Marty Stuart: All Heart......And The Beat Goes On
|This appeared in Country Fever Magazine - May/June 1995|
|If you are a fan of Marty Stuart's, you simply love the guy. It is a heart-to-heart transfer of sincere affection from the country music lover to a music maker who loves country music more than anything, who loves to give it to his fans and who loves them for accepting the offering. How else do you explain Marty's high profile, his huge fan club (15,000 strong), his popularity on tour and his record company's faith in him despite the fact that he hasn't scored a significant hit since "Burn Me Down" went Top 10 in 1992? His dry spell on radio is puzzling, especially since his recent albums have been critically acclaimed. Marty is not overly concerned and declares, "I ain't going away." As well he shouldn't, since he continues to grow as a writer and singer and provides a real link between country music's past and future (Marty began his career at age 12, working in the band of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt). It is always enjoyable to speak with this refreshingly honest, sincere, charming and committed man. Enjoy our conversation, which touches on his talent, his love life, his hopes for the future, and much more from a person who is in it for the long haul....as the beat--the heartbeat of Marty Stuart goes on.
I think you're singing as well as you've ever sung in your life right now. Have you worked on that?
Singing is all about confidence and living some more. When I first started making records, I'd never sang before. I bluffed my way into a record deal. I got one. I went, "uh-oh! I got to learn to sing and write songs now." So, I mean, it's a gaining thing.
You have to be that way in this business. You have to be ready to take chances, don't you?
Well, I tell you what: The only thing that has ever mattered to me in life is doing something different. The people that I took my cues from when I was first getting started in the industry, none of them are those cookie-cutter vanilla, flavor-of-the-month kind of people. They were people that dared to be different. They had a lot of ups and downs, but you could always count on them showing up at the ball game. Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt--I'm talking about the real guys that started the industry. Those kind of guys all had phenomenal flops, and they've had phenomenal victories too. That's the kind of things that happen if you have a long-term career in country music.
Did you choose the records that went on The Marty Party Hit Pack?
Most of them, and it just got down to where you couldn't put them all on there. They would have had 20 songs on there if I had had my way. The songs like "Tempted," "Hillbilly Rock," "Western Girls," "Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," "This One's Gonna Hurt You," "Burn Me Down"--it's hard to leave songs like that off. There were a couple of neat events like the song "The Weight" that I recorded with the Staple Singers that was on the Rhythm, Country & Blues record. That was a valid piece of music. I thought "Don't Be Cruel" down there at the Elvis tribute--it seemed to fit the Party Pack kind of mode, so that went on there as well as two new songs.
Tell me about the new songs. What will be the first single?
New songs? I didn't write either one of them but they're just neat songs. One of them is called "The Likes Of Me." It says, "You've never been loved by the likes of me." It's a swampy-feeling thing. I like it a lot. The other one is called "If I Ain't Got You." It's a good song. I think I've heard a Steve Earle song called "If I Ain't Got You"--somebody had that. If there's a lawsuit, send it to Steve Earle.
Good thing you can't copyright song titles.
Right. That sure helps when you're writing! [Laughs] Got this new one called "Achy Breaky Heart"!
Are you planning anything different this year as far as your tour?
What I have is four TV shows called The Marty Party that I'm doing on TNN. They're real unique shows, different kinds of shows than you might expect to see there, combining old and new. The first one is "Marty Party Goes Honky Tonkin'." My guests are Merle Haggard and David Ball and Pam Tillis. The second show is "Marty Party Goes Down Home." We're having a back-porch jam and my guests are going to be Travis Tritt and Levan Hillman, the band and somebody else. The third one, we're going to be rockin' and have the Mavericks and Johnny Cash, then a Christmas show. So we're taking The Marty Party--that has a neat set, a neat atmosphere about it; it's just a real unique kind of show--taking it out on the road is probably what's going to happen this year for America. We went to Europe for a few weeks in the spring, Japan in the fall. So we're marching on out internationally this year as well.
You've been a very outspoken supporter of the traditions of country music and its history. We've seen some people get involved with that or they end up on TNN doing a show and then their career is over. They're viewed as passé or something like that. Are you careful to balance that out and make sure that that won't happen to you?
Oh yes, I think the kiss of death for me would be a nightly TV show right now. I'm doing four in one year. That's about it. I don't want to be seen any more than that. If you need to see me, come see me out on the road. I think we've seen a lot of people in years past that were just on top of the world have a TV show and it kills you, it seems like, just because if they want to see you they turn on the TV instead of coming to see you sometimes.
On the personal side, for a long time you dated your manager.
And she's still your manager, but you're no longer a couple.
How does that work?
Well, I'm a weird one, ain't I? Bonnie Garner is a lady that means a lot to me. I love her very much. She is a lady that even signed me to my recording contract in 1986 on Columbia Records, so we've been like best friends for years and years and years. When I was going through a divorce with my ex-wife Cindy, I had no place to live, and I knew that the one person that I could count on....she had a big back porch that was closed in. I went to Bonnie and said, "Bonnie can I sleep on your back porch for about two years?" [Laughs] Somehow or other we started dating, and the first thing I know, we're working together and dating. We both just looked at each other one day and said "this is really a weird life and it's starting to get in the way of our friendship and our business." I think we were pretty grown-up about it and just decided to be best friends again. So that's what it amounts to.
Amazing that that can happen.
Yeah. Only in show business.
Now are you dating somebody else?
Who you got in mind? You got any names? [Laughs] I'm looking, man.
I heard you were dating someone fairly steadily. I don't know who it is. Have you found somebody?
Yes. Want me to tell you who it is?
Michelle Pfeiffer. Really.
You and Michelle Pfeiffer?
That's her. It's either her or Julia Roberts. I always get them confused. [Laughter] Neil, I have no personal life, man! I have no personal life. I'm too busy trying to get on the radio. That's my goal in life [laughs].
That's the mistress you're trying to serve. Is that it?
Yeah. That's it--and a six-string guitar. I have a home for the first time that I'm very proud of in Nashville on the bank of the Cumberland River. I'm not homeless anymore. It's nice to have a porch to sit on, a home to go to after tours now so I don't have to live under the bridge anymore or on Bonnie Garner's back porch. I'm very proud I finally have a home to live in.
That's neat. How far out is it?
It's not that far. It's about 10, 12 miles out of Nashville, and listen, there is room for a beautiful woman with a big heart that adores hillbilly singers! There is room for that in my house.
Big heart and a broad mind.
And a ton of patience.
There! Exactly. I am more trouble than I'm worth, I can tell you that!
Good. So you like having women in your life.
Well, it's better than not having them in your life. [Laughs] It's better than the alternative. I like women. They're wonderful people.
I understand that you did have one lady announce her marriage to you last year.
That's one of the best fan stories from last year. There's a lady in Alabama who sent out wedding invitations to all her friends that me and her were going to get married and somebody sent me one. I didn't know the lady--had never met her--and she had all her friends send her gifts, like shower gifts and all these things. We had it checked out and the lady at the last minute withdrew. I don't know if she kept the presents or not. The news services got a hold of it and the whole bit but, if I had known, I'd have probably gone. [Laughs] I don't know. I didn't know her too good. That one struck me as a pretty good one last year.
That nutty event aside, you are the one artist that knows the importance of being on good terms with your fans, right?
Sure. Oh, I think it's an important lesson for any artist to take care of their fan base, and I'm really proud of our fan club. They had to drag me into having a fan club. I just thought, if you can't do it right and really commit to it and really believe in it, you should leave it alone. The people who came to me and approached me about it were fans of Johnny Cash that had dealt with his fan club internationally and, I figured, well, if they've done it on that level, they know what they're talking about. We've been together, I guess since '87 or something like that, and we have close to 15,000 members in our fan club.
That's great! Anything else of fan interest?
The coolest new thing is Marvel Comics is doing a Marty Stuart comic book that came out in March.
In case people haven't seen it yet, tell them what it's like.
Here is the base of the story. Here's the deal. Me and my bloodhound, Oscar Lee Perkins, are just hanging out, driving down the parkway, and we get this distress call that the great ring from the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville has been stolen and, without the great ring from the Hank Williams throne, country music is at a standstill and can go no further. It was stolen by a bunch of rappers from the planet Hip-Hop, and me and Oscar Lee Perkins have to go into space and retrieve the great ring. When we get up there, we almost have to have a war with the rappers of planet Hip-Hop but, of course, at the end, we sing a duet and everything works out fine. I bring the ring back home and country music is alive and well.
[Laughing] I'd like to hear that duet.
Yeah, boy! Don't you know! I'm pretty proud of a Marvel comic book.
Without saying who your favorites are, who are you impressed with of the new batch that's come out in the past year?
I like David Ball a lot. I really do like David Ball. I think he rings true. Lari White. There's a distinction about her that I like. I worked a show with her, and I really like the way she handles herself onstage. She seems to be in control of her music, and she has an integrity about her that I like a whole lot.
Yes, she's very bright, very talented. Who else?
I love the Mavericks. I really love what the Mavericks have done. They have stood their ground. Once again, there's a great example of what we were talking about. You get in a position of me or the Mavericks, a stylized kind of situation. If it ain't hot this season and you go chasing it, you lose. Acts like this, we're around, in and out. If they had gone chasing and tried to sound like Diamond Rio or something like that, I don't think they would have had the success that they do. They're what they are, and I'm glad they stuck it out. You know, the act out there that's trying real hard, and I can tell you he ain't never gonna amount to nothin', is Travis Tritt. Travis Tritt ain't never gonna amount to nothin' [laughs].
Too bad about that.
Yeah. He can't sing. He has no personality and all that kind of stuff. Maybe he can count on his songwriting. Maybe that will scratch him through.
Ultimately, your tour with him and the duets were a big plus in your career. I think you moved on from that at the right time, don't you?
Will you two do other things in the future?
Travis and me always talked about it. I went down and spent time with him over Christmas. We love each other like brothers. We really get along like brothers, and we have special times together. Throughout the year we go see music; we went and saw the Rolling Stones on my birthday. We wrote a song together over Christmas. We hang in there, and we're very aware that when we were together, he was an act, I was an act, and Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart was another act. We kind of just created that as a separate thing. Rather than just come out with something that's kind of good, we'd rather wait and do something we really love a year or two down the line.
When you look at the year 2000, where do you anticipate Marty Stuart being and where do you anticipate country music being?
Personally, I welcome the change. The turn of the century---it's going to be bittersweet because, as people, as we know the world, I don't know how we can get more technical, I think, in the 21st century than we are now. There was a lot of heart and soul that went down in this century. There was a lot of inventions. The lights, the telephones, the world as we knew it really was invented in this century, so I don't know how we're going to top all of that. I don't know who the next Elvis is going to be. There's just a lot of great things that went down. I'm glad I got to see it. I hope I get to see the next century. My personal involvement, I think, is...I would like to be one of the people. I feel like I was fortunate to get to start with some of the true pioneers and masters of country music. I really hope that I can deliver a piece of that honest, real truth inside of whatever I'm doing on the other side of the door of the 21st century. As for country music, I think there will always be a country music. Man, the first million-seller was in 1927, and I don't see any reason for it to slow down or stop. There's not a lot of difference in what we play in country music these days and rock 'n' roll in some cases. Of course, there's some pure country out there, but it's harder to get pure country because we're trying to compete with the rest of the world. I hope we don't water it down so much that it doesn't resemble country music anymore. That's the only flag I see. As far as the songs, the songwriters keep getting greater. The technology keeps getting better. Singers are there. Our heart and soul are always going to be there in country music, and I just hope that we remember where the earth is and the ground is.
There's no lack of talent is there?
No, and that's the encouraging part. You look, honest to goodness, every Monday morning, there's ten new stars standing at the doors in Nashville. Every day there's a new songwriter. Every day there's a few hit songs written in that town. It's just like a very blessed place to be right now.
Any hopes for your fans in '95? What do you hope for them and yourself this year?
Twice the size in '95. That's Marty's little motto. We're gonna get bigger. We're gonna sell more records. That's what I'm up to in '95. Have bigger hits.
Thank you and Country Fever.
By Neil Haislop
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