Marty Stuart - He really did go to school with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash

This appeared in Country Music USA - September 1991

Marty Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where his father was a factory supervisor and his mother a bank teller, but he got his schooling--musical and otherwise--on the road with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash. He likens the years with Flatt to a high school education and his stint with Cash to earning a university degree. He really did go to high school with Flatt, joining the band at the age of 13. His age may have made him somewhat of a novelty onstage, but his performance on mandolin and guitar was strictly professional quality. When Flatt died in 1979, Stuart branched out musically, playing what he described as a sort of "bluegrass-fusion" style with fiddle player Vassar Clements and working with acoustic guitar virtuoso Doc Watson. He also began his six-year stint touring and recording with Cash.

Stuart produced his first solo album himself in 1982--Busy Bee Cafe--on the independent Sugar Hill label. The session band on the half-vocal, half-instrumental album attests to Stuart's reputation as a picker: Doc Watson, Merle Watson and Johnny Cash on guitars, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Carl Jackson on banjo. In 1986, he made his major label debut on CBS with Marty Stuart. Despite his years of experience, it was his first attempt to really be a lead singer and to set forth a musical style all his own. In retrospect, he considers it an important developmental effort and, through the next two years, he worked hard on his songwriting, honing and polishing the sound that finally emerged when he signed with MCA and released Hillbilly Rock.

In the meantime, Stuart had become a musician in high demand. His studio and concert credits include a wide range of artists, among them Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Randy Travis, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Travis Tritt, Billy Joel and the Cash-Kristofferson-Nelson-Jennings album, The Highwaymen. He was a member of the studio and that accompanied the historic reunion of Sun Records artists Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Along the way, Stuart's experiences in music formed the base of successful efforts in two other creative fields--writing and photography. His photos have been featured on an album cover and he has contributed several articles to music magazines. He also has a book in progress about his earliest musical experiences, traveling during summer vacations with a gospel-bluegrass group.

When Stuart came to MCA, he teamed up in the studio with co-producers Tony Brown and Richard Bennett, Stuart had been a fan of Brown's since Stuart was 12 years old, sitting in the audience at an Oak Ridge Boys gospel show and watching Brown play piano. Brown has since become A & R vice president of MCA Nashville and the producer of Patty Loveless, among many others. Bennett's guitar work has been a vital part of the sound of Neil Diamond, Steve Earle and dozens of other recording artists.

For Hillbilly Rock, Stuart drew from Flatt, Cash and all the other highly individual country and honky tonk stylists. He put an extra kick into the music and called it "hillbilly music--with a thump." His cover of Johnny Cash's classic Cry, Cry, Cry introduced the new Marty Stuart sound. Hillbilly Rock told audiences what Stuart's music was all about in a short history of the art form. Marty's current album is Tempted, released on MCA and his single, Till I Found You has just topped out on Billboard at #12.

Marty Stuart married Cindy Cash (Johnny Cash's daughter) in 1983 but that only lasted until 1988. Marty knew he was in trouble when CBS dropped him from their label so, after a failed marriage and a lost record label deal, he decided to take some time off and do some soul searching. "I had been on the road for fifteen years and I was tired." Marty went back to playing with a gospel band that Marty had played with years ago. After a few months, Marty called a good friend at MCA, Tony Brown, and with the help of Tony, Marty started making music again. They produced Hillbilly Rock and Tempted. Today it looks as if the BIG door has been opened for Marty and we love it.

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