Tour With Tritt Just One Part Of Stuart's Music-Filled Life

This appeared in the North County Times - October 29, 2008

Marty Stuart has a cable TV series coming called The Marty Stuart Show, which will air on the RFD-TV network

Marty Stuart has fingers in so many pies that keeping track of all his endeavors can be a daunting task.

During the past two years, the veteran Grammy-winning country star has curated a music exhibit (Sparkle & Twang), put together a photography book (Country Music -- The Masters), produced several artists, released a concert CD and collection of duets (Compadres), toured with his Fabulous Superlatives band, hosted a weekly XM Radio program (American Odyssey) and is set to host a new cable TV music series (The Marty Stuart Show).

The Mississippi native is a self-taught mandolinist/guitarist and vocalist who started in the business as a teenager. He was a member of bluegrass master Lester Flatt's band through much of the '70s before hooking up with Johnny Cash in 1980. Stuart put out his first solo albums independently, married Cindy Cash (they divorced in 1988) and produced a gospel effort for The Man in Black.

By the late '80s, Stuart's solo career had kicked into high gear. His spirited music (a mix of rockabilly, honky-tonk and traditional styles) and colorful suits drew widespread attention. The result was 17 Top 40 hits on the country charts through 1996 ---- including "Tempted," "Hillbilly Rock," "Little Things" and "Burn Me Down" ---- not to mention a few gold and platinum records.

Two song collaborations with Travis Tritt ("The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," "This One's Gonna Hurt You") went Top 10, and the pair toured several times in the '90s. Now the two musicians have reunited for a special acoustic jaunt that starts in Temecula.

Stuart, 50, talked about his busy schedule via phone from Nashville:

Q: What can fans look forward to at the concert?

Marty: The thing that's really unique about this is it's just the two of us on stools ---- no net!

Q: Last year, you'd produced Wagonmaster, the final album for Hall of Famer Porter Wagoner and planned to tour together in that configuration before he died.

Marty: They were gonna cancel all the shows, and one of them was at the Savannah Music Festival. I called Travis and said, 'This is in your backyard. Let's see how this feels.' We hadn't done anything in a long time. The minute we got down there, just the two of us, something magic happened.

Q: Sparkle and Twang opens at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland this week. You first started collecting country memorabilia over 20 years ago, right?

Marty: Formally. I was always a fan and collector from the time I was a kid ... but I got really serious about it in the early '80s.

Q: Was it a matter of not wanting to see these items fall through the cracks and you decided to step up and preserve them yourself?

Marty: That was a big part of it, yeah.

Q: Episodes of your new TV program with live music from your band, wife Connie Smith and other guests start airing on the RFD-TV network soon.

Marty: It is a breath of fresh air to do traditional country music on a stage in Nashville again. I mean, unapologetically. Hay bales and all (laughs). I've been watching this thing for the past six years and dearly love it. They run great shows like the Wilbur Brothers and "Hee Haw," the kind of shows I grew up on. It's an eye into the real America, not just the face value. As much as I love reruns, we needed a current take on things ... so I thought, 'how about one that carries the tradition of the Flatt & Scruggs, Porter Wagoner and Johnny Cash shows forward?'

Q: What can you tell me about the new book?

Marty: I started taking pictures when I first went on the road. The first picture I ever took was of Connie Smith when she came to my hometown (Stuart was 12 and told his mother he'd marry her someday). That's where the book starts ... through 40 years, I pulled together the old world of country music. It's a pretty extensive study ---- almost 500 pictures ---- and a labor of love. There's also a spoken-word CD that tells a few stories, and a song called "Dark Bird" that I wrote for Johnny Cash. It goes along with the image on the cover, which is a shot I took of him four days before he passed away.

Q: You've done one season of the radio show, with another one planned. How did you get involved?

Marty: I'm a big fan of XM radio. I think the genius of it is ... as a listener, you can find a channel that suits your lifestyle, preference or political taste, and you don't ever have to compromise that. You can drive coast to coast and get in on it. When I first started (taping), I saw Tony Bennett come out of one studio, then the Black Crowes, some metal band and us. I thought, 'This is my kind of place!' ... They offered me a chance to do whatever I wanted. I decided to take the band, an announcer and pastor and go across the United States, stop in town after town and profile what came from that town. It's staggering, the things that I didn't know about America.

Q: Anything else on the horizon for you?

Marty: I've been writing songs in my spare time in the past couple of years. I've got a new stack of songs we've started introducing to the live audiences at our band shows. ... After we get over the hump of the TV shows in the first quarter of next year, we'll get back in the studio. We have a stone-cold, firecracker-poppin' traditional country record I'm dying to do.

By George A. Paul

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