Marty Stuart - Equal Parts Of Love And Luck Take Him To The Top

This appeared in Country Song Roundup - March 1995

Most people, searching for a way to properly describe Marty Stuart, usually settle on the word "flamboyant." With his taste for flashy, rhinestone-studded jackets and multi-colored cowboy boots, Marty has never been difficult to spot. And his cocky, good-humored, hillbilly-rockin' brand of country music has always been difficult to resist.

But Marty's latest album, Love And Luck, is less flamboyant than far-reaching. With his usual flair and feel for a song, Marty has taken some giant steps forward into some new territory. "I think variety is my signature," he says about his latest musical effort. "When you become predictable, whether to your audience or to yourself, that's when you find some moss on you."

Not that Marty would ever stop making the music that so many fans have grown to love. "We know what got us invited to the party," he jokes. "And we know we're having a great time at the party, and we're not leaving early. But I think it's important to show people exactly what you can do."

One of the things Marty wanted to show off was his remarkable vocal and musical range--he can move from the softest ballad to the most energized country-rock tune with seemingly little effort. But according to Marty, it's the music that's doing he work--not him. "When you've got a good song, the rest is pretty easy," he admits.

Life in the world of country music might not have always been easy, but Marty had enough luck and panache to succeed. He was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1958 and was educated in country music by his grandfather. He got his first guitar at the age of nine, taking to it like fish to water. By the age of 13, he'd already taken the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and, throughout his teens, he toured with Lester Flatt as a mandolin player, remaining with him until his death in 1979.

For six years--1980 to 1986--Marty worked with his idol, Johnny Cash. Actually "worked for" is an understatement--at one time or another during those six years, Marty was Johnny's producer, supporting act, photographer and son-in-law (he was once married to Johnny's daughter Cindy). "Johnny Cash was always my man, my rock," says Marty. "Traveling with him, being a part of his world, learning the tools of the trade--no one could have given me a better education."

It was during the years of traveling and performing with Johnny Cash that Marty began to develop his own sense of what is meant to be a country artist. "Country music shouldn't ever be slick," he says. "A lot of what's coming out in country music now is glossed-over pop. The differences are so obvious that when you hear the real thing, there's a moment where you think 'of course! That's what's missing!' There's no edge to a lot of the stuff that's out there now."

After he left Johnny's tutelage, Marty got his first glimpse of the rocky side of the business. His first few albums went nowhere and Marty felt adrift in Nashville. "The record company said my material was 'too country,' " he says with irony. "I never did know what they meant, exactly--especially since that was when the whole 'new traditional' thing was happening with all these new artists singing pure country songs."

By 1988, Marty felt spiritually and emotionally burnt out. He continued to live in Nashville but he made regular trips to Mississippi to figure out what his next step should be. It was there that he began to work with the country/gospel group The Sullivans, playing mandolin in local churches--and there that he had what he considers his rebirth. "I started to realize why I do this," he recalls. "And then I was ready to do it."

And do it he did. His next three albums, Hillbilly Rock, Tempted and This One's Gonna Hurt You each produced a string of hit singles that featured Marty's toe-tapping brand of country music. With Love And Luck, Marty feels he's reached yet another career turning point. "There's a depth to this album that I don't think we've reached before," he says. "Lyrically, especially, I think the music is deeper. And as to the music, I think we've reached something real exciting. It's like, every one of these songs is my favorite."
He credits his regrouped and, The Rock 'N' Roll Cowboys, for pushing his music to new limits. "When you've got such a bunch of talented musicians behind you, you get this incredible feeling of energy," he says.

That energy translates to high-voltage performances and that's just what Marty provides whenever he takes the stage. "I knew the first time I got on stage and heard all those screaming people, that I was gonna like this," he says. "There's something about being on stage that reassures me--I think it's having people looking at me, singing along, dancing, clapping--it tells me I'm doing something right."

Marty's touring schedule keeps him busy (and his two buses) on the road for months at a time, but Marty has had plenty of time to get used to the grueling itineraries. "I knew this life would mean a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice," he says. "But I'd be lying if I said I don't have a good time playing for people."

The fame, the roar of the crowd, the instant recognition--none of these is the impetus for Marty's continual musical quest. What has kept him forging ahead is his indescribable passionate love of music. "When you believe in something the way I believe in my music, that's a once-in-a-lifetime statement," he explains. "Whether I make a nickel or a million, it's the same song to me. I've dedicated my life to music."

After 20 years in the country music industry, Marty Stuart is under no illusions about the business to which he has devoted his life--or about his place in that world. "I've been around long enough to have seen so many changes already," he says reflectively. "In this business, it's really important to find your niche, to stick with the people who've supported you. But, in the end, you just gotta realize that all of it is a gift from God.

By Jackie Jarosz

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