Tritt & Stuart: Double Trouble

This appeared in Country Music Magazine - September/October 1996

"I never rode around with no girls in Dallas." Marty Stuart is emphatic on this point. Absolutely. Positively. "Did you Tritt?" Travis Tritt shakes his long hair. "Never did in my whole life. Uh-uh. Dallas is not that kind of town for me. I always thought of President Kennedy when I was in Dallas."

As it happens, we are in Dallas, Stuart and Trip and I, and we are not riding around with no girls. What Stuart and Tritt are doing in Dallas is gearing up for Double Trouble, the More No Hats Tour or, if you have a great sense of country music history, The Whaco Moe and Joe Clones Hit The Road One More Time tour. I don't actually know what I'm doing in Dallas, having spent most of the previous evening driving around looking for a 24-hour restaurant and having to settle for greasy eggs at some prairie Denny's. Sleep deprived though I might be, I am also serving as moderator and straight man for one of the most successful duos in recent years.

Right now, though, they're talking about my idea of opening a string of upscale strip joints.....

"Tritt and Stuart's Night Escapades," says Stuart.

"Night Escapades, I like that," replies Tritt.

"We'll have a vegetarian salad bar," continues Stuart. Anyone smoking or wearing fur won't be allowed."

Tritt: "That's exactly right."

Stuart: "Because Politically Correct is what we are."

Marty Stuart talks a lot in Capital Letters......

Tritt: "That's right. We're politically correct. That's us...."

Stuart: "We thought about calling this the Politically Correct Tour for a long time....."

Tritt: "But we ain't that big a bunch of hypocrites."

Stuart: "Oh I wouldn't bet on that...Hey Tritt, tell Michael about the dog...."

Tritt: "What dog?"

Stuart: "The dog up in Beverly Hills...."

Tritt: "I ain't gonna do it...."

Stuart: "C'mon...Roger Miller and the German shepherd in Beverly Hills...."

Tritt: "Nope, no dog stories...."

Stuart: "Okay, Michael. Interview us."

Tritt: That's right, Michael. Be funny. Entertain us."

Yeah, right.

"Here I am in Dallas," once sang Faron Young. "Where the hell are you?" I was going to set the scene, you know, like we do in these Country Music Magazine articles. Talk about the hotel room (boring), the weather (hot), the food (lousy), the attire of the interview subjects (Stuart: Sharp!; Tritt: know Travis). But, realistically, when you're with Stuart and Tritt, they are the scene. It's like stepping into the middle of a running gag, of which you are only vaguely aware.

Years back, when I first heard about the strange match-up between country music's last outlaw and its one holder of the Truth Faith of the High Lonesome, I thought it was pretty odd. The more I thought about it, though, the more inevitable the duo seemed. After all, Travis Tritt, behind his good ole boy bonhomie, is an intense, meticulous artist, careful in his acknowledgment of the music that came before him. And Marty Stuart is a walking embodiment of country music's history. Central to the duo is an in-depth knowledge and abiding love of the different forms of music that get lumped under the umbrella of "country." Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're both crazy as whiskey-sipping bats.

Okay, I say, pretending to regain control of the interview. They look at me expectantly, sort of the same way junkyard dogs look at a piece of steak. How is it, I ask, that you two can write songs together the way you've done for the new tour. That's fair--sort of the question a real music writer, maybe Bob Allen or Patrick Carr, would ask.

Jump back!

Stuart: "Well....we went down to Key West to do it. I thought it would be a good, warm place..."

Tritt: "Nearly froze our butts off...."

Stuart: " January, I mean, you know me, right? I'm a morning person. I get up at nine in the morning. By 10 a.m. I've got iced tea and I'm ready to roll. By 11:30, I've got my songwriting pencils sharpened, my tapes laid out thinking Travis won't be any later than noon. I forget,this guy's a vampire. He didn't get up until 3 p.m. Elvis here don't come around until four, which by then, I'm so jacked up on iced tea, I'm climbing the walls. After he finally shows up, though, we write two songs."

Tritt: "Yup. We sure did."

Stuart: "That's kinda what's been going on with me all year. Music don't work until the sun goes down. And that's when we start clicking. By the end of the third day, we pretty much had this tour planned. But as one songwriter to another, Travis is a wonderful songwriter. He writes from the gut, the hart. There's emotion in it. What was that song, 'I Love You.....'?"

Tritt: "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know."

Stuart: "Yeah, that one. When I first heard it, I was listening to it on earphones and I thought 'Whoever wrote that song needs a big hug.' Then I found out it was Tritt, so I shook his hand..."

How about collaborating on songs, I insert.

Tritt: "Oh yeah. Well, you can't get too technical with it, you know. I mean, I've always been the kind of person that songs were like gifts. They just fall out on top of you, and you just have to be smart enough to write them down when they hit you. I've never liked going into a situation and saying, 'Okay, we've got three days to write together. We have to make sure we get three songs. We have to get a song a day,' and so on...You know whatever happens, happens. I don't think you can push it. I don't think you can rush it 'cause I think that's where you start getting a lot of okay, that's fine. And you end up getting songs that don't really come from anywhere meaningful. Marty's great with coming up with ideas and concepts. That's one of the things I love about co-writing period. You can go through a dry spell, where nothing's really hitting you, and all of a sudden you walk into a room, and like the man said, he was jacked up and ready to go. What do you think about this?' And, bang, he's got maybe the first three lines done."

Stuart: "I know that he is just sitting up there in his room waiting me out. Thinking, 'I know Stuart's gonna write. He's gonna come up with something.' What he felt was me hitting the ceiling; that's when he came on down.

Tritt: "Hey, I was in my room snoring."

Stuart: "......Back to Roger Miller--I love Roger. His son Dean once asked him if he'd write a song with him. Roger said, 'No son, Picasso didn't co-paint.' The most over-used phrase in Nashville is, 'We need to get together and write You know, we're not talking about writing a letter home here. I think you've got to readily have a shared vision with somebody you write a song with. And that's why it's pretty easy to write with Travis Tritt. We think the same, we've got the same musical thing going on our there."

So what else did you guys do in Key West, I ask cleverly. I feel a need to slip the occasional word in edgewise, just on principle.

Stuart: "We went in and visited all of the local shops that were gay, but straight-friendly."

Tritt: "I loved that. There are signs in the store windows--'We are gay-owned and operated, but we are straight-friendly.' I just loved that."

Stuart: "I think we had the only pair of cowboy boots in town that week."

Tritt: "Yeah, I think so. We stood out like all get-out. I told Marty if he ever reached over and grabbed me by the hand, I'd smack him. We felt out of place. We didn't have any Spandex; we didn't have our thongs on. Man!"

Stuart: "No, we had fun down there. Especially because we didn't try to push too far. When we got something we felt good with, we'd just lay back. It's like, hey, you hungry, want to get a bite, want to watch Beavis and Butthead for a while!"

Tritt: "We dissed everybody in country music...."

Stuart: "Everybody in country music."

Tritt" ....Starting with us."

Let's talk about contracts. All performers have contracts--lots of contracts. In addition to how much the performers get paid, those contracts usually have special clauses like how much whiskey and Brie has to be backstage, the usual stuff. Marty Stuart has the only contract in country music that prohibits any other performer on the bill from dressing in a chicken suit and harassing Stuart while he (Stuart, not the chicken) is on stage.

Tritt: "Okay, it's pretty much a truce for right now, 'cause once it gets started...well it can get ugly! But we're such old hands at killing each other, we're taking a rest from it."

Stuart: "But there's never a night that goes by that something fresh doesn't happen. Or something laughable; or something good musically, judging by the last tour. And the thing that makes it ten times more exciting this time is we both stopped working about the same time last year. I made a record. He made a record. He participated in my record, I participated in his record. And the music lines up. And that's gonna be fun to go back out there for real this year."

Tritt: "It's something that's special. It's unique. We didn't wear it out the first time, thank God, and...."

Stuart: "And we ain't gonna do that this time..."

Tritt: "....We could have easily done that. We could have easily gone too far with it. But we didn't do it..."

Stuart: "The truth of the matter is, we ran out of songs."

In a business that favors repetition over creativity and that purely worships on the altar of "When in doubt, do the same thing again and again (and again and again)," Tritt and Stuart did something pretty amazing. After the hit, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," the wildly successful No Hats Tour and the spectacular pay-per-view show, they didn't go out and do it again. They certainly could have; certainly a lot of people in Music City were at a loss to understand why they didn't.

Well, here's the secret: Stuart and Tritt did the first tour because it sounded like a lot of fun. They didn't keep doing it over and over because they knew the fun wouldn't survive.

Tritt: "I've always been an advocate of not taking yourself too seriously. And that's a hard thing to stay away from when you start talking about tours that cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. There's a lot of money riding on it. And, you know it starts to, if you're not very, very careful, to become just something you do for a living and not a whole lot of fun. I think it ought to be fun. I said a long time ago that when it stopped being fun, I'd quit. And I almost quit last year, quite frankly. From the time you walk on stage to the time you walk off, that's not the problem. The problem is all the other stuff going on that leads up to it. I told a couple of guys in my organization that I'm going to have fun this year if it kills somebody. And I don't think it's going to be hard to do because I have an opportunity to work with my favorite people in the business."

Tritt's planned tour with Lynyd Sknyrd last year fell apart at the last minute because of conflicting sponsors--something Travis had brought up in the earliest meetings only to be assured that no problem existed. After frantically searching for last minute fill-ins, Tritt went on the road with a less-than-optimum show.

Tritt: "By the middle of the tour, I walked on the bus alone night, kicked every single door and cabinet on the bus, then just sat down with my head in my hands. Man, it was driving me...."

Stuart: "Actually, he was grieving for the underdogs of America."

Tritt: "Absolutely. So when we stated slowing down and thinking, the tour just seemed right.... Marty came down and and hung out with me for a few days at my house two years ago. We sat around the pool in the middle of summer and talked about the upcoming years and so on and so forth. We could have probably put together another tour right then. But it just didn't feel right. We felt like we wanted to do it again someday, but we both agreed we wanted to do it when it was right. When people really were super-hungry for it. And this year was the deal. It was just the time."

Stuart: "The other thing that's kept me going, Travis and me, is that we're brothers. We kept the friendship going. At the end of the "Whiskey.." video, we shook hands, hugged necks and said when we're fat, old, bald, ugly and nobody cares, we'll still be brothers. They can't take that away from us."

Tritt: "Right."

Stuart: "We've lived that. We've worked on that. And we've always had the fans sort of carry messages back and forth. Right after the first tour, this guy came up and said, 'I got a message for you from Travis.' And I thought, well, yeah, sure. 'Travis says to tell you you're nothing without him.' And I said, 'Yup, that's true.' And then I hear he was going back on his big tour last year, heard he was going to make his entrance on a motorcycle. I thought, he's going to kill himself. Then I heard the very first night he laid the bike over. I called him and asked if it hurt him. He said, 'No.' I said, 'What did you do!' Tritt said, 'Stood up like it never happened.' The next day I sent him a pair of training wheels. Then the fans sent me another message back."

What was, I interject--remember me, the interviewer?--that message?

Stuart: "I can't tell you."

Tritt: "In the meantime, I'm hearing from all my fans. They're bringing me Marty's albums. And they hand them to me and say, 'I want my money.' Then they tell me that, 'Well, Marty said if we bought his album and we didn't like it, to take it to Travis Tritt and he'd give us our money back.' Then they'd snatch the album back. Ha ha."

Stuart: "It's been really a lot of fun...."

Tritt: "And I'm looking forward to the tour this year for that very reason. Marty and I, we're that rare instance. We know how to be brothers and how to get close when the time comes, and stay close. But we also know how to stay out of each other's way. And we don't have to say anything. And that's very rare. You don't see that too often."

Stuart: "One of the things that I think we've kept is smart, is at the end of the night, Travis goes to his world and I go to mine. And every now and then we hook up and turn on the lights and have some fun. But for the most part, we'll leave the fun for the middle of the day. Because, like I say, he's got his agenda and I've got mine. And they're both full all the time. I try to keep anything out of the way that would threaten the fun factor of our relationship because there ain't nothing out there that's as important as a relationship. And I'll keep it that way at any cost. Gotta be that way. But Tritt ain't gonna amount to shit, I can tell you that right now..."

Tritt: "He ain't the first person to tell me that....."

Marty told me, I say, he was saving his money from this tour to buy a little barber shop.
Tritt: "Yeah, he's going to open up a VCR repair shop, and I'm going to buy a little barber shop.

Marty: "That's it. That's it."

Tritt: "Both of our true loves are finally going to come to fruition as a result of this tour. So, thank you America."

Stuart: "Everybody come and buy tickets."

Tritt: "You're making our dreams come true."

Stuart: "It's our cause. We're beautifying America. Maybe we watched one too many of those infomercials on late-night TV...."

You ask me--and I don't mean to tar all Texans with the same brush--there's always some kind of weird spin at shows in Dallas. Like I'm hanging around in front of the stage and there's this guy who looks sort of like Tritt signing autographs. Only it looks like Tritt if he'd spent a couple of months on the Ole EP Fried Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich Diet. A hardscrabble West Texas couple approaches me, and the woman asks shyly, "Is that Travis?" I don't think so, I say, unless, of course, it was Travis trying to do a credible imitation of the Goodyear blimp.

"Then," says the woman, quite reasonably, "why is he signing autographs?"

Something to do with Dallas, I'd bet.

Later that evening, a woman with enough hair to actually have its own small gravitational field sidles up to me.

"You know," she says, "Travis Tritt was out here in the audience signing autographs. He looks a lot skinnier on stage, don't he?"

Wasn't Tritt, I say. She looks very disappointed. She then goes on to explain that her single claim to fame is that in the ballad part of the show, then things are the quietest, she can scream so loud the artist on stage will actually flinch. I'm just thinking maybe we ought to bury her under the faux-Tritt when she lets out a scream that would, quite honestly, curdle milk, knock the neck of a Lone Star and cause cows within a ten-mile radius to miscarry.

She is beaming like some sort of complete idiot when a cowboy--a real one, as opposed to the Ralph Lauren variety: scuffed boots, big silver rodeo buckle, eyes squinting from about 40 years of Texas--walks up from the sidelines.

"Ma'am," he says, hat in hand, "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't do that again."

Still beaming, she says, "What, this?" and lets out another screech. I feel a filling loosen in my tooth.

Still smiling, the cowboy says, "Yes ma'am, that. I'll give you five dollars..."--he reaches into his jeans and peels a five off a small roll--"if you don't do that again."

She takes the money but she's still grinning. Me, I go jump on a golf cart with Stuart who wonders what's going on.

"Dallas is going on," I say.

Stuart: "oh."

So Tritt is getting married. Will Marty be in attendance?

Stuart: "I've been invited. I just don't know if I want to park cars or not..."

Tritt: "He's got to do something with all those suits. Besides, he'll get a lot of tips."

Article written by Michael Bane

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