Marty Stuart - Former Sideman For Lester Flatt & Johnny Cash Goes Solo

This appeared in Music City News - August 1986

The first musical influences in Marty Stuart's young life were Johnny, Lester and Alvin. That's Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt and Alvin...the Chipmunk.

"These are the first three records that I remember coming into our home," explains the 27-year-old Stuart. Call it fate or whatever, but he ended up working with two of those three. In 1972 at the age of 13, he joined Lester Flatt's renowned Nashville Grass and dazzled bluegrass audiences around the country as the baby-faced kid with the lightning-fast mandolin licks. When Lester passed away in 1979, Stuart was taken into the ranks of Johnny Cash's world-traveling musical entourage, an affiliation that lasted until last fall.

He's yet to work with Alvin and the Chipmunks, although he notes optimistically that their cartoon TV show is back on the air.

Now Stuart is on his own as a solo act, having graduated from the prestigious ranks of two of musicdom's most esteemed superstars. "Lester and Johnny are my alma maters," he says proudly.

His first assignment in graduate school, so to speak, is his solo album "Marty Stuart" on Columbia Records. Its debut single, Arlene, served as a radio introduction to country fans earlier this year.

His music is an often rough-edged mixture of country and rock, served up with spirit and spunk and true respect. He's currently embarked on his first-ever solo tour, armed with an impressive back-up band that features musical alumni from such groups as the Earl Scruggs Revue and Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. "Right now we're kind of raw and green, but that's what I want it to be," he says. "I don't want to pull the wool over anybody's eyes."

Stuart literally grew up on the road, completing high school by correspondence and spending his entire teenage-hood on tour buses, bluegrass festival stages and stretches of interstate. His only extended absence from steady road work has been the period of the last ten months while he was preparing his album. "Buddy, you talk about withdrawal symptoms," he intones. "They should build a care unit for people who have been on the road all their lives and then come off!"

A solo career is something that he's eyed from the beginning. An earlier solo album, 1982's "Busy Bee Cafe" on the bluegrass-affiliated Sugar Hill label, was done while he was still under musical tenure to Cash. It was hailed by the critics but--like most bluegrass product--failed to ignite commercially.

Even though his professional ties with Johnny Cash have been loosened, (Stuart left Cash's band last year), strong personal ones remain. For one thing, he's married (going on four years) to Cash's daughter Cindy. They live with daughter Jessica (from Cindy's previous marriage) in the former home of the late Mother Maybelle and Pop Carter in Madison, Tennessee, but will relocate to a majestic 1800s-era log cabin they're having reassembled in the Sumner County foothills. Stuart also produced Cash's new all gospel album for Word Records.

"I never have been one to look for an instant greener pasture and run to it," says Stuart, who counts his loyalty to Flatt and Cash as invaluable insofar as learning from their examples of moral and professional integrity. "When Lester was at a point where he could have retired and counted all his savings, what did he do? He gave this thirteen-year-old-kid a chance, and that's one of the biggest lessons that I learned: It's not yours to keep; you pass it on."

By Neil Pond

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