Film World Embraces Marty Stuart

This appeared in the Calgary Sun - November 2, 1997

He was raised by Nashville.

Now he's being nurtured by Hollywood.

Marty Stuart is only 39, but 1997 marks his 25th year in the country-music biz -- as a respected session player for the likes of Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash; and as an acclaimed solo performer, with a handful of early-'90s hits ("Tempted," "Hillbilly Rock," "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' ") to his name.

But recently the hits have stopped coming and his popularity has been waning -- another victim of Nashville's youth movement. He knew he had to do something. He just didn't know what.

"When (longtime pal) Travis Tritt and me came off our tour last year, I started thinking to myself: `It's time to explore some new avenues,'" says Stuart, who plays at Cowboys tonight and tomorrow.

The country veteran decided to get away from the music business and attend Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival as a casual observer. He went to relax, but ended up being commissioned to produce soundtracks for Hi-Lo Country, the new movie by director Stephen Frears and actor Woody Harrelson, now filming in Mexico; and for Primary Colors, directed by Mike Nichols and starring John Travolta.

"Inside that (film) world, I'm finding there are directors who admittedly don't know anything about music. They just know what they like and surround themselves with good musical people," says Stuart, who just happens to be an expert on music of the American Deep South.

For Hi-Lo Country, "we went to Dallas, Tex., gathered up some of Bob Wills' original Texas Playboys, put them together with some new western-swing players and recorded some western-swing music," he says.

As for Primary Colors, based on a book inspired by Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, the film is set in "the redneck corner of Arkansas -- that opens you up to the Delta blues from Mississippi, you can draw from Texas music, Memphis music, rockabilly or country."

Writing for film has been a refreshing change of pace.

"Sometimes you get so concerned with keeping up with the game -- everybody is aiming for that two-and-a-half minute, grand-slam (hit single) and begging radio to take it -- that you get caught in that niche of doing one thing. When you're writing songs for a movie, often times you have the ability to relax and let the story flow and let the music flow. It takes the pressure off.

"Nashville is busy right now making the flavor of the week.... The only thing I know to do is go back (to) the roots, stand by what I know is right and what I believe will stand through the ages."

This creative manifesto has inspired Stuart to write a concept album, The Pilgrim, which he hopes to record next year.

"I want it to be the kind of album that musically starts at the extreme roots -- sitting on the Carter Family's front porch -- and moves from there to bluegrass to folk music to rockabilly to honky tonk to hillbilly rock to 21st century country music. You know the saying: `You know where you're going a whole lot better if you know where you've been'? I do think country is at a moment where it wouldn't hurt us at all to look back."

By David Veitch

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