Marty Stuart's Latest Album, Love And Luck, Has Everything: Bluegrass, Gospel, Blues And California Country-Rock. Bring Your Own Boots
|This appeared in Country Guitar Magazine - June 1994|
|Shaggy haircut, tight clothes, an arsenal of stringed instruments and enough musical energy to light up Nashville--it could only be Marty Stuart, country guitar hero, music historian and brilliant conversationalist. The one-time bluegrass boy wonder (he was a full-fledged member of the legendary Lester Flatt's band when he was just 13) is now a bona fide country star with a Gold Record for his 1993 album This One's Gonna Hurt You and a Grammy Award for his piledriver duet with Travis Tritt, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."
In demand for his guitar, mandolin and vocal prowess, Marty is turning up everywhere, from a duet with the great gospel group, The Staple Singers, on the new Rhythm, Country and Blues project, to guest contributions on new albums by Johnny Cash and Travis Tritt, to Asleep At The Wheel's Tribute To the Music Of Bob Wills And The Texas Playboys (Liberty). And just out is Love And Luck, the latest Stuart foray into what he calls "new songs that sound old." Whether the style is bluegrass, honky tonk or country-rock a la Gram Parsons, it all comes out sounding unforced and natural.
Love And Luck differs from past Stuart efforts in that its the first album he's made in years without his co-producer/co-studio guitarist and musical alter ego, Richard Bennett, who bowed out due to scheduling problems. The substitute producer is no slouch--MCA Nashville President Tony Brown, the man behind the boards for Vince Gill and Wynonna Judd's most recent projects. Assuming Bennett's role on guitar is a similarly worthy replacement, Hellecaster John Jorgenson, whom Marty refers to as "the country guitar star." Leaving their guitars home but joining in on vocal harmonies are two of Marty's buddies from his bluegrass days: Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs. And providing a sweet country-style overlay is steel guitar ace Paul Franklin.
Good-natured and proud of his ability to banish his ego from the studio, Stuart is emphatic about the worthiness of just about anything he does--track placement, his choice of co-writers and what he likes about the songs he covers. He doesn't do things for the sake of expedience, he says, but for the sake of the music itself.
There's an irrepressible quantity about Marty that sets him apart from current country icons--where Gill is sweet, Stuart is devilish; where Dwight Yoakam is pained, Marty is buoyant; and where Garth Brooks emulates Dan Fogelberg, Marty's role model on the pop side is more likely to be Keith Richards. The music that he's been making for almost 25 years, first as a sideman for the likes of Lester Flatt, Doc Watson and Johnny Cash and then on his own, remains aware and authentic, a happy, life-affirming extension of himself as well as the great tradition to which he belongs.
Country Guitar: I understand you've got a brand new road band, the Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys. Why the new lineup?
Marty: I love the process of building players. Once they find themselves and we've accomplished what we've set out to do--instead of beating it to death and becoming a gold watch project--it's nice to see people go on and accomplish things in the industry and in their own lives. That's simply what happened. We'd been doing this for four years, and we started from less than zero and wound up with a Gold record, a Grammy and some other awards. We looked at each other and said, "Well, the profile's high. Let's split up and see what happens." It was just time for new energy in every direction.
CG: Is that need for new direction behind the change in the recording studio?
Marty: As far as the studio thing, Richard Bennett has always been, probably the driving force on my records, and we would just kinda work the guitar world together. I'd look at him and say, "You play lead on this one, it sounds like you," or vice versa. And we'd always argue about who was gonna play rhythm. We always loved playing rhythm.
Well, I had an accident last year when I was making a video. When it was time to record, I was still kind of under the effects of a good concussion. Richard gave it all he had but I just wasn't up to to par for it. And I didn't like what I was hearing. It basically got down to saying, "I think I need to take a few months off, rethink this record and come up with something that's really in my heart and soul--dig a little deeper instead of just trying to tack on to what we've been doing. It didn't line up with Richard's schedule, so it wound up me and Tony Brown doing it.
CG: Love And Luck doesn't have as hard a feel, as heavy a drum sound as This One's Gonna Hurt You.
Marty: This one's a little more song-oriented, I think, and lyric-oriented. On a lot of the other records, we paid particular attention to grooves, sometimes actually more than we did the words, and I thought we had perhaps matched both of them this time.
You know, there's so much product coming out. I'm a record-buying fan of all kinds of music, and when I go to Tower Records, I find that so much of what's there is real disposable stuff. I'm sure, in a lot of people's opinion, perhaps my record is too. But that's why I really, really try to take extra care these days when making a record. The main thing is to try and make it authentic, to let it ring true. Whether anybody really likes this record or not, I think they'd almost have to agree that it rings pretty true, for what it is. I want people to get a little quality for their buck, whether it's guitar tone, words or melodies.
CG: This album features some people you haven't worked with before. Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs sing background and you're co-writing with Bob DiPiero.
Marty: My favorite thing DiPiero ever did, besides writing songs, was being in this band called Billy Hill. Those guys had a great album and, for whatever reasons, it didn't fly. DiPiero and I had talked about writing songs forever and we finally got around to it.
Vince and me grew up together, and I love what Vince is doing with himself now. You know, we were both bluegrass kids but, at the same time, we both had a lot of that Southern California country rock thing shot at us, too. I knew he'd sung in Emmylou Harris' band and he knew that song ["Wheels," by the Flying Burrito Brothers, now available on Farther Along: The Best Of The Flying Burrito Brothers (A&M] just off the top of his head. That's kind of where I came from with that song and he was the perfect call for that.
CG: And Ricky Skaggs is on "Oh, What A Silent Night?"
Marty: Yes, Ricky and me, as long as we've known each other in 21 years, we'd never played a note of music together and we finally had a reason to do it.
CG: That song sounds like it could have been done by the Stanley Brothers.
Marty: Yeah, straight-off-the-mountain bluegrass. That's my favorite kind of song to write--new songs that sound old.
CG: And, of course, there's John Jorgenson. How did you work out the guitar parts with him?
Marty: About the same way as ever, except I'd look at John and say, "You take this," and he'd say, "No, you take this." I don't believe in taking any kind of ego into the studio. As far as making records goes, I'm a band player. I understand that it's my responsibility to shine here and there, and I want to do all I can but, at the same time, I'm a real picky guitar player. There's not a lot of people I would take into the studio with me at this point. But Jorgenson is truly one of the my guitar heroes. He probably is the country guitar star right now as far as I'm concerned. When I was a kid, Luther Perkins, Don Rich and Clarence White made me want to dress, you know, funny and wear my hair different and go to the guitar store, buy a guitar and be a guitarist. There's aren't many guitar players out there in country that are causing kids to do that these days--guitar slingers. Jorgenson is in that minority and he's a treasure for country guitar players.
CG: It seems there's more steel guitar on this album than on some of your previous releases.
Marty: I've spent a lot of time with Ralph Mooney [the steel guitar player on many of Buck Owens' and Merle Haggard's Bakersfield hits] in the past couple or three years. I have Clarence White's guitar and Ralph and Clarence used to play a lot of sessions together in the 1960's. The more I play, the more steel guitar I want around me 'cause I can see that's why my guitar was designed in the first place with that B-bender on it.
CG: Who's playing steel on Love And Luck?
Marty: Paul Franklin. He's the greatest session guy in the world. I would always be over in his ear saying "Play me some more Ralph Mooney, play more West Coast." I'm sure the West Coast had its sound and Nashville had its own, but Franklin is one of those guys who'd educated himself into all styles of steel guitar playing. And he has no ego; he plays what the song calls for. A lot of these songs I wrote from the California Point of view. I went to Tony Brown when we made this record and said, "I really want kind of a mainstream California country rock record happening here with some bluegrass roots because that's where I come from."
CG: Anything new on the equipment front?
Marty: I'm using a Trace Elliot amp now on my acoustic, which I like very much. I think Trace Elliot is one of the best things to happen to acoustic rigs in a long time. For electric, I've gone from using two Fender Twins to a Super Reverb on the bottom and a twin on top. And I've just added an Ibanez Tube Screamer to that setup for an extra boost here and there. My guitar doctor, Steve Wilson, who also works for the Kentucky HeadHunters and used to work for Stevie Ray Vaughan, came down and jazzed up my amps a couple of weeks ago. I've also got a couple of new guitar. The Fender Custom Shop just built and gave me a gold sparkle Telecaster--with herringbone trim and pull-string on it--that is a replica of Buck Owens' old guitar. I'm using that on stage and really liking it. I'm still playing the Clarence White guitar, a '52 Esquire and a '58 Tele and I just had a pull-string put on a paisley guitar that sounds awfully good.
CG: The album is almost like a compilation of the different styles that interest you. "Oh, What A Silent Night" has that, as you said, off-the-mountain almost gospel kind of feel to it.
Marty: I really reached deep inside myself and went to musical areas I'd played before and love and understand. I really couldn't sing a "poppish" kind of country song very well. I think I could honestly read those songs on the album.
CG: How did you come to include the blues song, "Shake Your Hips"?
Marty: Well, I'm ashamed to tell this part, but it's true. My buddy, Paul Kennerley [author of "Hillbilly Rock," who co-wrote "Tempted," "Western Girls" and "Little Things" with Stuart] and me had a great writing thing going on. He came up to Canada to write songs with me for this new album. When I went to his house to tighten up a song, he played me this old record by Slim Harpo called "Shake Your Hips." And then he played me the Rolling Stones' version [from Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones Records)]. The line that got me was "I met a little girl in a country town / She said, 'What do you know, there's Slim Harpo.' " I just thought that was the greatest line I'd ever heard. I asked Paul for a tape of the Slim Harpo song and the more I listened to it, the better it sounded to me. If he hadn't played it for me, we probably would have recorded a song we wrote.
CG: Had you ever done anything that bluesy before on record?
Marty: In my early days, I did this album called Busy Bee Cafe, and I wrote the title song with that same "Mississippi porch" kind of feel. When I was growing up, they played songs like "Shake Your Hips" on Church Street in my hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Real rootsy, juke joint stuff.
CG: And you recorded Billy Joe Shaver's "If I Give My Soul" on this album. He's said he was very thankful and happy that you'd included it on Love and Luck.
Marty: Man, I love Billy Joe. He's the only thing left out of the Seventies' Waylon [Jennings] and Willie [Nelson] "outlaw" movement, which he really helped write the script for. He's the only guy left that really carries the spirit with him. I love the first line in th song: "Down a dangerous road / I have come to where I'm standing." I should put that around my neck and wear it like a mantle.
CG: The instrumental "Marty Stuart Visits The Moon" is a real mandolin showcase for you.
Marty: I started out in this town as a mandolin player, professionally, when I was 13. I just really haven't played much mandolin lately. I went out to Wounded Knee, South Dakota and I was sitting on the back porch of a church at a cemetery there and started hearing this melody in my head. When I got back to the bus, I picked up the mandolin and it just stuck with me. I ran into Bill Monroe and played it for him and he liked it. I had to call it something, so why not something ridiculous?
CG: What's the story with that outer space special effect at the end that runs into the next song?
Marty: It's kind of like landing on the moon--the first thing you hear is your heart beating in your throat, and all of a sudden you might see a bright light, you walk across a hill and there's a bunch of Indians sun-dancing to a Dave Brubeck record [laughs]. Then you slam right into "Oh, What A Silent Night." Anything's possible on the moon, right?
CG: Any plans for a massive tour?
Marty: Oh I'm sure. I'm going to play a lot of mandolin on stage this year and I think it will be done through a Trace Elliot rig. Gibson recently gave me and Bill Monroe F-5 mandolins one night on stage of the Grand Ole Opry. So I played a song with him, took the mandolin home and I'm going to use it in concert.
I looked at the schedule today and shut the book. Dangerously close to work. In the meantime, I truly feel like the past four or five years at the setup for what's about to happen. I feel like everything I've ever learned is about to break wide open--there's gonna be some of the prettiest music ever made coming around.
By Isaiah Trost
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