Marty Stuart Carries Torch For Country Music

This appeared in the Augusta Chronicle - March 10, 2010

Marty Stuart has built his career around the idea that the future of country music might be found in its past. As an artist, Stuart continues to evolve, using his crackerjack Fabulous Superlatives to explore classic country, rockabilly, gospel, mountain music and other indigenous American music forms.

As a musician who grew up in the long shadows cast by Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, he also sees himself as a keeper of Nashville's historic flame.

Stuart got his start playing in the bands of the aforementioned legends before striking out on his own in the early 1980s. Over the next 30 years, he established himself as a reliable Nashville hit machine and as an iconoclast driven to explore and improve country music's cultural standing.

"Country music was not in a good place at the beginning of the 21st century," he said in a recent telephone interview. "It was tired. We're still trying to change that."

A Marty Stuart show features swings from the deep twang of traditional country to the raucous rave-ups of rockabilly. Stuart said his affection for historic musical forms stems from both the adaptability of the music and his personal connections.

He said that every time he slips into a Porter Wagoner-style suit or improvises a mandolin breakdown, he's looking to evolve as an artist while acknowledging those who have come before. "The bottom line is it is who I am as an artist," he said. "I'm basically staging the culture that raised me. I look back over my career and I feel like country music was never better than that. It really is where the empire of country music was empowered. It's America culture."

Stuart said that part of his job is to preserve and present country music. It's something found in his music, his presentation -- even the extensive collection of country memorabilia he keeps. He said being an active member of the country music community comes with a certain sense of responsibility, much like that of a jazz historian.

"Jazz, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had to sell itself as culture," he said. "I remember, as a kid, seeing a picture of Louis Armstrong playing in front of the pyramids. Country music didn't have anyone in that role, and it's a role you can't really invent. You just have to embrace it when it comes to you." Stuart said there no substitute to playing songs with a magnificent band. With the Fabulous Superlatives, he says he has found "the band of a lifetime." He said playing with the group allows him musical flexibility and drives him toward excellence.

"It sets the bar high, that's for sure," he said. "We spark each other, encourage each other and genuinely love each other. We've been through heavy spots and mountain tops."

"We're cultural missionaries."

By Steven Uhles

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