Marty Stuart - Still Speaking His Own Language

This appeared in Music City News - August 1992

There was a time in his life that Marty Stuart refers to as his "boy in black" period. As a longtime band member of his musical idol Johnny Cash, Stuart also became a close personal friend and, eventually, a son-in-law. To ride on the coattails of someone as prominent as Cash, when there's nothing else to ride on at the time, was perhaps the smartest play to make.

Aiming for what seems to be the best shot pretty much sets a theme to the life and adventures of Marty Stuart. Such ambition began when he was only 13 years old and realized that playing music was a lot more fun than cracking the school books. Today, Stuart is nothing less than one hot pistol in country music, and the only coattail he rides is his own--often adorned with a collage of sequins and rhinestones, of course.

He has been grooming his hillbilly-rock music and gritty vocals for years now--never changing direction and never disposing any of the strong roots which launched him. His deep-dug mountain music, with that identifiable rebellious beat, really began to take shape when he hooked up with one of the top-dogs of the time, Lester Flatt. The idea of having a kid in the band who could play the heck out of a mandolin and guitar just seemed to be a real crowd-getter. What did it get Stuart? It got him out of school and on his way to what he now affectionately refers to as "hillbilly heaven."

Today, Stuart's "hillbilly heaven" includes having recorded five albums, scoring hit records, launching No. 1 videos and teaming up with the likes of country star Travis Tritt for one of the most successful tours in country music history. Stuart has also become a successful songwriter, producer, journalist, photographer and collector of country/western clothes and guitars.

"It wasn't calculated that way," ponders Stuart. "A lot of it was out of boredom. When I was working with Johnny Cash, boy, there was a lot of down time. It's not like Cash really had to rehearse a lot. But the main reason I got into all this was when I first went to work with Lester Flatt, the old guys in the band--I'm talking about the guys who were in their fifties--would say things on the bus like, 'I just wish we had a camera or tape recorder when we worked with Hank Williams or we did those shows with Elvis Presley. Just think what we'd have today. We could have a book now.' Well I could afford a camera and a tape recorder. So I went out and bought one," says Stuart.

"Keep in mind that first and foremost, I'm a country fan. I've spent a lot of fortunes on country stuff. So I just consider myself a roving or raging fan that has had a lot of unique situations to document and I knew a lot of unique people to talk to that revolved around those situations. I've just basically kept up with my life is what it amounts to. I couldn't help it that a lot of my friends happen to be famous hillbilly singers."

In fact, Stuart's love of country memorabilia has garnered him with so many items over the years he jokingly says that--although she doesn't know it yet--he plans on buying Barbara Mandrell's museum on Music Row, run a walkway across the street to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and call it the "Marty Wing."

There's nothing unadorned about this guy. His music leans toward the renegade level, his attire is always flashy and his hairstyle is always stormy. He's definitely worthy of attention.

"I think all that worked against me for a long time--the hair, the tight britches, the rhinestone coats, or whatever," he explains. "I don't exactly look like the guy next door. But that's okay. I think a lot of country music stars within the last ten years have been very bland. They're just singers that happen to be the star of the moment. The kind of stars I was raised by were cats with character and image. Johnny Cash had an image. Lester and Earl (Scruggs) had an image. Bob Dylan had an image. Ernest Tubb had an image. Everybody had their own sound and their own look. We've been away from that for a long time.

"I was just bound and determined to be something different. I didn't want to be like the rest of the people around here. I am one of them, but with my own statement. You have to understand when I have a day off, I don't shave or wash my hair. I hang out in my overalls, play with my dog and go to the woods. I'm a very down-to-earth person."

When Stuart was younger, he claimed that nobody really spoke his language because most people his age didn't even like country music. Stuart is still speaking his own language. The only difference is now there are a lot more people out there listening and understanding it. Although Stuart is among today's line-up of artists who are recruiting a younger generation of country listeners, much of his language is based on not only delivering a brand of music geared toward the future. It's also a language which continues to include country music's heritage--the sounds of yesteryears and the legends who initiated it.

"I've had a definite goal in mind for years," Stuart reflects. "It all started at one particular show that I played on when I was thirteen or fourteen. When I was working with Lester, we worked the Michigan State Fair and the opening acts were Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Lester went on and so did the Eagles. They were really hot then with the 'Desperado' album. I thought to myself, 'I can play country music and get across to young people. I think Gram was stabbing at that end and I don't even think the Eagles knew they were doing that. But it's taken about that long, almost twenty years for that to come back around to where it's hip to be a hillbilly.

"It's been a long wait and I've had a lot of influences and inspirations pass through me. There's been a lot of success and a lot of failures, and I've blown a fortune or two along the way. I blew a marriage. But you know what? All that's behind me now and I'm in great shape again. It just takes a while when you've been raised around all this stuff to get it together Roger Miller had the best line I've ever heard. It was, 'Having talent is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another."

From the time he was a small lad and first played in a gospel bluegrass band called the Sullivan Family to the recording of albums such as "Busy Bee Cafe" on Sugar Hill Records, "Marty Stuart" on CBS, "Hillbilly Rock," "Tempted" and his latest entitled "This One's Gonna Hurt You," all on MCA, Stuart has proved Roger Miller's theory to be true. He has the talent and he definitely knows how to use it.

The title cut on Stuart's new project sparks a second duet with Tritt, a follow-up to their No. 1 single The Whiskey Ain't Workin', which streamrolled up the charts during the two's famed "No Hats Tour," Also joining him on the new project are Cash and Pam Tillis who contributed vocals on two songs. Other projects featuring Stuart include a radio special entitled The Marty Stuart Story, Part I (So You Want To Be A Hillbilly Star), which will be available for radio July 10 - 31. Also in the works is a possible TV documentary, according to Stuart, which will showcase his fascinating life in the fast lane of country music. And it is indeed a fast lane--comprised of both the up and down times. Regardless, Stuart remains a survivor. Learning to survive, according to him, has been the key to his success.

"I think it's called 'learning endurance'. It's learning about staying power. It's kind of like putting a piece of steel in the fire and seeing how much it can take. It comes and goes," Stuart says about success. "About every ten years, there seems to be a big explosion in country music. It dies down and then explodes again. Everybody out there better be learning about staying power and enduring the bad seasons, as well as the good ones. That's the hard part about being raised in front of this industry. Your mistakes are out there, as well as your accomplishments. I'm not one to run from my mistakes. You have to stand by them. That's what builds character."

By Kimmy Wix

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