New Music Seminar: A Converstation With Marty Stuart

This appeared in the Huffington Post - May 9, 2012

Mike Ragogna: Marty, your new album, Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down, is a thoroughly "country" country album.

Marty Stuart: Authenticity is the watch word. I love traditional country, fell back in love head over heels with it five or six years ago. Me and my band were just kind of out there doing whatever appealed to us and one day, traditional country music appeared, and it's really where I started in country music almost four years ago. It's a precious piece of American culture. It owns its own place within the arts. It seemed to me like what bubbled up in my heart was to throw a lasso around what was left of that end of the culture, shore it up, love it, inspire it, protect it... But the big job was to hopefully forge a new chapter in this century and write some new songs and make some new events happen around it. This album truly is a part of that.

MR: There's a lot of love in your heart for Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash, right?

Marty: There is. It's not only old heroes. I started professionally when I was 13 years old with Lester Flatt. In a lot of ways, those was the guys who raised me, my old chiefs, my old mentors and it's kind of a family thing.

MR: Can you go into your title track, "Tear The Woodpile Down"?

Marty: Well, the truth of the matter is, it was simply written. I have a TV show on RFD-TV and Dolly Parton was going to be our guest a couple of seasons back. I needed a song to kick the show off for when Dolly walked around from behind the curtain, so we needed to set the bar pretty high on a song for her to step out to. So I went home and wrote the song, and the next day, we performed it on my television show. But, as time has gone on, we just kept refining the song, I kept refining the lyrics.

MR: What about "Sundown in Nashville"? It really nailed the scene there.

Marty: That song actually comes from about 1967. There was a country duo, a husband and wife team called Carl and Pearl Butler, and they had a huge hit in the early '60s called "Don't Let Me Cross Over." I recorded that song because I loved what it said. I rewrote the last verse to kind of bring it into the 21st century. But, it's very true. If you don't believe me, get in your car, drive down to lower Broadway tonight or any night in Nashville and just look around and that's it, right there. I can tell you from being around 40 years, when things are going your way around Nashville, it's a wonderful time. But, when things are not going your way and nobody cares, it can be a very lonely place at sundown.

MR: You're right. It can vacillate between, "This is the most amazing thing that ever happened to country!" to "What was your latest hit again?"

Marty: And that happens very fast. I think of the same thing when you go to LA or New York. They're just kind of industry towns. When everybody loves you, everybody loves you, but it can get cold real fast.

MR: Though 16th and Broadway is still one of the honky-tonk capitals of the world, I think.

Marty: Yeah.

MR: Corey Hickenbottom, let's get you in here. Got any questions for Marty?

Corey Hickenbottom: Marty, you were talking about your TV show and I've got to tell you, that's my favorite show on TV right now. It's just fantastic. I appreciate it so much as a country music fan. I feel it gets so segmented these days--there's the bluegrass, Americana, modern country... You pull them all together. It's the only place I know where I'm going to watch Riders in the Sky followed by Brad Paisley followed by Delmar Curry followed by Charley Pride. Can you talk about some of what you're doing there, bringing them all together.

Marty: First of all, thanks for watching. I love that the show has become the band's theater, if you will. It's kind of become our platform. I was riding through the backwoods of Missouri, I guess, six or seven years ago, and I was coming off scoring films. What I learned in the film world is if the music and the scene line up together, the scene flies by. But, if the music and the scene don't line up together, the scene can feel like three hours long. I was riding through the backwoods of Missouri, looking around at cows and tractors and horses and looking at clothes blowing on the lines and country people. I was listening to contemporary music on the radio and it just didn't quite line up. But, I stopped and I put in Hank Williams and I put in Porter Wagner and all of a sudden, life came back to one. I thought, "How about if we do a TV show and we take our case back to the people?" I have a pretty good Rolodex. I have a pretty diverse date book with names in it. Make it entertain. Make it dance. Do what I know how to do, and that's simply what we did. It either entertains or it don't. Just because somebody don't have a hit record don't mean a thing. I've always contended a fiddle player with the right song in their hand could wreck the room a whole lot more than somebody with my latest single that nobody cares about.

MR: Disposable recordings.

Marty: Yeah. I'm guilty of those, too. I have a lot of those at The Great Escape record store. Go get you some.

MR: I miss The Great Escape, I lived in Nashville when I was a country act with my musical partner Steve Mosto. We were a group called Almost Brothers, and we recorded your song "There Will Always Be of Them In Me" for a single. Beautiful song, you're a great writer, sir.

Marty: Thank you, kindly.

MR: Corey, what else you got?

CH: Hey, Marty, you said you grew up on Lester Flatt's bus. Any words on the passing of Earl Scruggs?

Marty: Well, that's the last of my chiefs. It was a wonderful service at the Ryman Auditorium. So many wonderful people came and sang songs for Earl. The first two records I ever owned in my life were by Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash, and the only two jobs I ever had was with Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash. So with the passing of Lester, of course, back in '79 and John in 2003, and now Earl and Dusty, that's the last of my chiefs.

MR: What are your thoughts on Johnny Cash?

Marty: Well, he was a lot of things to me. He was my first old country music hero, my mentor, my boss, my ex-father-in-law, my old bandleader. But he was truly my lifelong friend and I really miss him everyday.

CH: "Hangman," from your last album, was the last song Johnny had a hand in writing, is that true?

Marty: Yeah, four days before he passed away.

CH: Marty, with the show, what are we looking at, the fourth season? Is that what we're on?

Marty: Nah, we're just coming off of the fourth season. If we get around to it, season five is in the future, perhaps.

MR: Marty, what guests are you planning on having on your show?

Marty: Roger McGuinn, Alison Krauss, Stonewall Jackson, Lyle Lovett, Wynonna...those come to mind.

CH: Well, I'm looking forward to that.

Marty: Thank you.

MR: By the way, you mentioned Hank Williams before and you do one of his songs on the new album, "Picture From Life's Other Side."

Marty: With Hank III.

MR: Yes, with Hank III. Gotta love that. What's that story?

Marty: Hank III came out to our television show. I love him, the Williams family...they're like family to me. Sheldon came out to the warehouse. We were going to rehearse the song before we did it on television and I have one of his grandpa's suits here. He said, "Can I try it on?" When he tried it on, it fit him perfect. He wore his grandpa's suit on our television show and we did his grandpa's song "Picture from Life's Other Side" and it really was a stout moment. We re-recorded it. It's a cool way to close the record.

MR: Marty, "The Lonely Kind" reminds me a little of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" though it has your band's vibe.

Marty: Basically, it's my band, a guitar player and a fiddle player. We basically just brought the band to the studio. Kenny Vaughan played a beautiful guitar part on that song.

MR: Chris would have been proud.

Marty: Well, the truth is, we all stole those kind of licks from Duane Eddy.

MR: Now you love Jimmie Rodgers...

Marty: Well, Jimmie Rodgers, the father of Country Music is from Meridian, Mississippi. I was from Philadelphia, Missouri, thirty-five miles apart. I grew up thinking I was supposed to like him and I liked him because I was supposed to. In the early '90s, the Bear Family over in Germany, a record company, came out with a Jimmie Rodgers box set that included every song he'd ever recorded. On a flight to Europe and back, I thought, "I'm going to have a reckonin' with this guy and listen to every song Jimmie Rodger ever recorded and see if Merle Haggard's been telling me the truth and Johnny Cash and everybody else that he's the Father of Country Music and he started it all. I'm going to see what my opinion of Jimmie Rodgers is," and I went through the entire catalog.

When I was on the other side of it, I understood, and I believe he is the Father of Country Music. Part of that is because he was the first one there. But the deepest part of the story to me is the songs. His subject matter is what country music is known for today. It is the empire upon which country music is built. As Merle Haggard said two weeks ago when we were talking, his songs are still the best. If you stay with the blueprint of country music and pretty much what Jimmie Rodgers set down--rambling, gambling, hobo, love, loss, redemption, all those things we're kind of known for, tragedy, dance songs, whatever, honky-tonk songs--that was Jimmie Rodgers. If you still abide by that template, the blueprint for the 21st century with that in mind, with that subject matter in mind, if you pick up the newspaper this morning, or if you watch the news tonight, you'll see the very same subjects apply today. They are timeless subjects. They're simply a reflective of the human condition. That, to me, is what Jimmie Rodgers did and he just happened to have the body and the style of a star, so that's where we have Jimmie Rodgers and I salute him.

MR: You're absolutely right about Jimmie Rodgers. You're also doing some work with the Country Music Heritage Trail?

Marty: Yeah. The first trail that was initiated throughout the state of Mississippi was The Blues Trail, 130 stops so far. Then, I went to the Governor and asked if we could have The Country Trail next. So stop number one is at Jimmie Rodgers grave and stop number two is my hometown and we're up to thirty or forty stops now with plenty in site.

MR: You're from Meridian, Mississippi, so are you pals with Steve Forbert?

Marty: I am. I haven't seen him in years. But on my first Columbia record that I made as a solo artist, I cut a Steve Forbert song. Steve and his wife Jill, and their kids are named Sam and Dave, so they're cool people.

MR: They really are cool people. I wanted to ask you about show for AmeriEquine.

Marty: I think that's the first of June. We're just starting to hit the touring trail seriously. As soon as we hang up, I have about eight more television shows to edit, and today is one of those shows, so we get that out the door. The new record is coming out.

MR: What is your advice for new artists?

Marty: My advice to new artists is to follow your heart at any cost. We have enough people in the world trying to be somebody else or thinking if they play like somebody else, it'll get 'em there. It's a scary thing to follow your heart at any cost. It can be very lonely and very quiet sometimes. But at the end of the day when it happens, it'll be yours. So I say, do it your way.

MR: Your new album is titled Nashville, Volume 1, so when is Volume 2 coming?.

Marty: Oh, I don't know. We just got this one smoking. There's plenty more songs.

MR: All the best with everything, especially the new album, and thanks very much for your time.

CH: It's just a pleasure to talk to you, Marty. I'm glad we were actually able to sit down and talk.

Marty: Well, same here.


1. Tear The Woodpile Down - with Buck Trent
2. Sundown In Nashville
3. A Matter Of Time - with Kenny Lovelace
4. Hollywood Boogie
5. Holding On To Nothing - with Buck Trent
6. Truck Driver's Blues
7. Going, Going, Gone
8. The Lonely Kind
9. A Song Of Sadness - with Lorrie Carter Bennett
10. Picture From Life's Other Side - with Hank III

Transcribed by Brian O'Neal

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