Country Icon Marty Stuart Bringing Old-School Style To Academy Of Fine Arts

This appeared in the Burg Weekly Entertainment Guide - January 24, 2013

He's more than just what his flowing gray locks, tanned skin and rhinestone-studded style might suggest.

From the boom-chicka-boom rhythm of "Doin' My Time," a 1992 duet with the legendary Johnny Cash, to the hillbilly swing of his 2012 release Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down, Marty Stuart has spent the better part of his 40-year career embodying the sounds and swagger of country music.

He was born country, in rural Mississippi, where at an early age he ditched his copy of Meet the Beatles — technically The Fab Four's second album — because it didn't move him as much as his Flatt and Scruggs and Cash records.

He was raised country, playing mandolin on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry by the time he was 13 and touring with bluegrass innovator Lester Flatt throughout his teenage years.

He dresses country, with closets stocked full of rose-embroidered jackets designed by the western-wear guru Manuel, who tailored extravagant suits for time-honored country performers like Gene Autry, Porter Wagoner and Roy Rogers.

Although his preference for bright colors seems to have waned a bit.

"I tend to favor more black-on-black pieces these days," Stuart said by phone last week while traveling through Florida on his tour bus. "Kenny Vaughan, our guitar player, he has a great line ... he says, 'People hear with their eyes.' There's plenty of style to go around in this band, trust me. You just put on the costume and have fun with it."

But nothing captured Stuart's appetite for classic country flash and flair like the tour bus he rode in during his 1992 "No Hats Tour" with singer Travis Tritt.

Originally owned and decorated by country music pioneer Ernest Tubb, who was nicknamed the Texas Troubadour, the home-away-from-home’s patterned leathered walls, horseshoe-shaped handles on the refrigerator and drawers, mounted shotgun and carved sign that read "E. the T., Living Legend" certainly garnered an enduring gaze or two.

"That was the coolest bus on the road," said Stuart, who'll perform at the Academy of Fine Arts with his longtime band, the Fabulous Superlatives, on February 7. "It's actually still in operation. I'm glad to know it's still out there. It was wonderful."

Like country-bluegrass veteran Ricky Skaggs, Stuart has assumed the weighty mantle of torchbearer for traditional country music in the face of a genre that’s increasingly becoming more removed from its roots.

The finely-tuned collection of tracks on his latest effort, Tear The Woodpile Down, draw on older country forms — honky-tonk, hillbilly boogie and gospel — and completely eschew the current trend toward modern pop-rock on the mainstream country charts.

From Taylor Swift's army of empowered young women to the power-drinking party boys who prefer Eric Church or Jason Aldean, the genre's audience is much different than it was during Stuart's heyday.

Country performers who have tasted their most significant success within the last five years outnumber the more established artists who've counted hits for a decade or more. That may not be unusual in the pop, rock and hip-hop worlds, but country music has long been a genre defined by listeners — and often stars — 35 and over.

At 54, Stuart is among a handful of prominent names — including former mainstream hit-makers Skaggs and Vince Gill — who've become the new old-school conscience in country music. Their concerts, though highly entertaining, also serve as a master class immersion in the genre's foundations.

"I think when the 1927 Bristol sessions from Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were discovered, that was kind of the downbeat, the big bang of commercial country music," Stuart said. "And it has evolved and been ever-changing, ever since. Somewhere along the road, though, I've explored every bit of it. But traditional country music seems to have a timeless appeal to it. So let country music keep evolving, let it keep changing but, until further notice, I'll standby traditional country music."

By Brent Wells

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