Mississippi Native Stuart: "I Champion My State"

This appeared in the Clarion Ledger - February 7, 2008

On his new XM Radio program Marty Stuart's American Odyssey, he chose to focus on Mississippi for its premiere episode.

He performs in his home state whenever possible, such as headlining the inaugural Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival in Starkville last year.

With Stuart's career encompassing six Top 10 hits, one platinum and five gold albums and three Grammy Awards as well as a burgeoning career as a photographer and radio host, Mississippi couldn't ask for a better ambassador.

Stuart will come to Jackson Saturday to perform three shows at the Dixie National Rodeo. He recently spoke to the Clarion-Ledger about his recent projects and the thrill of coming home.

Q: I understand you've been in the studio the past couple days. What are you working on?

Marty: I have an XM Radio show that I do ... It comes on Fridays on Channel 2 and airs 24 hours a day. The concept of it is we go every week to a different place and profile the music that came from there. The first show we did was Mississippi, of course. Started at home. So I'm finishing out my first season of those, and we've been writing songs and just kind of winding up the long road back to the microphone for another record.

Q: Tell me about your photography. Is it artistically rewarding in other ways than your music?

Marty: Well, photography to me was just a hobby. My uncle had a photography studio in Philadelphia when I was a kid. And my mom and dad actually both worked there, and my mom was a pretty good shutterbug. Photography was just always around ... I asked my mom for a camera and I started taking it on the road with me when I was like 14 years old. I just started terrorizing everybody (laughs), and the result has been some pretty significant photographs. I don't know that I'm a great photographer, but I've had some pretty awesome circumstances to shoot ... it's kind of like shooting Mount Rushmore, if you can get it in focus, you've got a pretty good shot, you know?

Q: The last time you came to Jackson was for the governor's salute to the Grammys. Were you honored to be a part of that?

Marty: Absolutely ... I felt like the ceremony ... gave the entire state of Mississippi a neutral format where we could all get together. I felt such a unity of Mississippi and all the different musical worlds and characters and personalities. It was a wonderful feeling. It was just good church, is what it amounted to.

Q: You're devoted to preserving musical history. With new things like the Mississippi Blues Trail, does it make you proud to know your home state is actively recognizing its own?

Marty: Without question. Because Mississippi is unparalleled in its power musically. Nobody can touch what's come from Mississippi and what continues to come from Mississippi. It's the greatest resource that Mississippi has -- God-given talent. To see all of those things finally being recognized and paid attention to, it's an awesome feeling.

Q: You've performed a lot in the state recently. Do you make it a point to perform at home whenever possible?

Marty: Every chance I get. I believe in my state and I champion my state. So any time I can be a part of what's going on there I'm for it ...

And I can't help but thinking about (coming to the Coliseum for the Dixie National). That was a big thing for me. In 1970, one of the greatest moments of my life was my mom carried me and my sister to that particular coliseum to see Johnny Cash. It lit a fire in me, when I came home from that show I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life.

Q: What's in store for your rodeo performances -- are you going to do your classic hits, your newer bluegrass stuff or some of both?

Marty: We'll mix it up. There's really not a lot of time to stretch out and do much because I think we're doing three 30-minute sets or something like that. Music's just kind of an afterthought for the rodeo. But it doesn't matter to me, I'm glad to be coming - I'm coming home to get a glass of iced tea, you know? Or go to Hal & Mal's to have a piece of lunch (laughs). So it's an excuse to come home and I'm glad to be coming. If we only played one song that would be all right with me.

By Carey Miller

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