Marty Stuart Becomes A 'Pilgrim'

MCA Nashville Mounts Ambitious Plan For Concept Album

This appeared on Billboard Magazine - May 15, 1999

The last time a major country artist recorded a concept album, the result was Red Headed Stranger, which propelled Willie Nelson to superstardom.

While Marty Stuart doesn't have such aspirations for his forthcoming album, The Pilgrim, he says he's just glad he was able to do it.

"You can always dream, though," says Stuart. "When I was a little kid, the only two dreams I had were to meet Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs. As it turned out, the only two steady jobs I've ever had were with Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs."

In fact, both Cash and Earl Scruggs appear on Stuart's latest album, due June 15 from MCA Nashville. And Lester Flatt would have been on it, too, says Stuart, were it not for the fact that he died in 1979.

To record Cash for the album, Stuart flew with a sound engineer to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where Cash was wintering, and made a field recording of Cash reciting the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem "Sir Galahad."

Other guests on the album include Ralph Stanley; Stuart's wife, Connie Smith; Flatt & Scruggs alumnus Josh Graves; Emmylou Harris; and Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers.

Historic instruments used on the album include Hank Williams' 1939 Martin D-45 guitar, Mother Maybelle Carter's Fender Palomino, Don Rich's 1964 Fender Telecaster, Luther Perkins' 1955 Fender Esquire, Flatt's 1950 Martin D-28, Wayne Moss' 1964 Fender Jazzmaster, Bill Monroe's 1950 D-28 Martin, and Lloyd Loar's 1933 Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5 mandolin.

Stuart says the idea for the album came when he was driving on Lankershim Boulevard, Los Angeles' famed country music corridor.

"It hit me that the odyssey of country music is like a huge tapestry, with everything tied together," says Stuart. "It's about all of human experience. I sketched out an actual tapestry, took it to [MCA Nashville president] Tony Brown, dropped it on the floor, and said, 'This is what my next album will sound like.' "

"I said 'Cool!' " says Brown. They then took the tapestry to MCA Nashville chairman Bruce Hinton who said, "That's really cool." So Stuart embarked on his odyssey. "I think this is one of the finest albums MCA's ever put out. Ever," says Brown. "We were proud to do it," says Hinton

The genesis of "The Pilgrim" song, says Stuart, which came to drive the album and the story, occurred when he was booked to record at the original Sun Records studio in Memphis. His original song plans were shelved when he got the news that bluegrass founder Monroe had died.

"I loved that old man, and I went out that night and walked the streets of Memphis and cried," Stuart recalls. "I came back and wrote four lines that became 'The Pilgrim.' The actual story of the album is about some people I knew who got into a complicated triangle, with a suicide as the result. This is about what happened to those people."

The resulting album, says Dave Weigand, MCA Nashville's VP of sales and marketing, is a "unique concept for contemporary country music. There will be and already is a tremendous media buzz about this album. Media will be key to our campaign. We sent the album out to 200 key media outlets, along with Marty's track-by-track narration about the album. We'll blanket conventional country music media, along with triple-A and public radio, as well as a heavy Internet presence. We'll have an Internet contest, with clues on our website and Marty's."

The video for the first radio single, "Red, Red Wine And Cheatin' Songs," will go to CMT May 19. Weigand says, "We'll also target guitar media for the use of the historic instruments on the album. Retail is very excited about this project."

Paul Bailey, country music buyer for Tower Records in Brea, California said he is heartened by his first listen to "The Pilgrim" album. "If this were the last day of the year," says Bailey, "this would be my album of the year. It's guaranteed to be on top 10 lists this year. This album is what Marty Stuart is all about and it's finally on one album. Marty has a great commercial opportunity with his record--you don't even have to know who Marty Stuart is to appreciate it. There's commercial country singles on here and there's songs that could work next to the Eagles on a soft-rock format. I'm very optimistic about it."

David Haley, VP of national promotion for MCA Nashville, says country radio is responding favorably to advance listens of "Red, Red Wine And Cheatin' Songs." "Radio loves Marty Stuart," Haley says. "He has a huge fan base at radio and we feel this is finally the right material at the right time for him."

The label is putting together a Webcast of a performance and will be tying in with Web site promotions with radio stations across the country. Non-reporting stations will be receiving four album cuts, including the country radio single "Red, Red Wine" and "The Greatest Love Of All Time." Haley adds, "We hear from radio that they're starting to miss the fact that there are no more outlaws in country music and we feel that Marty and this project can fill that void."

Stuart is managed by Bonnie Garner Management and is booked by the William Morris Agency. His songs are published by Marty Party Music and administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI).

Written by Chet Flippo

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