Marty Stuart Finds Freedom In Running His Own Record Label

This appeared in The Buffalo News - January 20, 2006

Marty Stuart's inner-hipness is gleaming brighter than any sequin-studded snap-button shirt ever has. Once defined as the king of cowboy couture, with designer studs and a porcupine pompadour, Stuart has reached the creative crest of his career by shaking off the sheen and ditching the machine of an industry that muzzled his muse.

The 47-year-old member of the Grand Ole Opry brings his Fabulous Superlatives to the Buffalo Icon on Wednesday, at the brink of his third outstanding album in the past year alone, all released by his upstart Superlatone Records. And while Buffalo isn't a new stop for the troubadour, who began touring at age 12 with country gospel group The Sullivans and bluegrass legend Lester Flatt and scored a few country hits of his own, including "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," his newfound artistic freedom and the resulting rebirth signal that this is a Marty Stuart we've never seen.

"The idea is, we're hitting a lot of familiar towns, but I'm not going back as 'Country Star Marty Stuart,' trying to get a new hit with the local radio station," he said, while driving to Nashville early this week. "We have no illusions; we're walkin' on new ground."

This is new ground that can't be found in major label land. Releasing a string of three profoundly distinct albums -- the stirring gospel of Souls' Chapel, the waging battle of hope and resilience over back-breaking oppression in Badlands, and the upcoming, rip-roaring bluegrass review in Live at the Ryman -- comes only with hard-earned independence.

"It's what I've always dreamed of," Stuart said. "I've always tried to make music on heartfelt terms, never pandering or compromising, and it didn't always work out that way. Now, I don't have to worry about it."

Proof of Stuart's genius, each album represents a homecoming of sorts. Ryman displays his sharp showmanship and mandolin mastery at what was basically a pick-up gig on Nashville's greatest stage. Chapel returns the Mississippi native to his roots, with the gift of Pops Staples' guitar and its dreamy tremolo in his hands. And Badlands depicts the shamefully untold story of one of the poorest regions in the country -- South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, which Stuart first visited in 1983 as part of Johnny Cash's band -- and the Lakota tribe that has since adopted him.

"To this minute, something's calling me back," he said. "What means most to me is that it's inspiring courage and hope within the tribe."

Matching his versatility at every step are the Fabulous Superlatives (Kenny Vaughan, guitars, vocals; Brian Glenn, bass, vocals; Harry Stinson, drums, vocals), whose lilting harmonies and hat-drop chops enable a wild live show in which set lists are scarce.

"They're the musical playmates of my life," Stuart proclaimed. "I could go to them and say I want to make a bluegrass/Aborigine/African drum album, and they'd say, 'OK, let's start.' They're a divinely ordered band."

This running theme of preservation and reinvention transcends the stage. The owner of what's regarded as the world's largest country music memorabilia collection, Stuart has also been involved in the restoration of the Country Music Hall of Fame and speaks with great admiration of similar efforts in Buffalo, where his past visits have included tours of Frank Lloyd Wright homes and the newly reopened downtown jewel The Church.

"I'd like to congratulate Miss Ani DeFranco for her accomplishments," he said of The Church. "When I was there last, you could see into the basement from the sanctuary. I'm looking forward to seeing it again. I can't wait to see what the outcome is."

By Seamus Gallivan

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