Stuart, Tritt Take On Music Hall

This appeared in The Record - November 12, 2008

I like to call Marty Stuart a country renaissance man. He shares the stage Sunday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall with his old singing partner Travis Tritt. Stuart’s vision of his own art is bigger than what can be contained under a black hat or the chart success he shared with Tritt more than 17 years ago.

Stuart is a singer/songwriter, producer, journalist, photographer, TV and radio host, and his most recent album, Compadres: An Anthology of Duets, features collaborations with everyone from country giants like Loretta Lynn and George Jones to bluesman B.B. King and soul masters The Staple Singers.

Stuart’s story about country legend Merle Haggard and Nudie, the man who made all the rhinestone suits for Nashville’s headliners, is a good lead in to understanding how Stuart views his own career and his relationship with his old friend and Grammy winner Travis Tritt.

"Nudie was a Russian Jew, and he just had to make the best part of the deal. Nudie had a ring that Merle Haggard really wanted, and somehow or other Merle wound up with the ring, but Merle had a pair of boots Nudie really wanted. They both got screwed, but they both were happy, and everybody left the winner."

The last time Marty Stuart had what he calls "a radio hit" was with Travis Tritt on the song "This One’s Gonna Hurt You" in 1992. Their biggest hit together was "The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'." It went to number 2 in 1991. Their Troy Music Hall concert is a stop on a fall reunion tour, this time playing acoustic.

Stuart has long been out of the hit making business. "It was some of the happiest days of my life," he says, "but it was also some of the most miserable days of my life because it boxed me into one street in one town."

Stuart calls his decision in 2000 to stop chasing hits his "creative pardon." "There’s different kinds of hits," he explains. "I took my mind off of three-minute songs being hits a long time ago because to me the stuff I’m doing now whether it’s museum exhibits or books or TV shows of my own, that’s hits. It’s just a different kind of hits. I took my mind off the charts a long time ago, and put it on my heart, and when I did that, the sky was the limit."

Tritt has stayed in the game of chasing radio hits, but with this tour they both get what they need out of the deal. Like Nudie and Merle Haggard, each leaves a winner. "We just do the songs which basically takes ‘em down to how they were written in the first place," says Stuart, "just with a couple of guitars or a mandolin and a guitar."

For Stuart, it’s about the chemistry between two old friends. "It’s wonderful because there was nothing but joy that surrounded all those days with me and Travis. To me, that’s the work that defines our existence musically together. It’s just pure joy."

Stuart’s comments are not merely lip service touting the new tour. Three years ago, long before this tour was contemplated, Stuart said to me, "My relationship with Travis Tritt hasn’t wavered one bit. I admire him very much. He’s one of the greatest singers we have. He’s like my brother. Regardless of what he’s up to creatively and regardless of what I’m up to creatively, he’s still like a brother to me. So, that doesn’t matter to me."

In the last year, Stuart has started his own XM Satellite Radio show called American Odyssey. He’s published a photo book of country golden age stars called Country Music The Masters, and this month started The Marty Stuart Show on the RFD cable network.

American illustrator and friend Thomas D. Allen once gave Stuart a piece of advice he considers profound: "It’s always important to have a project out in front of you that knows more about you than you know about it."

By Bob Goepfert

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