Marty Stuart Is Country To The Core

This appeared in the Dallas Morning News - July 24, 2003

For Country Music, his first studio album in four years, renegade Marty Stuart started from scratch. He assembled a new band, dubbed His Fabulous Superlatives, signed with a new label, Columbia Nashville, and crafted a new sound that merged his signature hillbilly rock with the bluegrass and traditional country of his early years. Flanked by the Superlatives trio – guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Brian Glenn – Mr. Stuart marveled at the progress during the recording sessions.

"There were sparks all over it," he says from his tour bus in Tulare, Calif. "I knew this band was the one. It inspired me. We went into the studio trying to be mindful of our collective experiences, our successes and our failures. We tried to use a little common sense about it. But we tried to be totally fearless about what we were doing. I don't think I ever got anywhere by following the parade."

No sir. In fact, Mr. Stuart's career has always been marked by musical adventure. He learned to play guitar and mandolin as a child and joined bluegrass legend Lester Flatt's band when he was 12. The Mississippi native has always colored outside the mainstream lines. He even toured with country icon Johnny Cash in the early 1980s.

By the time Mr. Stuart found solo success in the late '80s with a gritty yet viable blend of traditional country and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, he was 29 years old and a 17-year veteran of the business.

So the hiatus between 1999's ambitious song cycle The Pilgrim, his final album for MCA Nashville, and the making of Country Music was crucial, admits Mr. Stuart, now 44.

"The break was a good thing. At the end of The Pilgrim, it was time to call for an intermission. I had been out there doing it for 27 years. I needed to take my box of crayons and do something else. Otherwise, I would have probably been just another country music casualty of the '90s."

Instead, Mr. Stuart nurtured his marriage to influential country vocalist Connie Smith, now six years strong, wrote songs for other artists, scored three movies, including All the Pretty Horses, and served as president of the Country Music Foundation, which overseas the Country Music Hall of Fame, through 2002.

His work with the foundation further fueled his desire for collecting country music memorabilia. Mr. Stuart estimates he has 30,000 pieces, including documents, photographs, costumes, manuscripts and records. The entire collection is on its way to live permanently at the University of Mississippi in its Center of Southern Culture Studies.

His penchant for honoring the traditions of the genre and his passion for preserving its history makes Mr. Stuart a country music ambassador.

"What a wonderful thing to be an American music ambassador," he says. "It takes a special kind of care and attention to step up to that situation. I do this out of my heart. It's as simple as preserving your family legacy. It means something to me. That was one of the other things about this new album. I could have checked my heritage and my tradition at the door just to make another country record. But there's enough of that going on out there."

Calling it Country Music was an inspired move. The album encapsulates his full artistic vision, incorporating country-rock, bluegrass, vintage R&B, '60s country and blues. Stellar guests are legends Merle Haggard and Earl Scruggs. Choice cuts include the banjo-fortified first single, "If There Ain't There Ought'a Be," the rocking "By George," a Stuart original, and a stunning cover of Mr. Cash's heartbreaking ballad "Walls of a Prison."

But the most telltale song is "Tip Your Hat," a blues-soaked homage to country greats. Mr. Stuart mentions artists and tunes that inspired younger generations.

"It's really no different than the old Native American way," he says. "There was a time when Geronimo was a warrior. There was a time when Crazy Horse was a warrior. The young warrior would go to his elders for wisdom. Merle Haggard is like Geronimo. Johnny Cash is like Big Feather. They are our chiefs. It's as simple as that to me."

By Mario Tarradell

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