Marty Stuart Leads A Busy Life And He Likes It That Way

This appeared on - February 25, 2006

It's tough to figure how Marty Stuart finds the time to breathe. He's released three albums – on his Superlatone Records label – in the past seven months, all to critical acclaim. He has three more albums in the works, plus work on several books.

He's a photographer, and a country music historian, with a collection of more than 20,000 pieces of the genre's memorabilia. Some of his material has been displayed at the County Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, some has been in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and some will be displayed in a traveling exhibit Stuart is developing.

"What's time?" he chuckled in a recent interview to promote Monday's show at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay.

It's a busy life, and that's his preference.

"Thomas B. Allen, who did a lot of album illustrations for Flatt and Scruggs albums in the 1960s, told me, 'You must always keep a project in front of you that knows more about you than you know about it,'" Stuart said.

The 47-year-old Stuart has followed that philosophy in a professional career that began 36 years ago, when as a 12-year-old he joined the Sullivan Family Singers, a gospel group, as a mandolinist. He joined Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass as a rhythm guitarist at age 13.

In the years since, he's played with bluegrass legends Vassar Clements and Doc Watson and toured with Johnny Cash. As a solo artist, he's collected six top-10 hits, recorded one platinum and five gold albums and earned four Grammy Awards.

"He grew up in bluegrass, in that field," said WNCY-FM's Randy Allen, who's done country for most of his 35 years in Green Bay radio. "Remember in the 1980s, country became Kenny Rogers, and that kind of lush sound, but Marty said, 'I will stay who I am, and not pretend to be anybody else.' He is who he is."

Today's Marty Stuart has reconnected with his musical roots. In 2000, he came off the road for the first extended period in almost 30 years.

"I had an intermission," he said. "I hadn't sat at home since I was 12 years old.

"I had a great decade in the '90s … but I thought that (as the career progressed) rather than be a parody of myself in a theme park somewhere, I thought it was time to go back home to Mississippi.

"I wound up in the Mississippi delta, and experienced a musical rebirth ... I let the swelling from touring go down, and I just wanted to do anything but put on a cowboy suit and go to work."

One of Stuart's current albums, Soul's Chapel, is a masterpiece of Southern gospel music, mixing elements of blues, bluegrass, rock and country on a wonderful collection of speak-to-the-heart spiritual songs.

His most recent release, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives Live at the Ryman, is a bluegrass effort that happened almost accidentally.

As Stuart writes in the CD's liner notes, he almost overlooked the gig at Nashville's "Home of Country Music." After recruiting banjoist Charlie Cushman, fiddler Stuart Duncan and dobroist Uncle Josh Graves for the event – and rehearsing for 20 minutes in a dressing room – Stuart and company opted to perform a collection of well-known bluegrass anthems. Even "Orange Blossom Special" and "Shuckin' the Corn" get another airing-out, much to the crowd's delight, but the album also includes bluegrass versions of two of Stuart's mainstream country hits, "The Whiskey Ain't Working Anymore" and "Hillbilly Rock."

Aside from his natural curiosity and devotion to his music's background, much of Stuart's musical rebirth is made possible by his band and his label.

The Fabulous Superlatives – drummer Harry Stinson, bassist Brian Glenn and guitarist Kenny Vaughan – are reading from the same musical page as their boss. Soul's Chapel showcases the voices of each band member, both in harmony and lead vocals.

"It's a divinely inspired band," Stuart said, "They are my musical compatriots."

But without Superlatone Records, Stuart might never have had the freedom to pursue projects such as Soul's Chapel, Live At The Ryman and Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, another of his recent albums that explores the lives, the heritage and the challenges of the Lakota Sioux Indian nation in South Dakota. The album is No. 3 on the Americana music charts this week.

"I call Superlatone my creative playpen," Stuart said, "It's an imprint that I came up with that's distributed and marketed by Universal Music. ... It's the last of its kind around Nashville, and it's staffed by passionate people who love music."

Stuart's upcoming projects include an anthology of the duet projects he's worked on over his career and another gospel album (Cathedral). He's continues to connect his music's past to his career's future, even as much of today's country music seems to be taking a more urban direction.

"People don't necessarily need to be a Toby Keith," said Y-100's Allen, "and what's better than doing music that you love to do? I can name you a dozen artists that Nashville has tried to change, and it killed them … Marty is a real gem."

"It's always been about evolution," Stuart said. "At this point, the message seems to be about how the country folks used to get excited about going to the big city … Country music is still knocking on the door, saying 'Let me in.' "

By Dan Flannery

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