Unmistakably Country

This appeared in The Capital-Journal - August 29, 1997

Marty Stuart could never be one of those Young Country hat acts, not that he could easily slip a Stetson over all that hair. Oh, he's a good-lookin' son-of-a-gun with enough stage presence to fill an 18-wheeler, but Stuart has a musical soul much older than his 38-year-old body.

Stuart is a walking, talking, picking connection to the roots of country music. He mixes his brand of country with rock and blues without ever letting you forget he picked mandolin in bluegrass legend Lester Flatt's band and played mandolin and guitar for Johnny Cash.

As David Allan Coe sings, "If that ain't country, I'll kiss your ....." Well, Coe has a way with words but, suffice it to say, Stuart is so roadhouse, honky tonk, another-round-please country as to have earned the nickname, "Party Marty."

However, a more sedate Stuart spoke on the telephone last week from his Nashville home. He had a rare couple of days off from a grueling summer tour schedule that brings him Sunday night to Topeka and an appearance at Railroad Days.

So how does Stuart use his infrequent time at home during the summer? "We pretend it's Christmas and get the family together," he said. "I live on the river. So I took advantage of the river and the jet skis and had a big cookout last week and had family over," he continued. "It really and truly is a time of the year that everybody talks a lot on the telephone but you don't get to see each other, so it's nice just to get with the family."

Stuart soon would return to the road later that day on a tour in support of his latest album, last year's "Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best" (MCA Nashville). Here's how country music critic Buddy Seigal described that CD for the Los Angeles Times:

"There are echoes of so many styles on 'Honky Tonkin' that listening to it can be dizzying. There's Hank Williams dueting with Jerry Jeff Walker, the Blasters with Johnny Burnette. Ringing, 12-string guitar riffs recall the Byrds and the Monkees. There's a blues rap that comes off like Eric Burdon and War's 'Spill the Wine' on moonshine. Stuart even has bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin open a song by introducing his coon dogs and having them bark. That's no damn way to get your record accepted by country radio!"

Stuart recorded the album at night. Why? "The truth of it is that most musicians hearts don't start beating until 6 at night," he said, with a laugh. "There's something about when the sun goes down that a little extra magic happens, some mystique creeps in that you don't get in broad daylight."

So doesn't Stuart run the risk of baffling country radio programmers with such a diverse album. "The thing about most of country music I'm hearing these days is that it's pretty much all the same," he said. "And leave it to me, I tend to overdo everything."

So how does Stuart select his music? "Whatever hits my heart, and keeping my eye on the fact I am a country picker. That's square one. You have to work off of knowing who and what you are. I know exactly who and what I am, but I also know the boundaries aren't as tight as they used to be."

Stuart stretches lots of boundaries. He had just finished recording a duet with blues great B.B. King. He also was working on music for a play and for two movie soundracks, including "Primary Colors," the movie based on the not-so-fictional political insider novel by one-time Anonymous.

So what's next after the summer touring season fades? It's back to the studio for a concept album, "The Pilgrim," "which basically starts at the beginning of country music and walks its way into the 21st century."

Perhaps that is a perfect project for a guy who got his start with the likes of Flatt and Cash but still competes with all those fresh faces under all those big cowboy hats from Nashville cranks out like a Detroit factory.

By Bill Blankenship

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