Want To See Marty Stuart Act Up? Cheer And Clap

This appeared in The Bay City Times - July 10, 2008

If you've heard that country music star Marty Stuart only performs in black as a tribute to his former father-in-law and close friend, the late Johnny Cash, don't believe it.

Stuart - who brings His Fabulous Superlatives band to the first Auburn Summer Music Festival on July 14 in Auburn City Park - says he's heard that rumor, too, but it's simply not true.

''It's just my favorite color, that's all. It's slimming you know,'' he said with a little laugh.

Stuart said he'll perform many of his hits - songs like ''Tempted,'' ''The Whiskey Ain't Workin''' and ''Hillbilly Rock'' - when he comes to town, but it's too soon to tell what his exact lineup will be.

''We usually make out a set list about an hour before the show,'' he said in a recent phone interview. ''It's kind of a day-by-day thing. We've got about 100 songs to pick from.''

But regardless of what he sings, the veteran country performer says he's ready to put on one heck of a show.

''I love the instant gratification part of (performing) and the adventure of the unknown because the stage is an adventure you know? It's really about a collaboration with the audience,'' he said. ''A great audience makes the difference between a performance and a memorable event. ... It causes us to act up.''

Stuart is no stranger to making that audience connection.

He left home at the age 12 and fell in love with performing music on the road.

''My first summer away from home was with a group called the Sullivan Family Gospel Singers,'' he said.

Over the years Stuart says he's been blessed to play with country music legends like Lester Flatt, from 1972 to 1979, and Johnny Cash from 1980 through the mid-80s.

Asked where he grew up, the native of Philadelphia, Mississippi quipped: ''In the back of Lester Flatt's bus.''

Stuart says he considers Lester Flatt as his formal education and Johnny Cash as his finishing school, according to an artist biography on www.thegreenroompr.com.

He's humbled, he says, to have worked with the artists he has over the years and to have had them share their wisdom with him.

''Without a doubt,'' he said. ''It's a family thing. Those people raised me. I was their kid.''

Stuart, who lists his favorite album is Cash's 'At Folsom Prison,' said he feels it's his job to share that knowledge with other country up-and-comers - little things like when Roger Miller told him, ''Having talent's one thing, knowing how to use it's another.''

Listening to country radio today, Stuart doesn't single out particular singers as the future of country music.

He says the same principles apply today as they did decades ago.

''Country music always has something for everybody,'' he said. ''I love the fact that Kenny Chesney can fill up a stadium with 40,000 people. I love the fact that Carrie Underwood brings a whole new demographic.''

But country still needs the folks who helped bring it to where it is today, folks like Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and others.

''To me the family of country music looks very healthy,'' Stuart said.

With a repertoire that includes ballads, country-rock, bluegrass and other genres, Stuart says it's old-fashioned country classics that mean the most to him personally.

''It's the traditional country songs at the end of the day that ring loudest in my heart. Some of those old country records still make me cry,'' he said, naming Charley Pride's ''All I Have To Offer You Is Me'' as an example.

Today, the 49-year-old musician who lives near Nashville, Tennessee with his wife, Connie, says he's figured out the secret to picking good songs.

''I've been through enough good ones and bad ones now to know,'' he said. ''Does it connect with people? Does it tell a story?''

He also runs them past his wife, who he says has a knack for knowing a hit when she hears it.

By Amy Jo Johnson

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