Marty Stuart's Guiding Light

This appeared in Country Weekly - January 1995

The 8-year-old-boy with the dark hair and the big eyes followed his father into the rapidly filling arena. With his gaze locked squarely onto the stage, he worked his way along the aisle and slid into a folding chair. This was his first big concert, so he really didn't know what to expect, but he couldn't ever remember being so excited. "Even when I was a little boy," Marty Stuart recalled, "there was nothing I loved like music."

In the first country show he remembers, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and a Bluegrass Gospel group called the Sullivan Family played the National Guard Armory in Jackson, Alabama. The highlight for young Marty was when Jerry Sullivan, the Sullivan Family's bass player, sang "Born Again Experience." "He had a way with it, and he just rocked the crowd. I felt the audience's excitement and I felt the song's power....I was really blown away!"

After the last number had finished and the crowd moved toward the exit, Marty stayed behind. He bought the Sullivans' latest album and dashed up to Jerry Sullivan when he appeared to ask for an autograph. The boy pushed to his new idol, "I want to be just like you when I grow up!"

Four years later, Marty was playing with the Sullivan's band and, before he was a teenager, he was working The Grand Ole Opry with Lester Flatt's band. "On one of those weekends when I was working the Opry," Marty remembered, "a security guard brought me a Bible. He told me that someone had given it to him and told him that my mother had sent it for me. I thumbed through it and 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God' was the only verse underlined in the whole Bible. At the time it didn't mean much to me."

Over the next decade, Marty literally grew up on stages around the world. He worked with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis and others. He jumped into the national spotlight as a solo act proudly proclaiming himself to be a hillbilly. He seemed poised to rocket to the top but, instead, this "can't miss" singer almost instantly fizzled. Within a year, he was dropped by his record company, the road dates dried up and no one was talking about him.

By 1987, Marty explained, "my career was over. I was going through a divorce and, after 15 years of success in Nashville, I was going nowhere."

Starting over was rough. Doors closed in his face. Pills and booze couldn't remove the pain. As Marty sorted through the pages of his life, he remembered a night at the Opry and a Bible verse: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." "A very simple realization came to me," Marty said. "When you can live up to that verse, everything else falls into place."

Marty came across that Sullivan album and listened once again to "Born Again Experience." Two hours later the phone rang and Jerry Sullivan asked him to play mandolin for a few shows. "From the moment we got back together," Marty recalls, "I knew that Jerry had the compassion and understanding I needed. We became prayer partners and, in that minute, I came to that place where I said in all humility, 'God, if I need to go to Ethiopia, that is what I want to do. You call the shots.' "

Excerpted from the book I Saw Him In Your Eyes

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