Marty Stuart

This appeared in Country Music People Magazine - March 1995

He's outspoken, straight talking, a self-professed hillbilly, an accomplished musician and songwriter, has a passion for rhinestone suits, pays tribute to the legends of country music at every opportunity, is spokesperson for the Nashville Office of Tourism, wears his hair like no other, over the past six years has made some of the most exciting records this side of Bakersfield and, as any self-respecting square-eyed CMT view can attest to, has probably the highest profile in Nashville. There's one heck of a lot to admire about Marty Stuart.

As a long-time member of Johnny Cash's band (six years), Marty Stuart has visited the United Kingdom several times before, but next month sees him play here for the first time in his own right as one of the artists on the 'New American Music Tour'--the others being Emmylou Harris and Trisha Yearwood--which touches down at The Point in Dublin, includes dates in Belfast, Glasgow and Birmingham and winds up at The Royal Albert Hall before heading for the Continent--an experience he is most definitely looking forward to, but readily admits that he's not sure what to expect.....

"I'm truly flying blind musically and going with my gut instinct because I know that a lot of things that work in the States perhaps don't work with fans in Europe, and my gut tells me to come from the roots, do what we do, play the country/rock thing that we do and, at the same time, lean back on my bluegrass training and shoot from the hip."

Stuart explains that it is not purely financial restraints that prevent many US artists from playing more dates than they do in the UK. "Since the days of Wembley and those kinds of festivals, I think not only financially (but it's also due to) lack of venues and lack of knowledge and interest in modern country music. I think now that CMT has made a presence over there, new promoters have showed interest in coming over here and taking us across (and) finally there's a market development. The market that had developed for a lot of years, it got to the point where artists in this town didn't want to go over there and there was a lot of lack of interest over here for a long time. Now it seems that we're getting truly on the ball."

However, for someone so inherently proud of his hillbilly roots, it is a little surprising that Stuart is concerned over the name, 'The New American Music Tour.' "Well, I had a bit of trouble with that at first when I was recording the television promos and, at one point, I made the statement, 'Look, this is really hard. It's like eating chicken and not calling it chicken. We are what we are. I'm a hillbilly. I'm a country music singer and that's what I play.' I really didn't understand the thinking behind disguising it as 'American Music.' Of course, we're American music. The reason we are American music is, we're country musicians, so I really don't have any problem with that."

Prior to the tour, Marty Stuart will be in Britain in March to host the first Great British Country Music Awards, a welcome move up-market for an awards show this side of the pond and, again, something of an unknown quantity to Stuart, although he certainly has more knowledge of the UK scene than most American artists.

"I've heard some of the bands," he admits, and has this to say when pressed for his views on British country music. "I don't think you can compare British country music to American country music. It's a completely different deal. I don't know that the mainstream British country artist would do very well in the States but, at the same time, some of our mainstream artists wouldn't do so well in Britain. I think the fact that you're just playing music and having record deals and awards shows and success, that speaks pretty much for itself, so I think British country music's doing fine."

Marty Stuart has long since championed the cause of taking country music, its legends and its history, to a younger audience. "I think I've made an awareness. When I'm thought about, one of the things that people include in their thoughts is the fact that this is a guy that respects the traditions, and I think that we've been somewhat effective."

He concedes, however, that there is still a way to go..... "When the Rolling Stones popped, if they had just stood on stage and preached about Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf or any of those guys, I think that, at some point, the most effective way is just play the music and play a Howlin' Wolf song and play a Muddy Waters song, and let the fans discover it for themselves 'cause you really can't jam anything down anybody's throat if they don't want to hear about it. A lot of these brand new fans, they hate that stuff and it makes me sad that they don't have an open mind to listen to it. But, at the same time, there are a whole lot of them that discover Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash on account of something I might've said or done. I think the whole trick is in entertaining them, giving them an education without them really knowing it."

Naturally, these feelings are also directed towards some new artists that owe seemingly little to country and its roots. Stuart confesses "It makes me sad for them 'cause if they're gonna play country music, it would probably make them much better at what they do if they had the opportunity to know some of these guys and it would enrich their lives if they had the opportunity to be around some of these people, because they're truly the masters.

"If you're a painter, why wouldn't you want to hang out with Michelangelo if he was still around? Why wouldn't anybody that plays country music want to spend a few minutes with Merle Haggard or Bill Monroe? It would benefit everybody. I understand that it's about evolution and a lot of people are into country music because of the Eagles instead of Bill Monroe. Time moves along."

Since he signed with MCA Records six years ago, we have witnessed the rise and rise of Marty Stuart. However, life before this was not always easy as he tried to kickstart his career after many years as a session musician and playing not only with Johnny Cash but also Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass from the tender age of 13. Stuart notched up moderate success with half a dozen singles on Columbia Records between 1986 and '88. He also made two albums for Columbia although it is only in recent times that the second of these, Let There Be Country, has seen a release.

Marty Stuart laughs a lot, but ask him about Let There Be Country, a cutting indictment lyrically of Nashville circa the 1980s, and he can barely contain his amusement. "Well you saw that record didn't get released. Believe me, it was not easy. They didn't know what to do with me. I mean, I was an industry kid. They had raised me, they had watched me since I was 13 years old play on all their TV shows, radio shows and make records with them but, when I started my band, here I come pulling things out from under the carpet like those old Porter Wagoner suits that people were ashamed of after a while.

"The image of country music was trying so hard to change and they were wearing evening gowns and tuxedos and putting a lot of lush strings on records. I thought that was nice, but I thought it was a bunch of bullshit, too. It was time to get back to the heart and soul of the matter and so, when I started my band, I wanted to pull out some of my favorite things about country music like those costumes and twangy kind of music.

"It just didn't go over for a long time, but all those people that helped raise me, they didn't know what to do with me. They couldn't throw me away 'cause I was one of theirs. What happened was, they called me a rockabilly....and nothing happened. 'Cause when they call you a rockabilly in Nashville, it's the kiss of death. I had to do that album to get out of my Columbia deal and that song, "Let There Be Country," I really wrote out of self-humour and frustration. But it pretty well tells the truth."

With hindsight, it would seem that Marty Stuart was just ahead of his time, though he is not so sure. "I don't know if it was behind or ahead. I just know it wasn't in tune with the moment. That's been the story of my life a lot of times. A lot of people innovate and never get to capitalize on the joy and success of their innovation, and that was my cause for a long time. It seemed like I was wearing rhinestone suits ahead of time, I was wearing my hair goofy ahead of time, I was playing loud music on the radio ahead of time. A lot of things were happening. Finally, it all caught up with us, but it was just not time.

"The industry's really changed a lot from those days. The first (Columbia) album I really didn't like. I thought it was too poppy. I was really a scared kid trying to please the record company. That second record is me trying to establish something. When I turned it in to the record company, they looked at me and said, 'This is much too country." I said, 'What kind of music are we trying to make around here anyway?' So it was just basically shelved for a long time."

On joining MCA in 1989, Stuart was one of the first artists to write with songwriter Kostas, someone he rates very highly. "I think Kostas is Harlan Howard's love child! When I first got my deal at MCA, Tony Brown said, 'I've found a new songwriter, a Greek guy from Montana that just has one name, Kostas, and he lives in the mountains.' So I flew up there, and Kostas and I were really getting stated about the same time and, man, am I happy for him. I think he's a brilliant, brilliant songwriter."

The first song co-written by Stuart and Kostas was Joy Lynn White's "True Confessions." Another early collaboration was "It Only Hurts When I Laugh," the title of an album by the superb, though now sadly out of a deal, Jann Browne. Naturally, Marty Stuart has strong views on the way that Nashville and the media seem frightened by that relatively rare breed of gutsy female honky tonkers typified by White and Browne.

"That really bothers me. k.d. lang tried it in Nashville and I thought Nashville really was amiss by turning k.d. lang away. I think they should really take another look at Joy White and Jann Browne. If you're looking for that Patsy Cline kind of music, get down on your shit and sing, those are the girls that can do it."

One of the things that helped put Marty Stuart firmly on the map was the hugely successful and well publicized 'No Hats Tour' with Travis Tritt, one that was marketed with a 'Rock 'n' Roll Attitude.'

Stuart explains: "When I look at a Garth Brooks tour or an Alan Jackson tour, probably the Vince Gill tour, I do think that the 'No Hats Tour' was 'of the first' modern present-day country tours that carried that kind of production and carried that kind of publicity and hype that went along with it.

"The guy that I took my cue from all these years was Mick Jagger. I always thought the Stones were so clever, how they would announce the tour, and then just market the hell out of it as they went along. And I thought, well, why can't you apply that to country music?"

Improved marketing of country music and its image is something we could well use in the UK where, despite the good work done by the likes of Garth Brooks, there is still a ways to go.

Stuart says, "We must understand that country music, even though it is as big as it is in the States right now, is a lot like blues or jazz or bluegrass. It's not for everybody, the same as rap's not for everybody. So there are always going to be critics that scorn us, that don't understand, and think they're aloof to it and that condescend to country music. There are always gonna be people who can't equate and don't relate and that's okay.

"Britain's a bit of a proper country, seemingly, and it's understandable that you don't talk about hay bales and getting drunk, so yeah, I think that people like Garth, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, those kind of people have a very cosmopolitan edge about them, and I think they've truly helped the image of country music in those suburbia situations.

The future would appear to be rosy for Stuart: he is currently to be found singing "Don't Be Cruel" on the Elvis tribute album, is scheduled to record a new album of his own in the next couple of months, is embarking on the European tour, and is in constant demand for TV appearances.

Is there anyone that Marty Stuart would especially like to record with? "Maybe Dwight Yoakam and me ought to get together and do a record someday....."

Article written by Duncan Warwick

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