Chatting With Marty Stuart

Interview by Cracker Barrel - July 24, 2003

Marty Stuart was embraced by the country music scene right from his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry at age 13, and he’s been recording and touring ever since. He’s also built a reputation as someone who cares about country music traditions, and about the way things were, as well as the way things are. He’s a big supporter of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, which has exhibited parts of Marty’s personal collection of country music memorabilia. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives closed out this year’s "Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman" series at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, with a rousing performance on July 24, 2003. And Marty took a few minutes to talk with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® about performing in this special place, and about the future of music.

Cracker Barrel: Performing at the Ryman – this certainly isn’t your first time on this stage.

Marty Stuart: Well, the Ryman to me is my home showplace, it’s home base, it’s the first place that I ever performed in Nashville. I started with Lester, I was actually a guest of Lester Flatt and he put me on stage here, the first time I ever stepped out on stage here – 13 years old – and I was so little I had to hold the mandolin way up in the air to get to the microphone. And when I got through with the song, people just kept applauding and I didn’t know, I thought I’d done something wrong and they kept screaming and hollering, flashbulbs were popping, and I said "What did I do", and he said "do it again". And so we encored, and at that time, down here, when acts would play, other bands would just, when something good was going on, other bands would just kinda crowd up, and I loved it when I turned around to walk offstage, the second time, Roy Acuff’s band was there, and all these journalists and people were just there to say "hello, and welcome to the family" and I knew then that I could never turn around and go back home, this was the place, started it all.

CB: Yes, and now you are obviously an experienced, seasoned professional. You’ve contributed so much. Can you still feel what that felt like, though?

Marty: Sure, and I have a lot of emotions when I walk in here, ‘cause there was a time when this building was threatened by the wrecking ball. It was forgotten, it was dilapidated, it was tired, there were pigeons living here, and they were running like dog-and-pony tours through here. And there was serious talk about the destruction of the Ryman, and I couldn’t stand for that. And I got on the phone and called Bud Wendell, he was the CEO of Gaylord at the time, and I said, "Look Bud. I’ll haul sand. I’ll do anything, but we cannot let this happen. And Bud was on the same page that I was and lots of people rolled up their sleeves, and I was really proud to come down here along with a couple of the artists and cut the ribbon when they reopened it. This place has a lot of precious memories for me.

CB: Why do you think you’ve got such strong feelings about tradition?

Marty: Well, Connie (Smith, singer and Marty’s wife), we were just talking about this yesterday, and she said, you know there’s a future and a past, and there’s also a thing called the present (laugh). But, the tradition, I simply bring the story along with me. I am so interested in the future and innovation. I am so interested in where we are going to take the music, where America is going, I am so interested in all those things. But I don’t think you have to relinquish the past. I’m not hanging onto it, wishing things were the way they were, cause I really don’t. But there’s a few traditions worthy of bringing it along, and there’s a thing called roots, when you get way up there and things are going good or bad, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to slam it down to your roots and know who and what you are and where you came from.

CB: There’s been a lot of talk in recent times about the changes in the music industry, in terms of record labels struggling, Cracker Barrel’s doing something untraditional as far as recording new music, the whole music industry is not what it was.

Marty: No.

CB: Does that provide opportunity, or does that make it harder for artists, or what?

Marty: All of the above, all of the above. I think downloading is a bad, bad thing. It would be like me walking into Cracker Barrel and taking food without paying for it. It’s just not a healthy thing for the Cracker Barrel chain to be stolen from. And when somebody downloads, they take money not only out of the artist’s pocket or the songwriter’s pocket, but also out of the guy who delivers drums in the middle of the night, and the radio people, the whole food chain, and a lot of people don’t know it’s wrong, so it’s an education, to reset that mindset.

The music industry is in a total state of flux. But I think there are certain things that will never change. A great song always needs a home. Somebody with charisma and that lightening on their shoulders and God’s timing, there’s always a place for that. Elvis really didn’t care where he sang, I’m sure Norah Jones doesn’t much care where she sings. Great songs and great music don’t care where it sings or who plays it. Just getting it attended to, getting it promoted properly, that becomes the chore.

CB: Any special projects you want to talk about? I know you’re touring.

Marty: Well, the new album was just out the first of July, it’s called Country Music,

CB: How appropriate.

Marty: Yeah, on Sony, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, we’ve been out touring, I wanna tour for the rest of the, well, I haven’t quit touring in 27 years.

CB: Are you tired? (laughter)

Marty: (Laughter) Nah. Really not, I quit, well, not quit, I called intermission for about three years, and went and scored films, I wrote songs, and produced for other people, anything other than get on a bus and go see a deli tray. But there’s nothing like a new band, and a new contract, a new deal, a new batch of inspiration to get me back out there, and that’s what I’m in the middle of right now.

CB: Is there anything in particular you like to eat when you get to go to a Cracker Barrel. Do you have to hide in a corner, you gonna get mobbed?

Marty: Actually, the first Cracker Barrel I ever went to was the first Cracker Barrel, out on Highway 109. I lived at Lester Flatt’s house and every time we would go to Knoxville, up (Interstate) 40 to Knoxville, we’d have to pass by there, and, what’s the gentleman’s name, Dan Evins, (founder of Cracker Barrel) is that his name?

CB: Uh-huh

Marty: He still worked there, and the 8x10 glossies of country music Opry stars on the walls. And he always gave Opry stars their food free. He really befriended those kinds of folks. And the thing that knocks me out is that I go in to order breakfast now and to me it still tastes the same as it did the first time I ever sat down. There’s a consistency there that’s really great.

CB: Thanks so much for talking with me. I know you’ll have a great show out there!

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