Marty Stuart: True Story

This appeared in Country Song Roundup - January 2000

Marty Stuart was recently honored in Jackson, Mississippi with the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. This award honors those who make a difference in the arts and culture of the state and impacts people's lives on a regional, national, or international level.

I can't think of any better explanation of what Marty Stuart does through his love and admiration for the music and the arts. Of all the folks making records these days, Marty has never forgotten his roots, nor has he forgotten that music, like water, gets stagnant when it isn't stirred up.

Marty's MCA Records CD, The Pilgrim, stirs up music and today's notion of what makes a hit sound quite a bit. A concept album about a love triangle, the story is based on a true story that happened in the singer's hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

"The question comes up, 'Is [the story] too deep for country music?' I don't think that way at all because, if anything, country music fans, at any point in time, at any level of country music, are some of the deepest people out there," Marty says. "They understand those type of stories -- I mean real life, true life blues.

"Country people understand that, and truth is what has always sustained country music. It has got us through the good times and the bad times. The thing about most folks who listen to country music is, I don't care what kind of mess you get into -- good or bad -- there is somebody in your family that'll go, 'Well, we can handle this, we just gotta get through it.' You can't shake country people, they've seen it all and they understand life's other side. This is merely a report of seeing this Long Black Veil...The Dance or any of those kind of songs that dip into those kind of moments in life that ain't so pleasant, but work themselves out by perseverance."

The basic story revolves around The Pilgrim, who had the bad luck to fall in love with someone who belonged to someone else. In this triangle, however, The Pilgrim doesn't know the woman is married until her husband appears, confronts the two of them, and takes his own life. Whether ironic or helplessly sad, The Pilgrim and the woman really do love each other. The CD takes the listener on The Pilgrim's journey and what he finds while he's traveling through it.

Fans may get to see the story onstage since Marty is preparing to do a tour called Pilgrim 2000, to hopefully make the CD into some form of a stage presentation.

"You can't literally recreate every minute but there is a way to get it all across," Marty says. "The other agenda is, the story is one thing but there are so many different styles of country music in here. It's like an opera, so you can do a stage show. The Pilgrim actually opens up a nice possibility to really play all kinds of different country music." Marty says the project not only covers all the music he's played throughout his career, but it is an actual history of country music. The CD includes songs that are bluegrass, honky tonkin' country, hard country and country rock.

"The story was strong enough that it could support more than just the story -- it supported two or three agendas," Marty says. "It supported a lot of where country music's been and where it's potentially going. It shows that there's a heritage and there's hope for the future -- the story and the music. It was also a way for me to go back and kind of replay the past twenty-five years and revisit some of my favorite points in music and do so with some of my favorite people."

Among those participating in vocals or recitations on the project are Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley, Pam Tillis, Emmylou Harris and George Jones. Marty is a collector, as his huge collection of country music memorabilia, Navajo blankets, Nudie suits and classic boots can attest. It's only natural, then, that he also collects stories.

"I love collecting stories, whether it's about my friends, myself, other people, or just stories. I love history -- a good story is a good story. One day we were talking about tragedies, sad stories, and some similar story to this story came along and I spoke about it. When I told it, I realized it had a beginning, a middle and an end and the more I thought about it, I thought this actually is just a long-play version of a country song. And so that's kinda how I came to write it down. I just started living with it for about a year, then all of a sudden the song started making sense."

Marty says he hasn't gone back to try and find any of the people in the story, mostly out of consideration to their lives as they are today. "It's over and done and I'm not trying to open up anything. It's a piece of music and it honors someone for their belief in love. When you get right down to it, it's really a love story."

By Vernell Hackett

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