Marty Stuart - Working Class Hero

This appeared in Country Song Roundup - January 1999

Marty Stuart is a throwback in today's modern world of specialization. Singer, songwriter, author, photographer, actor, producer, musician, historian, the list goes on. If there's a true Renaissance Man as the next century approaches, it's Marty.

Not a bad appellation for someone who confesses to a distinct lack of scholarly aptitude during his school days. "I just looked over my report cards the other day and it's really a good thing I could play the mandolin!" Marty says with a laugh. "I had no business in school. I was just taking up space for somebody that should have been there."

Country music caught his attention much more than readin', writin' and 'rithmetic, much to the dismay of the teacher who caught him reading an issue of Country Song Roundup instead of working on an assignment. "That's the one!" he grins. "I don't remember the story but it was a good one!"

These days, if you can catch Marty in one place for more than a day or two, make a note of it. Not only is he criss-crossing the country on his tour bus for concerts from coast to coast, he's also devoting what little spare time he has to a variety of projects. It seems everyone wants a piece of his time--and he's generous enough to meet as many requests as he can. Take, for example, his liner notes for the Coal Mining Women CD, a compilation project that you won't find on the top 10 sales charts (although it certainly deserves to be there). His remarks touch on the issue of unions.

"It was one of those records that somebody had the guts to do. There's so much truth in it that it's lasted through the ages. The union was a big issue back in that part of the world, you know, miners' rights...and there was a lot of fighting for what became the coal miner's way of life. There is one woman on there [Florence Reece], you need to drop the needle on that song Which Side Are You On and give it a listen. The way her voice sounds, it would take you to church real quick. I think it's a question that we all need to ask ourselves concerning country music, concerning salvation, concerning any point in life, you know? Life is not always black and white, but we do have a choice. The question is which side are you on? I wasn't looking at it so much from a union point of view as much from that, just an overview."

Marty's also been in the studio lately producing a track for the recent Tribute To Tradition album. He wrote the song Same Old Train for the compilation project, then asked 13 country singers to sing it. "When they asked me if I had a song that maybe could be an anthem to the album or an overview of country music or something, the only thing in the world I had to throw at them was this song. I did not expect them to take it because it's kind of poetic. Pam Tillis told me I was the Homer of country music and I told her "That must make you the Jethro!"

Joining Marty and Pam on the tune are Clint Black, Joe Diffie, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, Earl Scruggs, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss and a host of other country music luminaries.

"I should have written about three or four more verses 'cause there's a lot of people I missed that I wanted on this thing, who couldn't do it for one reason or another. I've always said there comes a point where if you want the heart and soul to count. you've really got to get some of those....the children that believe in that, stand up and shout you know. The people that we used really do represent true country music to me. Not that they can't get out there and rock with the best of them or be as diverse as the rest of them, but I know that's where they come from, their heart comes from that area. I am very proud of the way it turned out."

He's also been producing the soundtrack for the soon-to-be-released feature film Hi-Lo Country. Earlier this year, he wrote the songs for a theatrical production called Moon Shine. Projects like these allow Marty a bit of creative freedom.

"You can relax and write the story a little freer, especially when everybody's leaving it all up to you and there's nobody except you, pen and paper...and you just write the story and further it with each song. You have so many different worlds to draw from instead of just one world. With the movie, you know, that's easy because you have a story line to follow."

He just went to record his next studio album called The Pilgrim. It's a concept that has been in development for several months, during which he's been writing and demoing songs. "The studio's my home, the same as the stage," Marty asserts. "There comes a point in your career where the hits just come and you can do no wrong. Then there comes the time where, in my case, I want to get back in there and reinvent myself, and figure out where I'm going with the music next. Who better than me to figure that out if I'm going to be making the music? I get behind the wheel and take the band in and figure it out. The best way I know to do that is to burn tape!"

So, what can fans expect once the finished project hits stores in early 1999?

"In my mind, it starts on A.P. Carter's front porch and it quits hanging in an apple tree somewhere in the 21st century on its way to a cloud," Marty explains. "The thing that I knew after Travis and me came out with the last tour, that it was time for me to step back and refigure and really do the same thing I did at the beginning of this decade--go back and remember why I am playing country music, why I love it so much, the sounds that made me love it. A lot of changes have occurred and evolved in the last 10 years. But I am really looking at the next 10 years trying to figure a way to make what I do work inside of that mainstream but, at the same time, find a way to hide the traditions, or exploit the traditions and take them along with me across the line of the millennium. This album'll either put me in business or completely out of it. But I know one thing, my heart and soul's screaming for me to do it, so I gotta take a shot at it."

With so many accomplishments to his credit, Marty prefers to look forward. "A hit record would be nice," he says of his goals. "I got this one-line fan letter that said, 'Dear Marty Stuart, When are you going to come back to country music?' I wanted to say, 'Lord knows I'm doing everything I can to stay in it!' I think, along with this concept thing, it's important to cut some hits, get some hits recorded...'cause it gives you better trainriding papers."

Still, when it comes right down to his career, he's the first to admit, "I quit trying to run it two or three years ago, just get up and show up for service every day and see what the Chief Songwriter has in mind."

You can't help but marvel at Marty Stuart. It's not enough that he can do anything he sets his mind to--at least that's how it seems. He's also been blessed with a giant dose of humility. When an admirer tells him, "I envy you," he replies, "Don't do that. There ain't but one of you out there either."

By Janet E. Williams

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