Happy 20th Anniversary Opry House

Marty Stuart Says 'Thanks For The Memories'

This appeared in Country Weekly - April 1994

When the Grand Ole Opry moved out of its cramped Ryman Auditorium birthplace into his spacious Opryland home in 1974, Marty Stuart wasn't old enough to drive a car. But he was old enough to love the Opry like a veteran.

While barely into his teens, this boy was no stranger to the legendary Opry stage that has played host to nearly all of the country greats. He had already performed on it. More than once. Stuart's first gig on the Opry stage had happened two years before at the ripe old age of 13.

"Lester Flatt heard me play and offered me a job," Stuart said. "I was in the ninth grade in Mississippi one day and the next weekend I was a Grand Ole Opry performer and playing poker with Roy Acuff backstage," Stuart said. "What could be finer?"

As just a teen, Marty knew music was in his blood and the Opry was in his heart. Now known as "Mr. Hillbilly Music With A Twist," Marty cut his teeth playing mandolin with the bluegrass/gospel Sullivan Family during the summer months following eighth grade. He soon learned he was much more inclined to play music than he was to attend school.

"I discovered that you were applauded, people paid for it and girls liked you," he said of his first public stint. So when he was kicked out of school the following year for reading a book on country music in class, Stuart didn't waste any time. He boarded a bus headed for Music City, U.S.A. It was only a few days later that Marty climbed onto the Opry stage--as a member of Country Music Hall of Fame member Lester Flatt's band.

Stuart hosted the recent 20th Anniversary Celebration featuring Clint Black, Martina McBride and the Oak Ridge Boys and honoring the Opry's move to Opryland. There couldn't have been a better choice.

Twenty years after his first performance on the legendary stage, Stuart was inducted into the family of the Grand Ole Opry as a full-fledged member, introduced by Country Music Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens during the live broadcast by The Nashville Network. The date was November 28, 1992.

While it was one of the highest points in the singer's career, it was also bittersweet. Although several of his "teachers" were in the audience that night, his longtime, poker-playing partner Roy Acuff was not in attendance. He had passed away only five days before.

"Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, Stringbean (Akeman), Grandpa Jones, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Dickens--that's the bunch that raised me, the bunch I still love the most today," he said. Today, Marty Stuart has more success than he probably knows what to do with, as reflected by seven top 10 singles in the past seven years, including "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' " with Travis Tritt. But between gigs on the road and recording albums, he manages to find the time to play the Opry as often as possible and still talks of the institution as if he were in a commercial. But this guy's for real. He loves the Opry. It is his life, his love and, as he puts it, his responsibility.

"My job is to tell people about the legends, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. My job is to tell young people about the Grand Ole Opry. It really impresses me that they love songs like "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' " or "High On A Mountain Top." Those are hardcore country songs. The kids are lovin' it, but a lot of them don't know about George Jones or why the Grand Ole Opry exists. I think my mission is to tell them.

"I'd be lying to myself and cheatin' myself if I didn't go ahead and do it, because that's what I'm about. That's where I come from in country music and that's where my passion lies. I'm not standing at the edge of the city limits of Nashville beating a drum saying we must have the old days of country music. I'm simply saying we can't forget where we're coming from or we're missing the whole deal."

He's played bluegrass and he's played rhythm and blues. But most of all, he has played from his heart. And a large part of that heart has to do with the Grand Ole Opry.

By Shannon Parks

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