January Jam Series Continues With Marty Stuart

This appeared in the Johnson City Press - January 17, 2014

Marty Stuart, who began singing gospel as a child, has spent more than four decades celebrating American roots music with a missionary’s zeal.

Stuart and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, will take the stage Saturday for the second weekend of January Jams.

Each January, the Abingdon Music Experience hosts a month of concerts, which take place at Barter Theatre’s main stage. All concerts begin at 8 p.m.; doors open at 7:15 p.m.

Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1958 and grew up obsessed with country music. He learned guitar and mandolin as a child, and by age 12 was performing with the bluegrass group The Sullivans. He soon met Lester Flatt band member Roland White, which led to an invitation to play a Labor Day gig in Delaware with the band in 1972. Flatt invited Stuart to join the band permanently and took responsibility for overseeing the teenager’s continued education.

Stuart stayed with Flatt up until the legendary bluegrass master broke up his band in 1978 for health reasons.

He moved on, playing with fiddler Vassar Clements and guitarist Doc Watson while doing session work, and was invited to join Johnny Cash’s backing band in 1980.

In 1978, Stuart had released his first LP, With a Little Help from My Friends (re-released in 1992 as The Slim Richey Sessions), but in 1982 he stepped out to record a more high-profile solo album, Busy Bee Cafe, an informal jam session for Sugar Hill with guest spots by Cash, Watson and Earl Scruggs, among others.

The following year, he married Cash’s daughter, Cindy. He left Cash’s band in 1985 to pursue a solo career, signing with Columbia and releasing a self-titled label debut album in 1986. Despite a Top 20 country hit in “Arlene,” the record didn’t sell very well, and Columbia refused to issue his completed follow-up, Let There Be Country.

Stuart’s marriage also broke up in 1988, and he returned home to Mississippi to gather his wits. Jerry Sullivan invited him to rejoin The Sullivans as mandolinist, which recharged Stuart’s confidence for a return to Nashville.

Stuart landed a deal with MCA in 1989 and released his label debut, Hillbilly Rock, later that year. This time he was more successful, landing a Top 10 hit with the title track and earning positive reviews from critics, who compared his sensibility to that of Dwight Yoakam’s.

Released in 1991, Tempted was successful both critically and commercially, and spawned three Top 10 hits in the title cut, “Little Things” and “Burn Me Down.” In the wake of Stuart’s breakthrough, Columbia finally released Let There Be Country in 1992. Stuart also completed his official follow-up, This One’s Gonna Hurt You, which featured a Top 10 hit in the title duet with Travis Tritt and became his first gold album. Though he’d earned a fervent following, Stuart found these successes hard to duplicate — 1994’s Love and Luck saw his sales slipping, and perhaps in response, MCA issued the hits and rarities compilation, The Marty Party Hit Pack. That in turn led to a series of Marty Party concert specials on The Nashville Network.

His latest musical oeuvre is ably supported by some of his favorite people — his backing band, The Fabulous Superlatives, comprised of guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin.

Stuart’s zest for every conceivable flavor of country music is also seen regularly by TV viewers these days, on RFD-TV’s The Marty Stuart Show, a musical variety show and the number one program on the network.

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