Master Of Ceremonies

This article appeared in CMI Magazine - March 1995

"I know the world over there in the UK from my days playing with Johnny Cash. What lifts me are the new faces and the new potential that country music has in Europe and I'm delighted to be a part of it."

Marty Stuart is talking enthusiastically about his proposed British trip to host the first Great British Country Music Awards on March 23. The awards will involve listeners to BBC Radio 2 and readers of all the country music magazines voting for their favourite British and American artists, and the whole show will be broadcast by Radio 2 from their studios at Pebble Mill in Birmingham a week later.

Venturing the opinion that he's a natural ambassador for the music, Stuart claims, "It's a job that comes kinda natural and from the heart and maybe because I've been around so long." Like Tanya Tucker, Marty Stuart seems to have been around forever yet, like Tanya, he's still only in his mid-30's.

Recently sighted on CMT-Europe selling American Airlines' direct Nashville flight, it comes as a surprise to learn that Stuart will not be receiving freebie plane tickets for the forthcoming trip. "I'll probably get four dollars off my ticket," he claims. "But, I'll tell you, the greatest bonus so far is that I get a great parking space at the Nashville airport."

As well as hosting the awards, Marty Stuart will also be touring as part of a three-part package (billed as the New American Music Tour) in April, alongside two great country stars who always make a point of including Europe in their plans: Emmylou Harris, who I first saw at the old Hammersmith Odeon back in 1978 with Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash and Guy Clark, and an equally enthusiastic Anglophile, Trisha Yearwood. What's the difference between playing the UK and playing in the US?

"Musically, what works over here in the US doesn't always work over there," reckons Stuart. "My gut reaction tells me to avoid those fluffy, poppy kind of things--and we don't do them anyway. Instead we keep to meat and potatoes music and real roots."

Considering his reputation as a formidable picker and the musical prowess of Emmylou's backing band, the Nash Ramblers, many people will be looking out to see if Stuart comes up with some hot mandolin duets with Nash Rambler Sam Bush. "That wouldn't surprise me at all," he says, with a knowing smile. "MCA (Stuart's record company) is also getting behind these shows. I've just finished up a retrospective album, which will be released over there in time for the tour."

Stuart has a wonderful colour photograph of himself taken at a bluegrass festival in Arkansas when he was just 14. He's peering straight at the camera with a huge smile on his face, clutching a guitar nearly as big as he is. What put the smile there is the fact that one of his great heroes has his arm around his shoulder and is also smiling to the camera. That "hero" was the founding father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe.

Stuart still speaks of Monroe with real affection: "I bought a mandolin when I was 12 and when I heard his records for the first time, I wanted to play exactly like him. He was the first star I ever saw in the south. Guys in my hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi talked about him like he was a God or something. There are songs of his that I learned as a kid which still thrill me when I sing them, even today. He means a great deal to me, he really does.

"Y'know, I joined Lester Flatt about the time that him and Bill made up after a feud they'd had lasting 27 years," he grins. "Bill and Lester didn't speak because there was some jealousy there about showbiz success. What struck me most about Bill was that the radio didn't play him. He was never really considered a commercial act, but thousands of people would come and see him at those bluegrass festivals because he was a man that carried something different. He had an aura about him. It was like being around Muddy Waters."

Did he get the job with Lester Flatt at the age of 13 as a gimmick on Lester's part? "The records speak for themselves." Stuart sounds indignant. "When I listen back, I have to say the kid had a lot of talent! That band was a really old fraternity and if I hadn't been able to cut it--on or off the bus--I don't think I'd have been considered. I really held my own in that band."

Knowing that some artists collect instruments by the roomful, does Stuart have any musical treasures in his collection? "I've got some cool guitars. I've got a guitar that belonged to Hank Williams. I've got a guitar that Carl Perkins gave me and I have Lester Flatt's guitar. The guitar I'll be bringing to Britain with me is Clarence White's Telecaster." Mentally recalling a couple of lines from an old Tom Paxton song--"Thank you United Airlines for breaking the neck on my guitar"--I suggest he gives the guitar a seat on the plane and doesn't check it in as baggage. "Most definitely," agrees Stuart.

Was it true that he once toured in Ernest Tubb's road bus? "Yes, it was the only bus we could afford at the time," he replies, laughing. "It was like watching a classic car go down the road. It was in immaculate condition and people caught on that it was Ernest's old bus and it became real famous again." Didn't you used to sit where Ernest Tubb's heavyweight driver Singin' Johnny Wiggins once sat? "Well, there was a big dip in the seat there. So, yes!"

In 1988, Stuart worked with Jerry Sullivan's gospel group, co-producing Jerry and Tammy Sullivan's outstanding album, A Joyful Noise, released by the Country Music Foundation in 1991. It was my album of the year at the time and I wondered if there was more to come. "As a matter of fact, I recently put the final dub on a new record that's about to be released in early spring."

Stuart's most recent album on MCA is titled Love And Luck. His luck appears to be holding out, but how is his love life? "My love life? It's wanting! Tell your young lady readers that I'm interested in making new friends that have other interests!" he announces with a wicked laugh.

Publicist Mike Hyland, our mutual friend in Nashville, had got us together just prior to Stuart's induction as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Did the induction turn out to be a quick heave-ho after he called the audience "a bunch of old farts"?

Stuart is quick to counter the question. "There's a great story about Webb Pierce years ago. He was a notorious drinker and he really had a lot of money. He didn't have to think about what people thought around here--and nor did he care. He was just one of those great characters. He got drunk on the Opry one night and when it happened again, they told him 'look, you're outta here.' His manager started calling after a few weeks begging and pleading and saying that 'Webb'll never do it again. He loves the institution.' Finally they said 'If the son of a bitch comes over here and makes one more bad step, it's over!' So Webb came back, he did his first song and then said 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm retiring from the Grand Ole Opry.' So he had the last laugh after all.

"Well, I was thinking of Webb when I was going down to the Opry. I was saying to my manager, 'Maybe I'll do the 8 o'clock show and get fired by the 10:30 show," and she had no idea I was gonna say those words. When I did say them, I thought, 'This is gonna be the shortest ever career at the Opry' but it worked out fine."

I heard the telephone exchange lit up like a Christmas tree that night. "That's right. They hadn't done so much business since the night Hank died!"

If they said your good time was over and it was time to hand back the hair gel, the Nudie suits, the tour bus and all those priceless instruments, what would you do? Would you be a musician, travel agent, manager, publisher.... "I'd probably be Buck Owens," he laughs. "He's all those things anyway and a hero. I know there comes a time when you have to move over, but I've got so many things going on. They're talking about a Marty Stuart wing at the Country Music Hall of Fame. You know, I'll give my collection over to those guys and share it with the people again. I know when I'm fat and grey, I'll still have a passion for the music."

Marty Stuart has a great passion for everything in life, including country music, its performers and it's history. He's a worthy ambassador of the highest order.

Article written by Wally Whyton

Return To Articles Return To Home Page