” George smiled and signaled for me to sing it. Quite an honor.
Later that night I found myself head to head jamming on “Can’t You See” and several other tunes with George and The Crawlers. Full tilt Southern boogie-woogie.
When it came time to record Something Heavy in 2004, all it took was a phone call, and George was there, along with his loving wife Vivienne. He played both rhythm and lead all over the album. We had a CD release party in 2005 and George came back for that. Just another blast.
When Ray Brand, our mutual friend from The Crawlers passed on from lung cancer in 2005, George came and played at the Ray memorial concert alongside Jack Pearson, Lee Roy Parnell, Tommy Crain and many others. Like I said somewhere before, George was always giving back.
Like everyone else, George’s cancer and subsequent passing came as a complete and utter shock to me. I have truly lost a dear friend. a hero, and a friend. we had great plans to write together and hopefully gig together after my move to Nashville. While those dreams can never come true, I take great comfort in the knowledge that I was blessed to know this man and call him my friend. I’ll never forget you George, and your memory will live on forever in your wonderful music.
Gritz Interview with George McCorkle 1998
Gritz Interview with George McCorkle 2001
PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORIES OF GEORGE
Me and George at Mill Kids Studio in Huntsville, Alabama recently.
Photo session out take with George holding son Justin.
Ed King, Jeff Carlisi and George.
George with Dennis and Donnie, The Winters Brothers.
George playing Buffalo's Something Heavy CD party/Archangel benefit.
George backstage with Tommy Caldwell, Charlie Daniels and Dickey Betts.
CREEM Magazine's "Stars Cars"
Frank Fenter, George and Phil Walden outside Capricorn Studios with gold record.
George during a recent jam with MTB, Clay Cook, Chris Hicks, Pat Elwood.
Photos courtesy the GRITZ Archive, georgemccorkle.com, Bruce Wall, and Paula Winters.