Marty Stuart

This appeared in Country Music News & Routes - March 1995

Many newcomers to country music may think that Marty Stuart suddenly emerged from nowhere in 1990 when he had an American hit with "Hillbilly Rock" and then went on during the nineties to get even more acclaim not only for his own work but also for recording and touring with Travis Tritt in what they called the "No Hats" tour.

But the truth is that he had been paying his dues in the more traditional side of country music for many years. In fact, he joined Lester Flatt's band in 1972 when he was only 13 years of age--playing both mandolin and guitar. After Lester's death in 1972, he moved on to work with fiddle player Vassar Clements and acoustic guitar virtuoso Doc Watson. Then for six years, he toured and recorded with Johnny Cash.

It seems ironic that someone from such a background would co-headline a tour entitled "New American Music" but, rest assured, Marty is very much a performer of today, despite coming from a traditional background and he is used to being labeled "new."

When he decided to go solo at the age of 28 in 1986, he was part of the CBS "new" country campaign--15 years after he started playing professionally. In our interview, he actually asked me why the promoters chose the title "New American Music" and not country but stressed that the music would be just as good and exciting whatever title it went under.

Currently, he is the official spokesman for tourism in Tennessee and Nashville, in particular, and as well as playing on tour, he will also be the official host for the First Great British Country Music Awards which will take place on March 23 and will be broadcast by the BBC Radio-2 the following Thursday, March 30 in their Country Club slot.

Of the three headliners, he is probably the least known in Britain--in fact the other two have both been on our cover in the past--but he did play here once before while working for Johnny Cash and recalls that Wembley appearance.

"That was in the early to mid-Eighties and international country music then rarely had the opportunity to travel beyond Wembley. I just remember how traditional the fans were back in that time--many dressed like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. I loved the fact that the British fans respected the tradition of the music.

"This time, I feel that it is entirely different. I have been given an opportunity to try and establish a relationship for the future and my record company is finally going to release a record over here now. This is something that I've wanted for a long time."

The plan is for Trisha and Marty to play 45 minutes each and then Emmylou will have a 90-minute spot and the show concludes with all three on stage.

"Probably I will be first. I am really looking forward to playing the Royal Albert Hall particularly because it has the same feel as the Ryman Auditorium--a perfect place. I think the show is a well-balanced package because Emmylou is well respected in Britain and has been building up a base for years and Trisha has already appeared a couple of times and, like me, is looking for her space."

What instruments?

"Mainly mandolin and guitar. My fiddle playing sucks--it got no better so I retired (laughs) and I hired a bass player for my band. At one time I attempted to add myself on extra fiddle but I found that a lot of people were apt to get up and walk away (laughs again)--I'm a horrid fiddle player."


"We usually do 'The Whiskey Ain't Workin' song which I recorded with Travis in my show, but we tend to know a whole bunch of songs and probably pick a different set. This trip is a bit of a challenge in two ways because I have to fit in with two other major acts and I have to find out what really works over in Britain, so I am just intending to come to showcase myself and the kind of music that I play."

Variety of the music?

"I can understand the guy that can only play one form of country music, but it wasn't difficult for me to go from a bluegrass base, to Johnny Cash and then on to where I am now. There are some guys who have only played bluegrass and never will play anything else. They're purists and I love those guys because the sound of bluegrass doesn't need to be watered down. But for me, although I will always play bluegrass on the side, I always tried to develop an electrical side. The rhythm of Johnny Cash and the rhythm of bluegrass music is often very similar...... I never had any difficulty.

"I remember one show when I was about 14 and the opening act ironically was Gram Parsons with Emmylou, then I played with Lester Flatt's band and the final act was The Eagles. There was Gram singing George Jones songs, looking like Porter Wagoner and acting like Keith Richards. Then the Eagles, who were a pop band at the time, included a little bluegrass and that one show showed me that all different types of music could be combined if done well--that show was a real revelation--it really was....bluegrass, country, country/rock and pop."

Hillbilly Rock?

"I don't know whether it was a career song for us, but it was a song that got us a job out there and allowed us to promote our form of country music. It was the first of my songs that made the radio, the video channels and the charts. It finally gave me a reason to have a bus and a band and got us a few shows to play.

"I had worked all my life as a musician and this was just a different level I was looking for. I was interested in becoming a headliner. You can play all your life in a honky tonk in the back end of Texas that no one has ever heard of but for you and the band, so it was nice to finally get record success.

"Acts from a bluegrass background like the late Keith Whitley and Vince Gill have all had success recently. I'll tell you about bluegrass, if you can be an authentic bluegrass player, then you can actually play anything--rock 'n' roll, jazz, country, anything--if you can really execute bluegrass well. It takes a whole lot of skill. The bluegrass side of Nashville has always been downplayed--like rockabilly is to rock 'n' roll.

"Finally bluegrass has got some stars--Travis Tritt is a bluegrasser, Joe Diffie, Marty Raybon from Shenandoah. They're all mainstream guys now and don't forget Ricky Skaggs. Bluegrass gave them a lot and now they're giving the music something of a profile.

"Every now and then it is so nice to do away with all the electricity and just sit in a room and pick. It really makes music come back to life."


"The only time I have worn a hat was when I was with Lester Flatt--I was required to wear a hat at every show for seven years and it kinda got to the stage where I never wanted to wear a hat again! I'm sure some of those guys sleep in their hats and they look great in them but it didn't suit me. Me and Travis decided to go against the grain because, at that time, you could drive down the street and see 14 guys that looked like Garth Brooks and we were way on the outside of that trend so we thought we'd have some fun about it."

Tennessee tourism?

"You ask what my position with the Tennessee Tourist group means I have a great parking spot at the airport! That kinda just stumbled in 'cause I wrote a song called 'Dream, Dream, Dream' and they called and said they were looking for a song to play at tourist events. Then they wanted to do a video and it kinda happened that way. Next thing you know is I'm talking to people all over the world about why I like Nashville and I end up with the title Nashville Ambassador of Tourism and I sure like the job.

"All my life I never wanted to be anything or do anything other than come to Nashville and be involved with the dream has come true."

The early days?

"I can remember going to see Johnny Cash when I was nine years old. My Mom came by school early to pick me up and drive me about 90 miles to go and see him. Next day I was so excited when I went back to school and told them I'd seen Johnny Cash and everybody laughed at me. Country music was not a popular subject at all! The first three records I ever owned in my life were a Johnny Cash album and Flatt and Scruggs' Greatest Hits and a Beatles album--I loved that Beatles album but there was something about that Johnny Cash sound.

"Last year I had lunch with Ringo and he asked me if I listened to the Beatles when I was young. I told him I had that album for a couple of months and then I gave it away but I kept my Johnny Cash one. He said 'All right, mate, the rest of the world kept theirs!' "

His hot songs

Since "Hillbilly Rock" brought Marty to the attention of radio and the record-buying public, he has had several other successes so songs to listen out for at his shows are "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Western Girls," "Little Things," "Til I Found You," "Tempted" as well as his duet with Tritt.

Also look out for a new album to tie up with the tour that will include most of these. There is a slight Brit tie up in that Paul Kennerley wrote "Hillbilly Rock and co-wrote "Western Girls" with Marty.

Marty is a very talented photographer and some of his shots have been used in magazines and several of the articles he has written have been published, but it is his music that Brit country fans will be interested in and I can see him appealing to both the new fans and the traditional ones. He is not just a "new" name that comes from a traditional background, he keeps the old tradition alive by traveling around America in Ernest Tubb's old Silver Eagle tour bus and his stage wardrobe is as flashy as anything Porter Wagoner ever owned and, by the way, he can pick a bit too!

Article written by Mick Green

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