Marty Stuart Keeps Driving On, Looking For The Top

This appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer - May 27, 1994

When success is measured in terms of friendship and respect from one's peers, few country music artists measure up to Marty Stuart. Stuart, 35, is one of the most popular artists in Nashville. His closest friends include Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash, whose daughter, Cindy, he married and later divorced in the 1980s. He appears in televised public service announcements on behalf of the music industry and is featured regularly on country music talk shows. And the Nashville Chamber of Commerce has made him its International Ambassador for Tourism.

Stuart has also fared well artistically. His "No Hats Tour" with Travis Tritt was among the most successful of last year's road shows. His last album, This One's Gonna Hurt You, was certified gold at more than 500,000 copies sold, and his current release, Love And Luck, has started to climb the charts. Yet, Stuart is restless and eager to break on through to the next level.

"Well, I hate the word, but it's 'superstar' time," says Stuart, who will appear Saturday at Walnut Creek Amphitheater. "I'm not calling my shots but, from where I'm standing, that's about the only thing left to do. Where we are is bearable, bit it's like midlevel hell. There's just so many people around these days that are caught in this middle clump. I'm not comfortable here at all. I've done that, I've seen it, and it's time to go find the rest of it now.

"It all begins with a hit record. I really believe it's in this album somewhere. It starts with that. I see me on every single magazine cover going around. I'm sick of me. I'm on TV so much. Now, it's a matter of that one song that turns the world on. I've been into some incredible musical circumstances in the past two or three years. But after I come home from those, I'm still at that point where I'm selling gold. I need a platinum record."

Stuart's desire to reach the top is based on more than pride. He views it as a ticket to freedom, an open door to opportunities beyond the realm of entertainer. When he's not on the road, Stuart serves on the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame and he's working with others to modernize the Grand Ole Opry. He also authors articles for country music magazines and helped write the script for the June 25 CBS-TV special "The Roots of Country: Nashville Celebrates the Ryman."

Few artists are as qualified as Stuart when it comes to participating in all aspects of the music industry. Stuart's career began in 1972 when he joined with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass as a 13-year-old bluegrass guitar and mandolin player. When Flatt died in 1979, Stuart played music with other musicians including Doc Watson and Vassar Clements and began a six-year stint as a member of Johnny Cash's band. He has worked on albums with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and others and is a collector of country music memorabilia, such as guitars owned by Hank Williams and Clarence White and Ernest Tubb's legendary tour bus.

Stuart's paid his dues in the backwoods schoolhouses as well as the modern country road house and is still reaching for the top. So how does he feel about such young upstarts as John Michael Montgomery and Tim McGraw who have achieved superstar status their first dash out of the gate?

"I think it's great," he offers. "Those guys are having honest records. Time will tell what folks really think, but those guys have honest hits right out of the box, same as Billy Ray did with 'Achy Breaky Heart.' You can't begrudge anything like that because it helps our industry.

"Believe me, I'll take the big ones when they get here, but I've really made a career out of proving that I'm here for the long haul. I'm into that, but some guys who are having big records probably don't care to be in it for the long haul."

Unlike Nashville's new breed, Stuart has a long-term perspective on the country music industry. He likes much of what he sees in the business today, but he is also alert to the dangers.

"The most positive thing is that in the early '80s, it was doubtful that we'd ever have country music again until Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis drove a nail into the problem," he says. "Now young people who really love country music are comin' in to write songs and play music. It's just good to see it all healthy again.

"But we're guilty of creating a lot of disposable stars and records right now, and a pop mentality. There's way too many artists to go on the small number of slots country radio stations have available. There are a lot of people who should be heard. I'd hate to be a radio programmer because I wouldn't know what to play."

By Jack Bernhardt

Return To Articles Return To Home Page