Marty Stuart

This appeared in the book Hot Country Stars

Marty Stuart likes to say he earned his high school diploma as a mandolin player in Lester Flatt's band in the 1970s and his university degree as lead guitarist in Johnny Cash's band in the early 1980s.

Stuart grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi where his father was a factory supervisor and his mother a bank teller. He was hired at age 12 to play mandolin with a gospel-bluegrass band, The Sullivan Family. A year later, he was recruited by the late, legendary Lester Flatt after the singer had split from longtime partner Earl Scruggs. After Flatt's death in 1979, Stuart hooked up with another legend, Johnny Cash, performing with him until 1985.

All along, Stuart knew he wanted to create his own music when the time was right. He released two independent albums, Marty: With A Little Help From His Friends in 1978 and the acclaimed Busy Bee Cafe in 1982 on Sugar Hill Records. Four years later, he joined CBS Records and put out Marty Stuart, which featured the top 20 country hit, "Arlene." But CBS and Stuart disagreed on musical direction, so the young veteran went looking for other opportunities.

In 1989, he emerged on MCA Records with Hillbilly Rock, an album that took a fresh perspective on indigenous American music by delving back into the place where the roots of country and rock 'n' roll intertwine. "This is not a rockabilly album," Stuart said when Hillbilly Rock was released. "This is hillbilly music--with a thump."

The album's radio hits included a version of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and the original compositions "Western Girls" and "Hillbilly Rock." The latter provided Stuart with his first top radio hit and now serves as his signature song.

By that time, Stuart had developed an individual stage style built around a huge personal collection of some 200 pieces of flashy cowboy clothes, which included dozens of jackets and shirts with special embroidery and rhinestone-studded patterns. He wanted to update the colorful western-styled attire of such country legends as Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner, and Webb Pierce.

Stuart continued to write prolifically while establishing his own singing career, and his songs were recorded by such diverse performers as Mark Collie, Emmylou Harris, Buck Owens, and Jann Browne. Travis Tritt invited the colorful Stuart to join him in a duet of "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'.
a song Stuart co-wrote that became a top country hit in the first few weeks of 1992.

Stuart's next album, Tempted, kept the momentum of Hillbilly Rock rolling forward. Like Hillbilly Rock, this compelling collection was produced by Tony Brown and Richard Bennett, and it allowed the singer-instrumentalist to reveal his talent for bluegrass, honky tonk and gospel as well as expanding on his country-rock style.

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