Best of Marty Stuart - Liner Notes

He not only learned his craft at the feet of the masters, he absorbed the heritage behind that craft and became a walking encyclopedia and preservation society in an era where many country stars knew their own rock music heroes better than they did country's legends.

It was a role John Marty Stuart was born to fill. Born September 30, 1958 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, he was playing guitar by age five and began learning mandolin. Johnny Cash and Flatt and Scruggs albums were among his passions and, by 1970, he was performing around the South and Midwest with The Sullivans, a regional bluegrass and gospel band.

In 1971, Marty met Lester Flatt, who two years earlier had parted ways with partner Earl Scruggs over Scruggs' more progressive musical direction. Flatt now led his own group, a hard-core traditional unit called the Nashville Grass and, in 1972, hired 13-year-old Marty as his full-time mandolinist. For the next seven years, he toured the nation, looked after by Flatt. In 1978, Marty recorded his first solo LP for a tiny Texas label. Flatt died in 1979.

Marty had been freelancing as a sideman. He toured with, among others, Bob Dylan and Doc Watson. In 1980, he was determined to meet his other idol: Johnny Cash. Impressed by his talent, Cash added Marty to his touring band (he later married Cash's daughter Cindy). In 1985, Columbia signed him. Ready to go it alone after over a decade as a sideman, Marty left Cash's band in 1986. His first solo album didn't sell, and Columbia left a second album unissued. In 1988, he and Cindy divorced.

His failure on Columbia left Marty discouraged. For a time he went back on the road with his old friends, The Sullivans, a therapeutic move that inspired him to try again in Nashville. This time, the moment was right. In 1989, he landed a contract with MCA in the era of New Traditionalism. His debut album, Hillbilly Rock, went down roads similar to Dwight Yoakam's, enough to land him his first Top 10 single with the title track in 1990.

Tempted, his second MCA album, broadened his commercial exposure. Released as singles, the title song and "Little Things" each hit the Top 10 in 1991. "Western Girls" made it into the Top 20 as did "Till I Found You." Onstage, clad in western outfits, some custom-made, others vintage costumes worn by his idols. Stuart was a charismatic, energetic performer who had musical substance behind him. He freely mixed his new material with the traditional favorites he loved, in some cases introducing that music to younger audiences.

He connected with Travis Tritt for a duet on "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," a song Marty had co-written. It peaked at #2 in 1991, winning a Grammy for "Best Country Vocal Collaboration." 1992 brought a solo Top 10 with "Burn Me Down," a Top 20 with "Now That's Country" and a second Top 10 duet with Tritt on "This One's Gonna Hurt You." His new album had the same title. With his new success, Columbia released the Marty album they'd left in the can.

Satirizing the characterization of some young, Stetson-wearing hot country singers as "Hat Acts," Marty and Tritt went on the road in 1992 with what they called their "No Hats Tour." His solo single version of the traditional "High On A Mountain Top" reached the Top 30 in 1993. "Kiss Me, I'm Gone" did likewise in 1994. That year, he won a second Grammy for his playing on a track of Asleep At The Wheel's Bob Wills Tribute album. Marty's solo hit "You Can't Stop Love" broke the Top 30. Hillbilly Rock, Tempted and This One's Gonna Hurt You and his 1995 Marty Party Hit Pack collection all earned Gold discs.

Offstage, Marty amassed an amazing collection of country music memorabilia. Moved by his sincere reverence for their past, many veteran artists presented him with relics from their own careers. In 1997, he married legendary country singer Connie Smith. As many of the performers he revered passed on, Marty readily assumed the honored role of musical eulogist at the funerals of friends including Bill Monroe, Hank Snow and Chet Atkins. His contemporary activities continued. This collection's closing track, "The Pilgrim (Act III)," comes from his 1999 album The Pilgrim. The album tells a true story of sin, lust and redemption, based on real occurrences in Stuart's Mississippi hometown. In 2001, they year he was inducted into the Mississippi Musician's Hall of Fame, he produced actor Billy Bob Thornton's debut album and penned the soundtrack for the film All The Pretty Horses.

Marty Stuart epitomizes the country music continuum as it should be, living proof that it's possible to succeed performing contemporary country that appeals to a broad audience without ever forgetting -- or neglecting -- country's roots. Truly the best of both worlds.

By Rich Kienzle

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