Marty Stuart Fans The Flames Of Traditional Country

This appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette - January 20, 2008

At just 49, Marty Stuart finds himself as one of the keepers of the flame of traditional country music.

As time slowly robs the genre of its greats — Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Buck Owens — artists like Stuart are called upon to keep that music alive for new generations. It's an honorable duty but not always an easy one — not for a musician who has forged close friendships with so many of them since first welcomed into their circle as Lester Flatt's guitarist at age 13.

"It's real hard. Really hard,'' Stuart said during a phone interview. "Johnny Cash was my next-door neighbor, and I look over there now and, not even him, but his house isn't there anymore, either.

"In reality, the job is now falling to Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, myself, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, people who really have a heart for that stuff.''

Stuart's heart hasn't strayed from country's roots since the Mississippi native got his first guitar at 2, discovered bluegrass at 9, joined Cash's band at 22 and launched his own career in 1986. He charted in the '90s with solo hits like "Tempted'' and "Hillbilly Rock'' and a pair of duets with Travis Tritt.

But his career spans far beyond his own music. He's known in Nashville and beyond as a sought-after collaborator, producer, photographer, historian and collector of country music memorabilia.

"I love all that stuff, simply because I came from that world. I've always enjoyed the fact very much that I can call Jimmy Dickens one morning and sit down and call Big & Rich the next. I love it. It's called family. As far as the next generation of old-timers, we're it. The guys I just mentioned (earlier). Here we go.''

Stuart's current schedule is still tied to many of his 2007 projects. He produced Wagonmaster for the late Porter Wagoner, an album he calls a "divine assignment.'' He also released Compadres,' an album of duets that spans B.B. King to Merle Haggard.

"I kind of do what my heart leads me to do,'' he said of his choice in projects. "I don't really pander. I do what … I believe in.''

That includes a special acoustic-oriented concert Monday at Oneida Casino with bluegrass great Ricky Skaggs.

"He's like my brother. He's like family. Any time I see that we're going to work with Skaggs, I always know there's a good night of music ahead.''

Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives are working on a new album this year, but another project could take priority.

"My wife, Connie Smith, wants to record for the first time in many years, so we're going to see what we can do about that. Any time she wants to sing I pay attention.''

By Kendra Meinert

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