Interview: Alan Nichol Chats To Marty Stuart

This appeared on - January 14, 2011

It would be hard to find a better role model for young musicians than the country artist Marty Stuart, who brings his stellar band to the Sage at the end of January, 2011 – Saturday 29th to be exact.

The fact is, however, it is unlikely that Stuart’s experiences could be replicated in the current music world. The detail will unfold later, but suffice to say that Stuart comes to these shores for the first time in a long while for a short tour to support his new album, Ghost Train (Sugar Hill Records).

I spoke to Marty recently and started by offering congratulations for a recent double-Grammy nomination.

He’s won one before but that didn’t dull his excitement: “Oh, yes but there’s always room for more!”

Many in the U.S. have seen Stuart’s latest offering (and his successful weekly TV show) as the return to “proper country” and he’s happy about that.

“It’s been received very well, almost like starting with the whole genre over again.”

He is delighted with his current band, too, as he explains: “Oh, I’ve been in bands since I was 13 but I’m telling you this is the band of a lifetime. We’ve been together almost a decade now and it’s incredible what these guys can do.”

The band is called the Fabulous Superlatives and there is no hype at work there. One of the nominated songs – actually it is an instrumental – is called "Hummingbyrd" and the spelling betrays a link to one of Stuart’s big influences, ace country-picker and former Byrds guitarist, the late Clarence White.

“That’s Clarence’s guitar (on the recording),” says Marty. “Clarence’s signature piece, for me, was a tune called Nashville West (on the Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde album). I never could play Nashville West. I could sort of play it but never got it right.

“I eventually gave up and I kind of created a song which was inspired by Nashville West and it was my recital piece and it turned out to be "Hummingbyrd" and it is one of the songs from the album to be nominated for a Grammy.” When I tell him that it sounds as if the band was having fun, he can’t hold back. “You know what, it was one of those songs. We recorded that one absolutely live, absolutely, didn’t touch it.”

The recording of Ghost Train took place in one of the world renowned studios, Nashville’s RCA Studio B (made famous by Elvis, Porter Wagoner, Dolly, Charlie Pride, Chet Atkins etc).

“It’s equivalent to a preacher getting to read a sermon in Westminster Abbey,” says Marty.

It was also the place where a 13-year-old Marty Stuart made his recording debut as a member of the great Lester Flatt’s band.

It is an occasion that had a profound impact on him, as he recalls: “The only jobs I ever had were with Lester Flatt and then Johnny Cash. I couldn’t ask for a greater way to start my career.

“My family lived 400 miles away in Mississippi and I lived at Lester and Gladys’ home. They took care of me until my mom and dad could move up here.

“If Lester Flatt was my education, then Johnny Cash (later to become Marty’s father-in-law) was my finishing course. It would be so great for all young musicians to work their way through the ranks that way.”

Stuart is very aware of the role played by fans in the UK in keeping country music alive. “You know, you guys in Europe understand deep culture. And you’ve had a lot more time to think about it.”

And it sounds like a show to set fire to the Sage’s Hall 2 in a couple of weeks from now.

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