Q & A With Marty Stuart

This appeared in the East Valley Tribune - March 27, 2015

Marty Stuart is the epitome of country cool. He doesn’t need to wear a cowboy hat or wave a Southern state birth certificate around to let you know he’s a country music star. He just makes music his way and lets the chips fall where they may.

Stuart, along with Vince Gill, Steve Earle, Shooter Jennings and Sara Evans will be co-headlining the inaugural Sidewinder Country Music Festival at WestWorld of Scottsdale April 25-26, 2015. Proceeds will benefit Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The music veteran started playing the guitar at the age of 12. He was invited to play with country legend Lester Flatt when he was a teenager, and a few years later with Johnny Cash. Stuart struck out on his own in 1989 with an eclectic merging of rockabilly, honky tonk, bluegrass and traditional country that produced a string of hits throughout the 1990s. They include “Hillbilly Rock,” “Western Girls,” “Tempted,” and “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” with Travis Tritt.

Stuart spoke exclusively to GetOut to discuss his storied career, his role as Nashville’s music historian and his smoking hot band, The Fabulous Superlatives.

Q: You were born in 1958 at the height of the first wave of rock and roll and came of age when the Beatles invaded the U.S. And yet, it was country music that seeped into your bones. Why do you think that is?

MS: I had a lot of choices and one of the greatest assets I had as a young man growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi. WHOC were the call letters of the local radio station started up by this young visionary named William Howard Cole. Mr. Cole, in his own way, was a worldly musical guy and he started off his program with country music from the morning to noon hour and sign off. The station would play an hour of gospel music and after that, the day was dedicated to Top-40 radio. Soul music kind of crept up during the later part of the day and then he’d sign off with easy listening music. I thought everybody’s radio station played that sort of variety. I was a sponge at that age and noticed that rock and roll made me want to dance and hoop and holler and the blues were dominant throughout each genre. It was in church music, country, gospel and rock and roll. Everything had a tinge of the blues. I noticed when the country songs came on, particularly Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, they captivated my heart whereas rock and roll captured my imagination.  

Q: You endured two decades of dues paying before you became a star in your own right. What did you learn in the years before you became famous and how did it help you later on?

MS: Working for Lester Flatt was my first real job, and that was the equivalent of a jazz kid getting to work with Louis Armstrong. Lester was one of the architects of American music on the country. He helped invent bluegrass and country music as we know it, as well as the business of bluegrass and country. He had a third graduation but by the time I had left his band, I had been schooled in the wisdom of life and country show business. There are innumerable lessons I draw from that period all the time. Then when I went to work for Johnny Cash and his band, it was like going to the finishing school.

Q: I’ve got to ask you about the Class of ‘55’ sessions featuring Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. What’s the first thing that jumps out at you when I mention that 1986 album?

MS: It was a magical few days. I’ll never forget it. I wish you could have been at the press conference because it was better than the record (laughs). The historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis was the setting. I don’t think Roy Orbison showed up but it was Johnny, Jerry Lee, Carl, Sam Phillips and Chips Moman — all the city’s most favored sons were together under one roof. It was absolutely electrifying and to be a part of those sessions at Sun Studios as a fairly young musician was a sight to behold. I was definitely seeing history in the making. I knew that I was in the middle of something absolutely very special. The saddest part about all that is, the record wasn’t very good but the press event was bigger than life.

Q: You are in a way country music’s great historian in that you have this world-class collection of memorabilia. When did you start collecting and what are some of the coolest items you possess?

MS: I started collecting as a fan when artists would come through my hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.  Some of the items I consider indispensable are Johnny Cash’s first black performance suit or Hank Williams’ handwritten lyrics to “I Saw The Light” or Patsy Cline’s boots that she had on when she lost her life — that level of collection.

Q: I love the concept for your new album Saturday Night / Sunday Morning. How did that come about?

MS: It started nine years ago when Mavis Staples came to town and she and her sister Yvonne had given me Pop Staples’ guitar. Then we recorded “An Uncloudy Day” with Mavis for no reason other than to record it when she was in town. That was the beginning of something — I didn’t know what it was — but I knew it was something. It took my nine years to figure it out by stacking up the right country songs and stacking up the right gospel songs. Saturday night and Sunday mornings are a reality with a lot of people wherever you go. It seemed like a concept worth exploring.

Q: I hear your band, the Famous Superlatives, are getting incredible reviews. Tell me what’s special about them?

MS: I’ve been in bands since I was 9 years old and I knew this band in our first rehearsal was going to be the band of a lifetime. They’re masterful players, they’re masterful people. They’ve played with everybody, played on every stage and the only thing that was left to do when we got together was to explore what we believe in. Quite frankly, they’re about the most deadly band in this town and we can back it up.

By Marshall Terrill

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