Marty Stuart

This appeared in the MCA Press Kit for "Hillbilly Rock" - August 1989

Marty Stuart spent almost half his young life on stage with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, two influential and highly individual artists who made their mark by putting an extra kick into country music. So when Stuart set out on a solo career, he injected something extra of his own into the music. "This is not a rockabilly album," he says of his MCA debut, Hillbilly Rock. "This is hillbilly music--with a thump."

Stuart took the concept of individuality from his mentors more than their specific styles. Like Flatt and Cash, his music is based on a hard-driving rhythm, and there is the occasional touch of Flatt's bluegrass in a mandolin solo, or a word or two enunciated like Cash. But Stuart's Manuel suits and flashy cowboy boots are a far cry from the conservative suits and string ties of Flatt and Cash. And the music--the writing, the playing and the thump--are all Marty Stuart's and Marty Stuart's alone.

Stuart likens his years with Flatt to a high school education and his stint with Cash to earning a university degree. He really did go to high school with Flatt, joining Flatt's band at the age of 13. His age may have made him somewhat of a novelty onstage, but his performance on mandolin and guitar was strictly professional quality. When Flatt died in 1979, Stuart branched out musically, playing what he describes as sort of "bluegrass-fusion" style with fiddle player Vassar Clements and also working with acoustic guitar virtuoso Doc Watson. He also began his six-year stint touring and recording with Cash.

Stuart produced his first solo album himself in 1982--Busy Bee Cafe on the independent Stuart Hill label. The session band on the half-vocal, half-instrumental album attests to Stuart's reputation as a picker: Doc Watson, Merle Watson and Johnny Cash on guitars, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Carl Jackson on banjo. In 1986, he made his major label debut on CBS with Marty Stuart. Despite Stuart's years of experience, it was his first attempt to really be a lead singer and to set forth a musical style all his own. In retrospect, he considers it an important developmental effort and, through the next two years, he worked hard on his songwriting, honing and polishing the sound that finally emerged in full force on Hillbilly Rock.

In the meantime, Stuart had become a musician in high demand. His studio and concert credits include a wide variety of artists, among them Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel and the Cash-Kristofferson-Nelson-Jennings album The Highwaymen. He was a member of the studio band that accompanied the historic reunion of Sun Records' artists Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

In addition to his musicianship, Stuart has begun to establish an artistic presence in two other fields--writing and photography. His photos have been featured in Country Music magazine and on an album cover, and he has contributed several articles to music magazines including a journal of life on the road for Country Music. He also has a book in progress about his earliest musical experiences, traveling during summer vacations with a gospel-bluegrass group.

Like his music, Stuart's MCA debut album has its roots deep in the past. His contact with Tony Brown, who co-produced with Richard Bennett, goes back long before anyone on Music Row had ever heard of Brown. "The first time I saw Tony Brown, I was 12 years old," Stuart recalled. "I went with mamma and daddy and my sister to an Oak Ridge Boys concert in Jackson, Mississippi and Tony was playing piano for them. I've been wanting to work with him ever since."

Brown teamed with guitarist Richard Bennett, whom Stuart admired for his authentic approach to country music. (It was Bennett's twangy, low-register lead guitar that helped establish a signature sound on Steve Earle's MCA debut.) The studio band includes bassist Leland Sklar, former Elvis pianist Glen D. Hardin and Emmylou Harris drummer Billy Thomas.

Hillbilly Rock shows Stuart's deep respect for roots music without any attempt to be nostalgic. The title cut, contributed by Stuart's frequent collaborator Paul Kennerley, gives a short history of hillbilly rock and, in the process, illustrates the reserved fire that is the heart of Stuart's music. Stuart had a hand in the writing of six tunes on the album, which show a talent that ranges from the hot country blues of "The Coal Mine Blues" to the shuffle beat of the honky tonk anthem "When The Sun Goes Down." His vocals have all the strength and personality of someone who's been singing all his life as he puts his own personal stamp on the old Merle Kilgore/Tillman Franks motorcycle ballad "The Wild One" and Joe Ely's "Me And Billy The Kid." His cover of Johnny Cash's classic "Cry, Cry, Cry," the debut single from the album, is a mark of his self-confidence. "You're really walking on dangerous territory when you cut stuff like that," he explains. "It was done right the first time and I was bound and determined to do it right this time."

Stuart's respect for the hillbilly pioneers is evident in the album's dedication to Luther Perkins, W. S. "Fluke" Holland and Ralph Mooney. For years, Perkins originated the distinctive boom-chicka, boom-chicka guitar part style that is the Johnny Cash sound. Holland played drums on Carl Perkins' original recording of "Blue Suede Shoes." Mooney wrote the country standard "Crazy Arms," played pedal steel in the bands of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, and contributes the steel solo on "When The Sun Goes Down."

Stuart gives credit to yet another country pioneer, Merle Travis, for inspiring him to pursue a solo career. Stuart had just lost all his money to Travis in a poker game, he recalls. "After he put my money in his pocket, he sold me some advice. 'I hear you're gonna be a country singer.' I nodded and he says, 'You're gonna be in for plenty of ups and downs, but you've gotta tough it out if you're gonna count. And after you've had a streak of that bad luck, what you need to make you feel better is 1) a new Cadillac (so I got me one, it only has 110,000 miles on it), 2) a new hillbilly suit (I got one), 3) a good looking woman (I got one) and 4) dream up a song that sets you straight. Find your guitar and get to singing it. Then just watch the future brighten up.' So lately I've been riding around all over town in my worn-out Cadillac, all dressed up in my Manuel suit singing "Cry, Cry, Cry" and thinking about how right old Travis was again. I do feel better and I did tough it out one more time. And now I know to always keep at least one wild card up my sleeve because country music can sometimes deal a mean hand."

Hillbilly Rock marks Marty Stuart's emergence as a complete artist--as a writer, musician and singer with something strong to say and a contagious way of saying it.

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