Marty Stuart: Hillbilly Rocker

This appeared in Country Update Magazine - 1994

Unashamed hillbilly rocker Marty Stuart is somewhat of a rarity in country music. Although not as successful as some of the legends he has performed with, Stuart has the unusual distinction of never having had a "day job." It's been music from the word go.

His first professional performance came at the age of 12 in a local gospel bluegrass band in Mississippi during the summer holidays. But going back to school was something that Marty found a little hard to handle. "I discovered things that summer," Marty said. "If you were a musician, you could wear your hair strange, you could dress differently, girls liked you, you caught onto applause, it was a free wheeling lifestyle, and you got paid for all this. I thought, 'this is what I was born to do'."

"When it came time to go back to school, y'know, cut your hair, study, get up at seven in the morning and all that kind of stuff, I thought, 'I'm not doing a very good job of this.' And nobody in the 9th grade thought anything about country music. That was an uncommon language there. I had this country music book in the middle of my history book and my teacher came by and slapped it out of my hand and said, 'You get your mind off that garbage; get it into history.' I replied, 'I'd rather make history than learn about it.' So with that, she excused me to the principal's office," laughed Marty.

"I went home and called this buddy of mine that I'd met on the road that past year. His name was Roland White and he was playing mandolin with Lester Flatt." White had mentioned to Marty that if he was ever in Nashville to look him up. "But before I went and called him, I had to tell my mom that I just got kicked out of school. So it took a lot of selling to get her to let me go."

Marty arrived in Nashville for what was supposedly a weekend stay. That was 20 years ago. "It just turned into a career. And that was 20 years ago. I'm 35 now. And that really was the kind of life that I really wanted to have. I've never had a real job. I've always gotten away with being a musician."

Marty lived at Lester's house and had access to the many master architects of country music. "Lester was like my Grandpa. My folks were still in Mississippi and I was in Tennessee, some 400 miles away, working. And he did treat me like a grandchild.

"And Lester's peers were people like Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, Grandpa Jones and Bill Monroe, people who had invested country music. And so when Lester would show up there, I'd be at his coat-tails and they liked me 'cause I was a kid. I knew the language. I could have fun with them, joke around with them, play poker with them, and I could play. So I was in.

Those guys really influenced me and I found out that much about what's going on in country music today still applies to their theories. Those old standard show business rules, those are the guys I got to learn from. And I wish everybody that was playing country music could have been as fortunate as I was, to have that kind of background. I feel very blessed."

Marty recalls another event that aided in defining his musical directions. "One of the most interesting concerts that I ever was a part of was in 1973. The opening act was Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. I was in Lester Flatt's band and then the Eagles were a new rock 'n' roll band. They had an album out called Desperado. We were playing college campuses and mainstream country music on a college campus in those days was not a thing that happened. Bluegrass bands were better because of the energy and the rock 'n' roll element in bluegrass.

"But I watched Gram and Emmy do their thing and I jammed with them and I thought, 'These guys talk, they talk about Keith Richards and George Jones in the same breath.' And Gram had just come away from the Stones. He had very much a rock 'n' roll attitude. Then we did our bluegrass thing and I saw the Eagles do country rock with a banjo up front. And I thought, 'this is the kind of country music that I want to be a part of.'

"I also thought that this is going to take a long time for the audience to come to this. But everything I do from this moment, I want to be a part of taking traditional country music toward the future."

Marty stayed with Flatt until the bluegrass legend died in 1979. He joined Johnny Cash's band, touring Australia three times during the 1980s. before embarking on a solo career.

This year MCA Music Video released a collection of Marty's most popular clips. Titled appropriately Hillbilly Rock, there are eight tracks including "Tempted," "Now That's Country, "Hillbilly Rock" and "Hey Baby." The videos highlight the visual side of Marty Stuart, dressed in sparkling outfits and generally having fun.

With enough interest generated, Australia could see Marty back here headlining his own show. "Australia felt so much like home, like America did probably in the early '60s," he said. "There was a real innocence about it and a real wonderful warming feeling that I loved a lot."

According to Marty, his latest album Love And Luck is "everything from a mandolin instrumental the way to futuristic kind of country music. And it all rings true to me. This album is a bit of a stepping stone album. It's a progressive album. It's heading me somewhere I don't really know yet, but it feels real good.

Writer unknown

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