Marty Stuart - Country Music's Youngest Legend

This appeared in Country Song Roundup - November 1993

For Marty Stuart, singing and playing country music is not just a job--it's a way of life. After all, he's been doing it since he was 12. "I think I've said this once before, but I have Country Song Roundup to thank for my career," Marty states, much to our delight. "See, when I was 12 years old, I went out and played with a local bluegrass/gospel band. And the thing that I discovered that summer is that it got me out of cuttin' the grass. I discovered applause, you got paid for playin' music, you get to stay up late and live the free life, you got to wear cool clothes, wear your hair different, and ah...girls. I wanted all those things in the year of my twelfth summer.

"So when I went back to school, I had this whole new world of knowledge in my head about people like Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs. I knew all those people, but they'd come to life to me because I'd been hangin' out with other music groups by way of The Sullivan Family Gospel Singers. Well, now, when I got to the end of the summer, I knew that they were pullin' out and goin' to play music and I was imprisoned in my bedroom, and then I'd have to study, cut my hair, give up all those things I told you about, and go to school and make sure I was there by 8:00 o'clock in the morning. I was not your model student!

"So I was in history class one day," he continues, "readin' Country Song Roundup--I've said this a thousand times--the history teacher slapped the book out of my hand and said, 'If you get your mind off that garbage and get it on to history, you might make something out of yourself.' To which I humbly replied, 'I'm not into readin' about history, I'm into makin' history.' To which he excused me (laughs) for a couple of days. So I went home and called this buddy of mine that was workin' with Lester Flatt and said, 'Man, I just got kicked out of school. I'll take you up on that weekend trip.' So he said, 'Check it out with your mom and dad and I'll check it out with Lester.'

"So I went on this beggin' and pleadin' trip with my mom and dad and that's how, finally, just to shut me up, I think they let me go. That was Labor Day weekend in 1972. I got on the bus and came up here, and I got off the bus at three-something in the morning. I stopped for a minute, and I stood outside--it's 384 miles from here home and I stood for about 300 miles of the trip talkin' to the bus driver--and I stopped when I got off the bus and thought, "Remember where you just came from: an old bus station, and you got off right at the Ryman Auditorium--that's where I wanna go, but don't forget where you came from.' So with that in mind, I proceeded, and I still love home down in Mississippi, but I've been up here for 21 years, thanks to Country Song Roundup!"

And for 21 years, Marty has done what some people only get a chance to dream about: playing country music with some of the top names in the industry, from Johnny Cash to his close buddy, Travis Tritt. "I'll tell you about Travis: I love Travis like a brother, and there's not enough money on this earth to make me play music with somebody I don't like," Marty says, "or I don't feel kindred musical spirits with--that's better than 'I don't like,' cause I like everybody that plays music. But I couldn't play music with an 'unkindred' spirit. And when I met Travis, at the drop of a hat, I knew that after we're through having records and after we're through touring and nobody cares about us anymore as entertainers, I'm still gonna love Travis like a brother. For better or for worse, whatever scrapes we happen to get into along life's way, I'll be there for him."

Besides the close personal relationship they've built over the past few years, being there for each other has paid off in other lucrative ways: they've won a CMA, a Grammy and, most recently, a TNN Music City News award for their collaborations. What do these accolades mean for Marty? "They mean acceptance, they mean a measure of success. We got a CMA award and a Grammy, which is voted to us by our peers, and the fans voted us for this Music City News award, and I would be lyin' to you if I said it didn't make me feel good--it did; it does. To some people, awards come easily. Vince Gill, I'm so happy for Vince. He's earned his awards, that's why it's so sweet to see him get 'em. I'm proud for Vince."

At present, Marty's working on a new album which will hopefully bring him even more awards. Although at press time the new release was still in the working stages, Marty was able to talk a little bit about it. "We're halfway through recordin' it. We have to go back (this month) and finish it, so it'll probably be a winter album. We've cut some good songs, but so far it's kinda like a baby that ain't quite ready yet."

In comparison to his past releases, he says, "Well, I thought Hillbilly Rock was a good album. It came out of our minds--there's a hit song there! But there was really no band or tour at that point. Tempted was a little more ... a lot more from my heart, because I got to incorporate a lot of styles and influences that lived inside me that I'd never been able to apply before. This Ones Gonna Hurt You, as far as I'm concerned, it hit the button. It's a really good album that I think will stand the test of time. I look to keep betterin' myself, better songs, better sounds, and the only thing I can tell you is with the new album, we're just tryin' to step it up and keep marchin'."

Marty also hopes this album will march right up to radio and make its presence felt a bit more strongly than in the past. "we didn't have as much chart success for the past two singles as we had," admits Marty, "and the album's gold, so go figure. 'Hey Baby' is more famous than its chart position. That concerns me, but it don't bother me yet. I love country radio, but I would hate to be a program director right now. There's 300 singles a day comin' at you. So it's understandable, and that's another reason to actually drop back and take some time and make sure we're in the right direction. I don't know what I'd change that much, but the industry has grown in the past two years and things have moved around."

No matter what direction the new album takes, one thing is for certain: Marty will once again have a hand in the writing of it, a talent he feels comes directly from God. "I mean, to me, writing, when a song comes, I know that it's not me writing. It's God sendin' me a gift, and my job is to be open and to keep my spirit free so I can be able to accept the gift, and so I look at it as a true gift from God. It's a great feelin'. I love the feeling of writin' songs, I feel complete, that I'm whole, when I write a song. It's right up there with playin' the guitar."

His writing style varies from song to song. "Sometimes I formally book a writin' appointment with myself or with somebody else and sit down and try to write. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's nothin'! Sometimes it's just a word or two words or a little melody .... Songwriting is such a vague process. It's so hard to describe to explain for me. But I think Willie Nelson said something really cool about that. He said, 'There's a lot of melodies in the air. You just have to reach up there and pluck 'em out.' "

Over the years, Marty has "plucked" many melodies and made them hits. In fact, though, he approximately the same age (he's 33) as many artists who are just now making their mark. Marty has over 20 years experience in the industry and can, by rights, be considered a country legend. "Oh, wow!" he replies when told this. But he admits that people do come up to him and ask for advice. "Yeah, and I don't know that I'm the person to give it to 'em. There's no set rules in show business. I think everybody has to figure out their own path. But the only piece of advice I have for anybody is, once you sign on, be dedicated 'cause some seasons you're gonna be great, some seasons you're small, and some seasons you're gonna be halfway. 'Cause what the whole point of it is, is not how many records you're sellin' or how many people you're drawin' or whether your records are on the charts--those are important things, but the whole point is showing back up with dignity every January first on Music Row. To me, that's the whole point."

Obviously, Marty's learned some hard lessons along the way, something he's not ashamed to admit. "Wisdom don't come free, and if it's wrong, I've probably done it, if there's a mistake to be made, I've probably done that, but I don't carry guilt and I know when I pray at night, I'm forgiven. I love (chuckles) the fact that God got me out of most of those scrapes I've gotten into, but what I do know is that what I've accomplished is that I've lived my life. I've lived my life very full, and God has blessed me with some neat trails to ride on, and there's a lot about me that'll never change, there's a lot about me that came with the package, but there's a whole lot about me that has learned better. When I was young, and I was ready to take on the world and take on the town, and I still have a lot of that in me, but I just know some traps to stay away from. Musically, I still have the same heroes, the same passions that I always did."

What does the future hold in store for Marty? Will he still be country rockin' 20-30 years from now, much like his heroes are still doing? "I respect those guys with all my heart for doin' what they do, 'cause they're true to their call," he states. "And I know I'll be doin' it to some extent. The thing that I don't wanna do is to ever be a parody of myself. I mean, I can't see me in 10 years from now dyein' my hair black, wearin' tight britches and suckin' my gut in and still wearin' rhinestone coats. I just don't see that. There's so many other areas of the industry that I'm interested in. I'll always play music. I can't help it. I was put on earth to do that. I'll always need an audience in front of me to some extent, but there comes a point when you need to step aside and let the new energy move the music on forward. But then again, I look at people like Cash and Bill Monroe and Willie and I think 'That's me too!' So I'm split. I'll tell you in 25-30 years. Check back then."

By Celeste Gomes

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