The Real Life Love And Luck Of Marty Stuart

Country's Renaissance Man Talks About The Music In His Heart

This appeared in Country Spectacular Magazine - 1994

Marty Stuart has seen life from both sides now. At 35, he is a veteran of what the music industry can do to the psyche: its perils and thrills, the adulation and deceit. A career that has survived down times between the ups and has steadily cruised into a solid ride has been filled with education. Stuart today is on top, but he hasn't forgotten what those drops into the valleys taught him: "Never trust the peaks."

With a new album, Love And Luck, poised to advance him further up the ladder of longevity, he remains firmly in touch with reality. "In the old days, you could live 40 years off of one hit," he states. "Time in the sun now is not nearly as long. My personal thing is, have a point of view, flash it real hard, and when that flash is gone, have its truth reverberate in people's souls. My mom gave me some advice: When there's nothing going on on the outside, there's plenty of work to do on the inside to get ready for the next time it goes on outside. Keep it real, keep your heart on the line, listen to what goes on. I can always play music, make myself happy.

"It's a popularity contest now. Beyond that, we're all lucky to get paid for what we do. I'm very interested to find the next place where we can knock heads on the front-line. I would love to see rock and roll and soul come closer to country because they all come from the same place. On the George Jones tribute album we did, we've all had hits, the piggy banks are full, we're on television, but everyone checked their ego at the door, sat down and played. That's when real music happens."

As his meter reading increases per album on the popularity scale, Stuart admits there is a risk of becoming too comfortable on the cushion of success. However, he adamantly refuses to become such a victim, noting, "What drives me is not looking at my accomplishments but what needs to be done. I have a warehouse of awards and memorabilia, but I keep a blank mantle so I have something to work for. I am never musically content. The 21st century is just down the road and it's real important to me that country music land solid at the start. I want to do my part to ensure that."

Long recognized for his unique approach to the genre: steadfastly traditional within contemporary parameters, refusing to yield to the norm of dress and presentation, outspoken within Nashville's often repressive guidelines, he still finds himself limited. "I did a session with Keith Richards for the George Jones record. I would love to turn country up that loud and play it at Rolling Stones volume, but that's not possible. So you play a two-and-a-half minute song, hope people like it, and take other adventures out of your spotlight or do it in subtle ways."

A native of Mississippi, Stuart's childhood took place in the throes of civil rights uprisings. Within his own realm, there are memories of a warm environment, but the struggles of the world around him are an ugly picture he continues to see. "There are country fans in a lot of pockets protesting this Rhythm, Country & Blues album," he observes. "They don't want country artists performing with black singers. With reverence to Conway Twitty, (the fact is) they don't want to hear him singing with Sam Moore.

"I never expected it to be any different, although race has never been an issue with me. Everyone is the same in the sight of God and I don't understand why I should think I'm better than anyone else. My mother taught me to love everybody and as a kid, music made it all right. After kindergarten, I was babysat by people in a dry cleaners until my mother picked me up. They were next door to the Busy Bee Cafe, a black jukejoint. My mom would say, "Don't go in there," but I couldn't resist. They loved me, I loved them. Muddy Waters was one of the greatest country musician who ever lived. He was as earthy as Roy Acuff. Jimmie Rodgers was as blues as any blues act. I don't understand the pigeonholing; it goes from generation to generation. One step forward is knocked back by the next generation of hate. It makes me sad. I can only do my part. I have no problem sitting in with Ray Charles or Pops Staples. I'm honored to be in their presence."

Doing his part is what led him to Nashville Cares, the city's first AIDS benefit concert. "Kathy Mattea put it together," he explains. "She called me. A friend of mine in California has AIDS. I've visited him, seen the look in his eyes--the pain, suffering and hurt. Nashville is lucky at this point not to have any AIDS cases among its musicians. Again, we kept it quiet, covered in the corner and, for once, we spoke up, told the truth. You've got to have hope when you're sick. It brings you around having something to put your hope and trust in. I couldn't have cared less about the publicity. I felt out of place talking about it because I didn't know much about the facts.

"I learned by way of books and television. People who dedicated their lives to the cause are a lot more qualified to discuss it in front of cameras. I was just there to reveal the truth and offer hope. I cannot speak on behalf of Nashville (as to why it took them so long). I don't know. In my opinion, perhaps ignorance to the fact, not being slammed into the reality of cases, and being confronted with it like other musicians. For all the road-dogging we've done, I'm surprised any of us are alive."

It's this kind of commentary that lands him in periodic hot water. "I said 'fart' on the Opry stage and heard about it for a year. Travis Tritt still gets chided because he didn't like a Billy Ray Cyrus song. That's okay, as long as you know which rules not to break. I sat in the audience at the Grammys and heard Bono's remark about being totally committed to keeping the mainstream f***ed up and Steven Tyler saying he totally believes in rock and roll and everything decadent and immoral. That got good press for those statements. Fans jumped and cheered. A few people in country have the balls to stand up and say it's okay to be whitebread, corny and moral, and we get made fun of for it, but that's okay. I respect Bono and Steven Tyler. I've made statements and will feel like making them again, but there's room for goodness too.

Faith plays a great part in Marty Stuart's life. It is a subject he speaks freely about and one he considers the cornerstone in defining who he is. "I'm very spiritual," he explains. "Religious is a word that is misused a lot. I believe in the organized church. It is a healing place, a power station, and everyone has to work out their solution. A personal one-on-one relationship with God means the most to me. I've always had it, but ignored it at times. When I talk about the valleys or look back at those times when I should have been dead and there was no reason why I should have been on earth and wonder what kept me around, I think: my Creator loved me.

"After the last accident on my video shoot, it rang my bell. I opened my heart and ears and listened. You can only take so much misery, loneliness and pain. It comes to a point where you need peace deep down within and I knew where it was. I looked out at the mountainside, at flowers, at the Divine Creator, wanting a deep relationship with God. I can get in the back of my bus, at a barndance, from other people, helping people along, have people support and love you when nobody else cares. You can't take it from television evangelists. They go that route, everyone sends money. It has to come from your heart. I believe there are two things on this earth: devils and angels. I know the difference between dark and light spiritual forces, and we are involved in spiritual warfare."

Without making prediction about the future of country music, Stuart is hopeful that the years ahead will bring one significant element: "Survivors without casualty. I hope we don't see Hank Williams, stoned, and dead people. I hope we've made it, can develop more music, don't get greedy or lose faith in each other. Nashville was built on a family principle. I hope we stay true to the cause of music and don't wind up parodies of ourselves.

By Elianne Halbersberg

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