Marty Stuart

This appeared in Inside Country - October 1, 1989

MARTY STUART is a country music Renaissance man. Singer, picker, songwriter, producer, photographer, journalist, collector of Western fashion; Marty Stuart fits all of the above. He's already lived a lifetime in the music industry in only a little over thirty years. As a kid in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty began playing the guitar as soon as he could hold it up and at thirteen was touring in the band of the legendary Lester Flatt. After Flatt's death, Marty was producing a memorial album to Flatt when he happened to find a record producer's phone book open to Johnny Cash's number. So Marty called up Cash and introduced himself and asked him to be on the album. Not only did Cash agree to be on the album, he offered Marty a job in his band.

Marty toured with Cash, taking time out to do an acoustic LP for Sugar Hill Records called BUSY BEE CAFE in 1982, until he signed with CBS Records in 1985. His first single for the label, "ARLENE," garnered a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for Top New Male Vocalist in 1986, but he lost out to a hot newcomer named Randy Travis. His critically acclaimed 1986 LP failed to produce a major hit, and Marty retreated from the limelight to work on his music. The result is his debut LP for MCA Records HILLBILLY ROCK. The first single from the album, his version of the Johnny Cash classic, is "CRY, CRY, CRY."

Marty, the journalist, has had many articles published on country music and its personalities, including the September 1985 cover story of COUNTRY MUSIC magazine in which he detailed his European tours with Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. He also shot photos that appear on several of Cash's albums. Marty, the collector, has a massive file of what he calls "old hillbilly pictures," priceless old guitars once owned by legendary artists, and a closet full of suits and jackets by his old friend Manuel--many of them formerly worn by major stars. Marty Stuart could probably open his own museum someday, but for now he's likely to be too busy.

Inside Country: Why did you call it HILLBILLY ROCK?

Marty: It's the title of one of the songs on the album and it just seemed like a very appropriate title for the album. It kind of says what I want to say. I think it describes me pretty good.

Inside Country: How is this album different from the one you did for CBS three years ago?

Marty: It's got a tighter focus and the songs are a big countrier. I like this album. I think I've had two or three years to develop my songs and my craft. I think it's a little tighter album.

Inside County: What have you been doing the last three years?

Marty: I've been writing songs. If I didn't have a lot to do on the outside, I had a lot to do on the inside. It was the first time I've ever had any time off since I was thirteen years old. That's when I started traveling. I just took some time to get my head together and my heart together, my soul together, to figure where I'd been, and figure when I wanted to go with it all.

Inside Country: Did you ever get discouraged when your first album didn`t hit?

Marty: I got very discouraged, and I got mad. You can't do anything when you're mad. That's another reason I took off. When you're promised big things and, for one reason or another it doesn't happen, it gets real discouraging, but you can't quit. I don't know how to do anything else and don't want to do anything else. I just want my product to be accepted.

Inside Country: You were playing with Lester Flatt at thirteen. When did you go to school?

Marty: I had a correspondence course on the bus. That's where I went to school. Plus the knowledge of traveling all over the whole world. Nothing can replace that.

Inside Country: How many years were you with Lester Flatt?

Marty: From '72 until '79, when he died.

Inside Country: Did people your age ask why you wanted to tour with that old man?

Marty: Yeah, but most of them wanted my job! I think everybody loved and respected Lester. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't do it any other way.

Inside Country: Did you get into the rockabilly sound before or after touring with Lester?

Marty: To me, bluegrass and rockabilly are just about the same thing. Elvis' first hit was "BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY," a Bill Monroe song. The energy and the fire of it all. They're really close to each other, so it was a natural thing. I loved Johnny Cash records, Jerry Lee Lewis records before I ever went to Nashville.

Inside Country: Why did you choose "CRY, CRY, CRY" as your first MCA single?

Marty: It's a song that I knew was a hit, and I knew that people liked it. It was one of my favorite old Cash songs. He'd do that one occasionally onstage, and it was something that I loved playing. People seemed to enjoy listening to it, and it tickled me to death that Tony Brown and Richie Bennett like it.

Inside Country: Have you heard from Cash about what he thought of it?

Marty: I understand that he's written a letter to MCA, but I haven't heard what he said. I hope he likes it. It's too late if he don't! I heard he really liked the video.

Inside Country: I know you shot the pictures on the back of Cash's ROCKABILLY BLUES album and I've read articles you wrote in COUNTRY MUSIC magazine. Tell us about your writing and photography.

Marty: When I first went to work with Lester, all of these old guys that were on the bus used to say, 'if I'd had a camera and a tape recorder back then, I could have done this or that.' That was enough reason for me to get a camera and a tape recorder. So I did and I proceeded to take pictures of everything that came along. I have lots of interviews with people and lots of photos. Writing is something I enjoy doing from time to time. I love taking pictures and sometimes I run across one that I try to get published. I think I have two or three books in me--definitely one.

Inside Country: When did you start playing:

Marty: I always had a guitar, it seems. I started learning chords when I was about nine years old. My mama played the piano at church and my daddy led the singing. We were huge music fans at my house, and we loved our records and TV shows with music on them. Music was the focus of our lives as long as I can remember.

Inside Country: You have so many great jackets by Manuel. Tell us how you got to know him.

Marty: I met Manuel when I was about twelve years old. I didn't have any brothers, so he was like my brother. I've been a fan of his since he was the designer at Nudie's. He made all our clothes when I was with Cash so, when I got my own band, naturally I had to have suits. I called him, and I started thinking about all these guys who had rhinestone coats. I started calling everybody I knew who wore Nudie coats and Manuel's things who probably didn't want them anymore, and I bought like fifty suits. I bought a bunch of Porter Wagoner band uniforms. I traded Johnny Rodriguez a pair of gloves that had belonged to Hank Williams for a George Jones suit he had. I bought some here and there from other people and now I have about a hundred of those suits. I put them in my archives, and someday we'll open an exhibit, maybe at the Hall of Fame, for Manuel. He's the last artist of his kind in America. Anything he makes is an instant classic.

Inside Country: Tell us about the songs on the new album.

Marty: There are songs like "DON'T LEAVE HER LONELY TOO LONG," "EASY TO LOVE, HARD TO HOLD," "COAL MINE BLUES." "THE WILD ONE" is an old Merle Kilgore/Tillman Franks tune. I think Merle Kilgore is a great songwriter. He wrote "WOLVERTON MOUNTAIN," "RING OF FIRE" with June Carter, important songs to country music. "ME AND BILLY THE KID" is a Joe Ely song. I was in Dublin, Ireland last Thanksgiving doing a TV show, and me and Guy Clark and Joe Ely were sitting at the dinner table at the hotel. Guy got Joe to sing me this song and it really nailed me. It was unique, really original, and it just wouldn't leave me. It still holds me up. I had to go all the way to Ireland to get it, but I'm glad I got it. I wrote "COAL MINE BLUES," and I co-wrote "EASY TO LOVE AND HARD TO HOLD" and "WESTERN GIRLS" with Paul Kennerley. Mark Collie and I wrote "WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN" and "SINCE I DON'T HAVE YOU." They're all simple, three-minute country songs with a great band around them.

Inside Country: Do you feel accepted in Nashville?

Marty: You bet. I've grown up in that town. I love Nashville. I don't have any problems with Nashville.

Inside Country: Who did you admire growing up?

Marty: I love Johnny Cash and I loved Bob Dylan. I loved Lester and Earl, Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff. Those were the kind of people I looked up to. I knew they were timeless, classic kind of performers. I loved Merle Travis. Those were the kind of people I think made a difference.

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