Marty Stuart Loves Honky Tonkin' Best

This appeared on Country Standard Time's website - September 22, 1996

The hats still are nowhere to be found this time around but that suits Marty Stuart just fine. This time, the Marty Party man is back, seeking Double Trouble. At least, that's the name of his current year-long tour with cohort Travis Tritt.

Four years ago, Tritt and Stuart went out on their very successful No Hats tour, eschewing the trademark tattoo of this decade's Hot Young Country musicians. Stuart and Tritt scored big time with "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," going to the top of the charts. The following year, Stuart released "This One's Gonna Hurt You," with the title track being the second duet between the two buddies, someone Stuart refers to as "my brother."

Due to a series of other commitments, the two were unable to get it together again until this year, though the plan always had been to record and tour together again. Their first collaboration this year is the title track of Stuart's new disc, "Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best." A second will be "Double Trouble," out in late August off Tritt's forthcoming CD, "The Restless Kind."

Just three dates into a tour that started in Pittsburgh, Stuart, 37, already expressed satisfaction with the results. "I felt like it finally got a bit of semblance of order to it," he said after a hot show in Boston with each sitting in on the other's set and doing a set together. "We can really get back and hook it down."

To Stuart, the goods must be delivered on stage. "You can rehearse and rehearse and put it together on paper and work out the bugs you want to, but there is nothing like putting it in front of people," he said from a pit stop in Rapid City, South Dakota. "After two or three, if it's not headed in the right direction, you're in trouble. It's the people that count."

Stuart, whose last album Love And Luck did not catapult to the fore of country, explained the five-year delay between tours. "We just didn't have the music together," he said. "We didn't have any new songs worked out. I didn't have an album out last year because of a greatest hits record." That was Stuart's "Marty Party Hit Pack."

It's quickly clear that Stuart and Tritt click together well in concert. Why? "I think there is a lot of similarity in our musical style and backgrounds," Stuart says. "The sky's the limit. Let's see how far we can go. I think it's a total reckless abandon. He's not afraid of anything musically. That's the kind of partner you like to have."

Stuart and Tritt have Johnny Carson to thank, in part, for their union. "He was one of the first people that I wondered if anybody I could play music with," Stuart said of Tritt. "I loved his voice, and I saw him on Johnny Carson. He was really cocky. I admired his style. When I wrote the song, 'Whiskey,' he picked it up, and I thought 'all right'."

Stuart happened to be in Music City about five years ago and knew Tritt was performing at Opryland. Tritt already recorded the song, but the two hadn't seen each other since. "I just swung by the amphitheater really fast to thank him for recording one of my songs," Stuart said. When the two talked, Stuart says Tritt asked him to "just walk out and sing that verse you sing. So I did. When I did, the place went ape. So we just looked at each other, (saying) 'what's going on here?' The fans just dug it." That was during Fan Fair. For the rest of that week, Stuart says, "everybody was just talking about it, (us) working together. We just kind of stumbled into it."

In 1992, Stuart released "This One's Gonna Hurt You." The album eventually sold more than 500,000 units, Stuart's first gold disc. The two won the Country Music Association's Vocal Event of the Year. Stuart also became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Stuart's last regular disc was "Love And Luck," out in 1994. The disc contained many strong cuts and certainly was musically quite different from what was coming out of most of Nashville, but it did not equal the success of "This One's Gonna Hurt You." Stuart offers an explanation.

"Love And Luck was really a hard record," Stuart says. I had lost like 26 friends in one year. I don't know what happened. There were some major ones. I was at the tall end of a personal relationship. That was kind of weird. It's kind of hard to make a record under that cloud."

"Right now, I'm happy," Stuart says. "My heart is in good shape. I got two Fender Telecasters and a cowboy coat."

"It has a smile on it," he said. "Hopefully that will translate."

The new disc is far more upbeat when it comes to the subject of love than "Love And Luck." Instead of tales of love's despair, Stuart seems to have found a modicum of happiness.

"I just think it's just play the music," Stuart says of the disc's attitude. "I hear songs that sound like pretty good records. I had more fun making this record. I was ready for it. I had the time to sit back and write the songs. I had the time. I was rested. I wasn't on tour. That's all the focus I had. I think it works. The songs come back right back on stage. The response to them, it's a pretty good indication."

Stuart offered another explanation for the difference on this release. "We recorded it at night," he said. "That made a lot of difference. I didn't start recording until the sun went down. There's an energy. It flows. A couple will stand the test of time real well. It feels like a successful record to me. Last time, it felt like a very proper record. This is very nice music. This music sounds like a successful (disc)."

"Honky Tonkin's" infused with an energy, both vocally and musically, not found as often on previous affairs. Stuart even shows a tender side on a few love ballads, "Shelter From The Storm," which is acoustic based, "You Can't Stop Love," the mid-tempo "I'll Be There For You" and the closing, soft-sounding "So Many People" with Stuart's mandolin spicing the song.

The album, of course, has its more honky tonk, hillbilly rock moments as well. While last time around, Stuart did the instrumental "Marty Stuart Visits The Moon," here he boards his "Rocket Ship" an ode to carnal pleasure and the late Del Shannon's bouncy "Sweet Love," about a man pleading for it, but being hung "out there like a puppet on a string."

The latter was not the original version from the man who gave us "The Runaway." "It came to me and it was called Cheap Love, Stuart says. "I didn't like the lyrics. It sounded like a hit but the lyrics were all negative. I turned it into Sweet Love. I talked with Tom Petty (who recorded it with Shannon) about it. He said, 'I don't think Del would care.' I said, 'good'."

"I couldn't talk to Del," Stuart joked.

Stuart also delves into the blues with "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" on which bluegrass legend "King" Jimmy Martin starts off with a spoken intro about his dogs, which he names after the country stars he thinks they sound like when they bark. Definitely different.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Stuart says, when asked where the song came from. "I was over at Jimmy Martin's house over Christmas. When they barked, they sang like country music people to his ears. I thought it was pretty funny. This thing has got to have some words to go with it. I don't have a clue in the world. Popped out of nowhere. It means nothing other than it's a way to get into "Rocket Ship."

The disc, produced by MCA label executive Tony Brown and Justin Neibank, contains more of a focus on Stuart's. singing than previous releases. It's a voice that has improved with age. "I feel like I enjoy singing more now than I ever have," says Stuart. "I used to really (dislike when) my singing would come on, and I'd walk out of the room. I just didn't feel comfortable listening to it. Nowadays, I feel comfortable. I think it's just confidence."

Stuart is backed on four of the 11 tracks by various members of his crack band--guitarist Brad Davis, bassist Steve Arnold, drummer Gregg Stocki, and steel player Gary Hogue. The band was a powerhouse in concert with Stuart letting the band play out, not roping them in.

The idea of using one's band to record country discs is exceedingly rare. Lee Roy Parnell did with his last album to mush success. Dwight Yoakam also utilizes his backing band. "I wanted to use them more," Stuart says of his band. "You ride down the road together for 200 days a year. You get inside of each other's minds. Inside of each other's abilities. You watch each other grow. There's something that can't be replaced with a studio player."

Besides his own recording, Stuart has become busy with other projects. Last year, he started the Marty Party television specials. The specials featured artists who he personally liked, with them playing together. The most recent one in June included Shelby Lynne, Delbert McClinton and Parnell. But Stuart indicated five shows were about enough.

He has also been producing country legend of yesteryear, Connie Smith, who will have a new disc on Warner Brothers after a long hiatus. He also may produce a tribute record to Hank Williams Sr.

Stuart has a well-earned respect for being outside of the country music mainstream. In fact, his upbringing was in bluegrass. At age 12 in 1972, he joined Lester Flatt for a weekend gig on the road. That quickly turned into a full-time gig with Flatt until he died in 1979.

An epiphany of sorts occurred in 1972 when the band played at Michigan State sandwiched between Gram Parsons and The Eagles. The crowd responded enthusiastically, leaving its mark on Stuart. Following his stint with Flatt, Stuart released his first album and did session work for such artists as Johnny Cash. Stuart later joined the Man in Black's band and eventually became--for a little while anyway--his son-in-law.

Stuart released albums on Sugar Hill and later Columbia, but did not break through until "Hillbilly Rock" for MCA in 1989. The title track and "Western Girls" were hits. He followed that with "Tempted," in 1990, yielding four top 10 hits, "Little Things," "Till I Found You," "Burn Me Down," and the title track.

While he has been anything but a follower, being outside the mainstream doesn't please the straight-talking Mississippian one bit. "Shit, I'm trying hard to be (in the) mainstream," he said. "I'm trying to be original, but I'm trying to make music that works out there."

While he grew up in he tradition of the past, he is not stuck there. "I don't think it should be the way it was," he said.

While not bemoaning the state of country, that doesn't mean he likes all of it by any stretch. "There are plenty of people out there to make disposable country music and get rich quick...and plenty of people who make artsy music too," he said.

"I think the heart and soul of country music is in good hands," he said, alluding to the likes of Patty Loveless, Lorrie Morgan, Alan Jackson, Tritt and himself. "I think it's the natural order of things. I think the hat acts have their place and will always be there. You can just change the face under the hats. There will always been George Strait and Alan Jackson and thank God."

Stuart is doing his part by touring with his brother until next winter with dates expected in Canada and Europe. Stuart says he already sees differences between No Hats and Double Trouble. "I think we're better," Stuart says. "I really do. I think Travis' voice is settled and focused. I think I'm more settled and focused."

"As far as the buddyship, that never missed a beat," Stuart says. "We kept all that going. There is that. Country music has changed a million times. It's amazing that anybody's still got a job. We're pretty happy about that."

By Jeffrey B. Remz

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