Grammy Winner Stuart Found His Passion

This appeared on - August 15, 2015

Playing the mandolin never made sense to Marty Stuart until he drop-kicked it across the floor.

Stuart received his first mandolin at the age of 12 when he was growing up in Mississippi.

“I tried and I tried and I tried, but I could not get it to ‘speak,’” he said in an interview from British Columbia while on tour.

As a pre-teen, Stuart tried to play along with Bill Monroe records but only felt more frustrated.

“One Sunday afternoon I put it in its case, and I kicked it as hard as I could and thought, ‘I will never play you again. I hate you,’” Stuart said.

After returning from church services, Stuart decided to try playing one more time.

“I pulled the mandolin out from under the bed, and I could play it,” he said. “And that’s all I can tell you. In the key of A I could play along with Bill Monroe. It just came into my hands.”

Less than two years later at age 14, Stuart performed on the television show, Hee Haw, which had country legends Buck Owens and Roy Clark as hosts.

Stuart, 56, understood the opportunities he received as a teenager.

“I loved it,” he said of his early musical career. “I was fully aware of being with the Lester Flatt band. The first two records I owned was a Johnny Cash record and a Flatt and Scruggs record. I was into country music when I was 5 years old.”

Stuart later toured as a part of Cash’s band and married his daughter, Cindy Cash. They divorced in 1988.

“I felt as if I belonged among those people,” Stuart said. “So when I had the opportunity at 13 to go on the road with Lester Flatt, I was fully aware of the weight of the situation. And I’ve said it a lot of times: Walking into the Grand Ole Opry with Lester Flatt was like walking into the Vatican with the pope.”

His status with the band gave him instant recognition into the family of country music.

“I remember thinking, a couple of weeks into the job, man, you’ve got yourself a great job,” Stuart recalled. “You’re right where you want to be. And a little voice inside of me said, ‘Now just see if you can keep it.’ ”

Stuart views his mentors as musicians who played with a timeless appeal.

“They were not part of the trend of country music at the moment,” he said. “They were the guys who set the standard. They were the guys who had their own parade. They were the pillars of the industry. They gave me some long shadows to work out from under.”

Stuart found success with his performing and songwriting, eventually winning five Grammy awards as well as the 2005 AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing. He also has The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV.

As for making music, Stuart understands the importance of emphasizing the sense of feelings in his music.

“It’s better to get the right feeling,” he said. “Some of the old guys I learned from in Mississippi only had three strings on their guitars. They could make you feel more on those three strings and two notes they played than somebody who could play a hundred notes a minute. The idea is to get people to feel something.”

By Rick Brown

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