Country Sizzles At The Sunrise

This appeared in The Local Buzz Magazine - December 2006

There’s a reason the Austin Chronicle called him “The most important country music artist of our time,” and it isn’t anything to do with the nudie suits or the best hairdo in the business… or even his red hot hits of the nineties.

Local country fans are in for an extremely rare treat on January 21 when the Sunrise Theatre welcomes CMA Vocalist of the Year Pam Tillis, with Grammy winner Marty Stuart opening the show. Both artists are lifelong veterans of the country music scene who after great chart success chose a different path. Marty began his stage career in Lester Flatt’s band when he was only 13 and was invited to join Johnny Cash’s group at the tender age of 19. As a solo act he came out of the chute fast, racking up hit after hit with tunes like "Western Girls" and "Tempted" and "Hillbilly Rock" that featured a playful kind of flirtatious raunch that country had never heard or seen before. His reputation grew as a guitar virtuoso and his endless tours began to draw an eclectic mix of country and rock fans, but after that first flush of success Nashville insisted on more of the same, pushing Marty in a direction opposite to where his creative juices were flowing.

“I realized that I can chase country radio or I can go to my death honorably,” he says. “There’s the heart and there’s the chart. For me the nineties were about fame and fortune and hillbilly stardom, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the roots just kept calling.”

After one platinum and five gold albums, four Grammy Awards and admission to the hallowed Grand Ole Opry, a decline in interest from Nashville’s ivory towers and a pair of DUI arrests led Marty to forge a new trail back to the music he’d grown up with.

“I was ashamed and embarrassed, trying to write messages of hope and inspiration but finding myself sitting in jail.” The night after he was released he performed in Chicago, where members of the Staples Singers (a group he’d long idolized) came to visit him backstage. That night he was given a guitar which had belonged to the family’s late patriarch Pops Staples. “It was really a divine ordinance, like being bequeathed Excalibur.”

So moved was Marty that he and his band the Fabulous Superlatives (featuring the best lead guitarist on the scene, Kenny Vaughn) rode an explosion of creativity that resulted last year in the release of three albums in less than six months, each entirely distinctive from the other. Soul’s Chapel, a set of haunting gospel harmonies, is the direct offspring of the heartfelt support he’d received from the Staples family. Badlands explores the deep connection both he and Johnny Cash had forged with Native Americans, especially the Ogala Sioux of South Dakota. And by happy accident, Live at the Ryman captures a one-off set of high flying bluegrass. Marty had promised to perform a bluegrass show but had forgotten about the commitment until a few days before the event. “I had no bluegrass show prepared and the Fabulous Superlatives weren’t a bluegrass band, but they jumped in and so did a bunch of friends after some quick phone calls. We met in the dressing room at 4:00 the afternoon of the show and sketched up a set list on a napkin, walked out on stage, and you can hear the rest of the story.” What resulted was a spirited, fast moving set of pickin’ and groovin’ that Marty didn’t even know was being recorded. It’s become one of his most highly praised

By Alvin Barnum

Return To Articles Return To Home Page