Stuart Proving Country Roots Still Relevant

This appeared in the Journal-News - September 29, 2011

Marty Stuart brought his energetic traditional country and rockabilly to the stage earlier this month, closing the Pickin' in the Panhandle festival.

He and his Fabulous Superlatives band had the crowd cheering and clapping to his hits like "The Whiskey Ain't Working" (his self-penned duet with Travis Tritt) and "Tempted." He told a humorous story about Tritt when they first met.

The Superlatives include Paul Martin on bass and vocals; Harry Stinson on drums and vocals; and Kenny Vaughan on guitar and vocals. They're excellent musicians and took turns showing off. They're a tight group with Stuart, a real ensemble act.

Stuart played bluegrass tunes including "Riding the Bluegrass Express." He also performed the theme from his RFD-TV program, The Marty Stuart Show.

After singing "Tempted," he said, "For a second there I got spooked. It sounded like on that last chorus Marty Robbins and his band came across the stage." He broke into an unrehearsed but excellent version of "Don't We All Have The Right To Be Wrong Now And Then."

Vaughan joked they'd play in the "key of D, for InwooD."

Stuart enjoyed his day in West Virginia.

"They're my kind of people, down-to-earth people."

He's a student of traditional country music, and says he is always learning, always researching for song material. He watched other bands and said in an interview that he greatly admired Everett Lilly.

"Having Everett Lilly visit on this bus with us was like having an Old Testament figure. There's so much wisdom, and we love the pioneers. Their very presence speaks."

He had joined Lester Flatt's band at 13. He later worked with Johnny Cash his former boss/mentor, neighbor and father-in-law. He learned from the masters.

Some might call Stuart a legend, too. He's a real ambassador and preserver of traditional country music.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "They passed it to me, and we always keep an eye out for young'uns who have it. Paul Martin's family has it. It's wonderful to see. Those kids will take care of it right."

Although radio often quit playing his hits in the late '90s, he didn't stray too far from center in theme when others were trying to branch out to be modern.

"In my opinion, our music always had a strand of tradition in it. I was always rooted around American roots music," he said. "That was the central theme of the first part of this decade. When we put the Superlatives together, we really didn't have anything in mind other than when we did the first rehearsal, we knew we had it. We went back into the woods as far as we could and started playing ourselves out for anybody who would listen."

Stuart's given a voice to others, with theme albums about the Lakota Indians, "Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota," and Mississippi Delta.

"The Lakota Indians are the poorest county in the U.S. The Mississippi Delta is one of the poorest places in world. That's what 'Soul's Chapel' was about. They needed a voice," he said.

Television came calling a couple years ago.

"We really started to find our mark when we got the show on RFD-TV," he said. "It gave us a bull's eye and audience for traditional country music. We honed in on that. We're doing all we possibly can to further preserve, recreate and promote traditional country music."

His most recent is Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions). Studio B was where he first recorded, and where Cash and Elvis recorded. It includes a duet, "I Run to You," written and sung with his wife Connie Smith, and "Hangman" he co-wrote with Cash. The cut "Hummingbyrd" won him his fifth Grammy.

The album is contemporary but yet familiar and rooted in the main themes of country music.

"Country music is heartfelt music. It has a lot to do with sonics," Stuart said. "Contemporary country sounds like a metal band more than anything. Ours is the twanging guitars, steel guitar and harmony. The theme of songs has a lot to do with it. It's real life. Go back to the original template Jimmie Rodgers set down. It's still relevant in anybody's newspaper this morning. Those are the songs we concentrate on writing and singing."

He did a stint as president of the Country Music Foundation and has a large collection of country music memorabilia. He's been told it's the largest private collection in the world, with at least 20,000 pieces. Some have been on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Autry museums. He plans to loan pieces to the Country Music Hall of Fame soon.

He is back in the studio now to record Nashville Volume I: Tear the Wood Pile Down, and tapes a new season on RFD-TV in December.

By Tricia Lynn Strader

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