Stuart Adds To The Bakersfield Sound-Track

This appeared on the Bakersfield Californian - October 8, 2014

I don't know why I'd expected a more complicated answer. After all, this was Marty Stuart on the phone, champion of that most uncomplicated of American institutions. Marty Stuart, country music historian, ambassador and practitioner, can fill a gigabyte singlehandedly with nuanced insights on his favorite subject.

In the end, though, it's still just country music.

So when I asked Stuart, who's bringing his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, to Bakersfield's Fox Theater on October 25, which entertainers on the American musical landscape today were still carrying the flag of the Bakersfield Sound, I should not have been surprised by his immediate, monosyllabic response: "Me."

Well, others are too, but few if any are honoring that unique rockabilly-infused strain of 1960s Americana more faithfully than Stuart, the 56-year-old singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Mississippi.

And it's not just hits like "Hillbilly Rock" (1990) or "Burn Me Down" (1992) that demonstrate Stuart's honky-tonk bonafides. It's his uncommon dedication to genre evangelism, his pride in the music of a special time and place. Stuart believes he's preaching an authenticity that merits preservation. Just ask him. I did.
Does playing a show in Bakersfield, given your affinity for Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and all that history, still evoke any special feelings?

Stuart : Well it does for me. ... It's just a big part of my whole musical DNA -- the people that came from there, the spirit of the music and the spirit of the people all the way back to way before it was a commercial entity, music-wise. The whole spirit of the San Joaquin Valley in the early days and those pioneers ... Man, it's just such a deep, rich story. And so, it's always an honor to be part of that little legacy.

There are three things I've always admired about you, Marty. One is your music, one is your hair and the other thing is this sense of history that you have about country music. You've got this fantastic collection of memorabilia, Nudie (Cohen-sewn) suits and guitars and various things. How did you get into that?

Stuart : When I went to Nashville, in Lester Flatt's band to begin with, I'd watch them throw away ties or picks, wadded up set lists or something, and throw them in the garbage can. But it always looked important to me, so I'd ask, "Can I have that?" and they would always say, "Sure," so I started my own little collection.

... People's costumes or manuscripts, their instruments, personal effects like that, were actually just thrown away and forgotten about. ... I kind of got on a self-appointed mission to go after those things.

You see a lot of T-shirts on country music singers these day. Not Marty Stuart.

Stuart : I don't really wear rhinestones anymore. My band does sometimes, but I wear black 'cause it's slimming.

I could identify with that.

Stuart: But you know what, man, it's show business. ... it's fantasy. Most of my favorite American folk heroes are people who are self-invented characters that found out what their visual and sonic image was and they played to it, and I love that and I loved being a part of that when I was a kid. It's still important to me.

The timing of your appearance here is pretty good because Cal State Bakersfield is celebrating "The Grapes of Wrath" and the Dust Bowl migration out to California that had such a big influence in the development of the Bakersfield Sound. Tell us your feelings about that whole transition of people from Oklahoma out to California and what it created.

Stuart : Well, I love the stew that it created. ... Everybody had a story. I really, truly believe that at night around a fire, that whether it was Latino culture, Okie culture, black culture, or whatever culture, everybody played music together and I think that's probably where the Bakersfield musical spirit was born. ... It was a renegade spirit and totally original and I have to believe that that spoke to the records. Buck and Merle and Wynn Stewart and Ferlin Husky and Tommy Collins, and all those people made it because those records were (rooted) around a campfire.

In what way is the Bakersfield Sound still out there? Who's still playing it?

Stuart : Me ... and The Fabulous Superlatives. Dwight (Yoakam) still plays it, Vince (Gill) still plays it. You know anytime anybody puts a Telecaster around their neck, they're representing Bakersfield, the way I see it. Anytime anybody plays a steel guitar that is remotely close to Ralph Mooney or Norman Hamlet or Fuzzy Owen, Bakersfield is still alive. Anytime anybody writes a song within half a mile of Merle Haggard or Dallas Frazier, Bakersfield is still alive, so I hear strands of Bakersfield all over the place. All over the place. Especially in the next generation of indie rockers and indie country guys. So I think it's alive and well. I'm happy to carry a piece of the torch for them.

Your latest record, Saturday Night / Sunday Morning," brings in some disparate sounds. You've got some gospel on it and you've got some country on it. Tell us about your new record.

Stuart : Side one is hard hit, unapologetic country music that I wouldn't have a bit of a problem standing on stage, playing all night long. And probably about the end of the night I'd sing half of the second record which is a Delta gospel record. In my mind, I stood on my Mississippi legacy and my Mississippi roots. It encompasses music as I heard it as a kid down there and those roots run deep, too. Basically blues- based country music, blues-based gospel music, blues-based rock 'n' roll. ... Long before Bakersfield did its thing, the roots of Mississippi were taking place and that's the legacy I stood on to make this record. Probably, and I've never said this in my life about a project, but ... I've never been part of a project that I've enjoyed listening to as much as this when it was finally done. It took me nine years to do this record, so I waited it out.

What kind of stuff can we expect to hear from you October 25 at the Fox Theater?

Stuart : Well, a little twang to make you smile, I promise you that. ... We'll do some of the old songs that got me my job in the first place and gave me a reason to run up and down the road with the band, to wear cowboy clothes. A lot of new songs. A lot of things we're working on as well as gospel. So it's a good night, it's a good night of music and I think Bakersfield and Oildale people will totally understand what we're up to.

By Robert Price

Return To Articles Return To Home Page