Smith and Stuart Tours Briefly Mesh at Festival

This appeared in The Decatur Daily News - June 13, 2004

GEORGIANA — It isn't unusual for country music stars Marty Stuart and Connie Smith to pass in the night when they're on concert tour.

They may be married, but separate schedules mean they run two buses from their Nashville home with their own bands, playing to their own beats. The Fantastic Superlatives rock with Stuart and Men in Back keep the rhythm for Smith.

They performed here during the 25th annual Hank Williams Sr. Festival in the park behind the legendary singer-songwriter's boyhood home. Smith, up first, dazzled the audience with a catalog of old-hit tunes, including her first single from 40 years ago, "Once a Day."

She explained that country music attracted her because "when it comes from the heart, it touches other hearts, and trials and tribulations."

She paid tribute to Stuart, noting his great influence on country music. "He should be here before my show's over, and that won't be too soon," she laughed. "I haven't seen him in a while."

Despite the couple reuniting on Stuart's bus with food awaiting both, he welcomed a reporter aboard. He remembered the good time he had two years ago in Decatur at the Spirit of America Festival.

"Have something?" he asked as a huge plate of hors d'oeuvres passed.

But Smith, who had had enough of the press, leaned down, bussed her husband and said, "They're gonna love you out there." As she reached the door, she turned and smiled and Stuart said, "I'll see you sometime tonight." She replied, "Well, I hope so." And she and her troupe headed home.

"We'll talk as long as you want," he said, a near-fantasy quote for a reporter who likes music.

32-year career

Only 45, he sketched an astounding 32-year career in the industry, noting that "one word — Southern — covers it all, from the Delta and Memphis, from gospels to the blues and rockabilly, not much that wasn't original."

Soon one realizes that while he was born in the country, he doesn't limit his musical abilities to country. Growing up in Philadelphia, Miss., he connected as a child in the early 1960s with WHOC-AM radio, managed by Howard Cole.

"He opened with country music and the farm reports," recalled Stuart. "At noon, there was a reading of obituaries and the playing of gospel music. During the afternoon, you listened to Top 40 tunes, followed by rockabilly, then rhythm and blues. He reserved the evenings for the classics. I thought that was the way music was. But I also know that country cut to the depths of my soul."

At 13, he joined Lester Flatt's bluegrass band as a mandolin player. After Flatt's death in 1979, he went on the road with fiddler Vassar Clements. He also toured with Bob Dylan and played as a session musician on albums by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Billy Joel. He later became a guitarist for Johnny Cash, who gave him an in-depth introduction to Hank Williams' music.

With four gold albums of his own and countless hit singles, Stuart said he is "running wide open, working on five different albums. I'm writing one, a musical, entitled, believe it or not, 'No Words Aloud.' "

He also is doing a project on behalf of his beloved Mississippi, which will be "about two years' worth of projects. It's a walk through the state, bringing in giants like William Faulkner, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley."

Stuart's musical interests are lodged in every genre. For example, he said he has a mutual respect for jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and singer Norah Jones, who crosses musical borders from jazz to soul to folk-based pop. And he's aware of the legacies of other greats, such as the late guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.

To show that musicians from every field can work together and be successful, he cited Detroit garage-rocker Jack White of Jack White and the White Stripes teaming with Loretta Lynn to produce the album "Van Lear Rose," released in April.

"It's a mark of pure greatness, powerful, raw and real," he said.

'World-class musical citizen'

Stuart said that in a nutshell, what "I long to be is a world-class musical citizen." Those who know him say it's a distinction he has already achieved.

Last Sunday, he lived up to his reputation by appearing at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival. Other stars included James Taylor, Bo Diddley, Carlos Santana, B.B. King and ZZ Top.

"When you get this many strings together," Stuart said, "the world has to have a lot of harmony."

By Ronnie Thomas

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