Marty Stuart Takes The Stage

This appeared on Times & Transcripts - November 10, 2009

"I'm country to the bone," Marty Stuart told the world on his 1992 song "Me and Hank and Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Stuart has been living, breathing and embodying country music his entire life. When he appeared to burst onto the country music scene in the late 1980s, he'd actually already been around for years as a sideman to guys like Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, playing mandolin and guitar with expert precision.

He released a few albums in the early '80s to little fanfare, but when Stuart flexed his creative muscles again in 1989 with Hillbilly Rock, suddenly people were listening.

The title track and a cover of Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" put Stuart on the map and he was soon hailed alongside names like Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam as musicians and songwriters bringing country music back to its roots.

Stuart's career skyrocketed over the next few years with hits like "Tempted," "Burn Me Down," "Hey Baby" and "This One's Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)" with Travis Tritt.

But like with so many artists, success was fleeting and as commercial success dwindled, Stuart was re-evaluating his career by the late '90s.

He says "the image got louder than the music" at some point, and the multi-instrumentalist soon decided that it was time to get back to his roots. For the last decade, he's been continuing his career, pumping out critically acclaimed albums that might not garner the same success as his earlier material, but he has a loving fanbase and he's pursuing his career on his own terms.

Playing country, rock, folk, gospel, blues and roots, he isn't bound by what commercial radio wants or expects.

This week, the legendary musician and performer plays the Capitol Theatre with his band The Fabulous Superlatives (Paul Martin, Harry Stinson and Kenny Vaughan). Tickets are still on sale for the show, which takes place at 8 p.m. on tomorrow night.

It's Stuart's first show in the city since his chart-topping days in 1993 when he played the Moncton Coliseum. He was working on his first cup of coffee when he called the Times & Transcript from his home in Nashville recently to talk about his upcoming show, his new album and other projects.

Stuart says his show this week will be all acoustic, featuring tunes both old and new.

Stuart has been keeping busy of late between playing shows and recording his new album, Ghost Train Sessions, his first solo disc in some time and a return to "surf-band hillbilly" music. He's also hosting a weekly Saturday night television show that airs in the U.S. called simply, The Marty Stuart Show. The half-hour broadcast "gives me a place to crow about traditional country," he explains.

Stuart compares Ghost Train Sessions to one of his early records, Let There Be Country. Originally recorded in the late '80s, his then-record label refused to release it.

After Stuart's star rose on another label, his former masters cashed in with the shelved project, releasing the album years after it was recorded.

Ghost Train Sessions will feature "Hangman," a song that Stuart co-wrote with his mentor and friend Johnny Cash only days before the Man In Black died in 2003. By this point, Stuart and Cash were neighbours, and they could write and record music together whenever they wished.

Stuart had an idea for the song, and when he recited some lines to Cash, the legend came up with a second verse on the spot. It wasn't the first time Stuart turned to his mentor and friend. In the late-1990s, when commercial radio had tired of Stuart and was once again leaning toward more pop-sounding country, Stuart had an idea in mind for a "high concept drama" album of country and roots music called The Pilgrim, but was concerned with how that might be accepted. He ran the idea by Cash, who said simply, "Well, you gotta do it."

Cash explained that the only things worth doing are the things that really bubble up in your soul.

Stuart did it, and while it was a critical success, The Pilgrim was a "commercial bomb."

But in a world of disposable music, Stuart says, "The stuff that's supposed to hang around does." The Pilgrim is a much-loved album among Stuart fans and it's soon going to be re-released.

"The thing that I always loved about (Johnny Cash) is he was fearlessly creative," Stuart explains.

He says he still leans on Cash's influence, and it shows. In recent years, he's released a concept album that runs the gamut of what is recognized as "country" -- hardcore honky tonk, folk and roots music -- a live bluegrass album and a gospel album.

It's safe to say perhaps that, like his mentor, Stuart himself is "fearlessly creative."

By Eric Lewis

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