Finding His Way Home

Marty Stuart Gets His House In Order

This appeared in the Winnipeg Sun - January 18, 2002

Don't thank honky-tonk man Marty Stuart for being crazy enough to play Winnipeg in January -- thank his contractor. "We're in the middle of renovations here, and it's nuts," explains the affable singer, twanging down the line from the Nashville-area home he shares with country legend Connie Smith. "We're redoing the whole thing from top to bottom, front to back -- the whole nine yards. And we're living here while we do it, which is insane.

"That's why I'm getting back out on the road," laughs Stuart, who performs at McPhillips Street Station tonight and tomorrow. "I just wanna get out of here!"

Stuart is just joshing of course. But it is true that along with rebuilding his home, the rooster-coiffed singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has spent the past couple of years putting his musical house back in order.

"On Jan. 1, 2000, I decided it was time to forget about the road and playing live concerts for a while because I had toured since I was 13 years old," says Stuart, who turned 43 last September. "I remember thinking about halfway through the tour for my 1999 album The Pilgrim, 'I'm just doing the same old tricks, the same old gags, the same old routines. Sure, I love it -- but I wish I could do something new.'

"So I decided it was time for me to go behind the curtain and quietly reinvent -- to expand a few things, lose a few things that didn't need to be there, basically shake it up for a new decade."

To recharge his batteries, Stuart turned to new projects, new partners, new challenges. He did studio and session work, collaborating with a long list of artists from Carolyn Dawn Johnson to Billy Bob Thornton. He spent time in Hollywood and tried his hand at scoring a few movies, including Thornton's All the Pretty Horses. He even helped compile a coffee-table book of Hank Williams' handwritten letters and lyrics, taken from his massive collection of country-music memorabilia (see sidebar).

So, yeah, Stuart found plenty of ways to fill his time. But what he was really doing, he says, was biding it. He was waiting until he "could feel the music again, could hear the sound again." Perhaps he was seeking the sound of bluegrass kings Flatt and Scruggs, whose band he joined as a teenage guitarist in the '70s. Or the sound of Johnny Cash, who was his boss (and father-in-law) during much of the '80s. Or the sound of countless other performers who inspired him to merge bluegrass, twangy rockabilly and gritty honky-tonk into hits like "Hillbilly Rock" and "High on a Mountain Top."

Whatever the case, during country's love affair with belly buttons and big hats, he wasn't hearing it. But lately, as the tide has turned to the Appalachian tones of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Stuart has found the sound again.

"I watched country go through its pop-tart phase," he sighs. "But I gotta tell you, at the last Country Music Association Awards, I saw more mandolins and fiddles and dobros and bass fiddles on that stage than I've ever seen in years. That got me excited."

Now, it's got him gearing up for the next chapter in his career -- which includes a new album, a new record deal and a new tour.

"Right now, I'm writing songs and kicking tires and testing things out -- and the best way I know how to do that is to roll up the tents, hit the front lines and play some honky-tonk."

More importantly, the 2002 model Marty Stuart also has a renewed sense of purpose.

"Guys like Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and me, the job assigned to us -- whether we want it or not -- is to be standard bearers in a sense. We're the guys who know what was done and know what needs to be done musically. They need guys like us out there."

And he's only too happy to oblige. At least until his house is finished.

By Darryl Sterdan

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