The Renaissance Theatre Presents Marty Stuart

This appeared in the Theatre Program - November 6, 1994

Over the course of three MCA albums, Marty Stuart has reached out in many directions to embrace the music of the masters of country music. Now, with his musical foundation firmly established, Stuart reaches inward to find the music for his new MCA album, Love And Luck. "I've touched on a lot of areas," he explains. "I've gotten everybody's attention. I've gotten their eyes, their feet, their heads. It was time to go for the heart."

Emotions run deep on this album, particularly in Marty's no-frills, straight-from-the-heart performances on the ballads "That's What Love's About," which he wrote by himself, and "That's When You'll Know It's Over" by Butch Carr and Russ Zavitson. But there's plenty of room for fun in Stuart's version of Slim Harpo's juke joint riff tune, "Shake Your Hips," He calls it a straight drink of Mississippi water, where he heard the song as a child.

Stuart teamed up with one of his all-time songwriting heroes, Harlan Howard, for two tunes. "Harlan told me before he didn't like bluegrass," Stuart said, "but he liked Bill Monroe. I saw a big picture of Bill Monroe on his wall and I knew I had him then. I thought, 'What if you take a Harlan song--a great story--and put it along side of some great picking?' " The results were "I Ain't Giving Up On Love" and "Oh, What A Silent Night," a pair of songs that put bluegrass overtones on hardcore country sentiments.

Marty Stuart was born in Mississippi, but he got his schooling--musical and otherwise--on the road, playing mandolin and guitar with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash. He likens the years with Flatt to a high school education (he joined the band at the age of 13 in 1972) and his stint with Cash to earning a university degree. When Flatt died in 1979, Stuart branched out musically, playing what he describes as sort of "bluegrass-fusion" style with fiddle player Vassar Clements and working with acoustic guitar virtuoso Doc Watson. He also began a six-year stint touring and recording with Cash.

In developing a style of his own, Stuart immersed himself in the music of many "masters of hillbilly music" and they are part of his every day life. On stage, he plays country-rock pioneer Clarence White's 1954 Telecaster. He also plays a Martin D-45 formerly owned by Hank Williams Jr. and a D-28 that was Lester Flatt's. His new tour bus is modeled after Ernest Tubb's old tour bus, which Marty used to travel in and where he spent many an hour learning to play poker from the masters. His clothing is inspired by classic country stage outfits of the '50s and '60s, and he has a collection of Western suits made by Nudie and Manuel, the people who made stage clothes for country stars in the '60s.

Stuart produced his first solo album himself in 1982--Busy Bee Cafe--on the independent Sugar Hill label. The session band on the half-vocal, half-instrumental album attested to Stuart's reputation as a picker: Doc Watson, Merle Watson and Johnny Cash on guitars, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Carl Jackson on banjo. In 1986, he made his major label debut on CBS with Marty Stuart. In retrospect, he considers it an important development effort for the sound that finally emerged when he signed with MCA and released Hillbilly Rock in 1990.

Stuart's roll of success only made Love And Luck that much harder to produce. He started writing songs for the new album in early '92 as soon as he finished This One's Gonna Hurt You. He's been in and out of the studio since the spring of '93, trying different sounds, letting his music find its own way out of him. It came to him in various places all over America. "This record really was a spiritual odyssey," he explains. "One of the places I found myself was up in the badlands of South Dakota, around Wounded Knee, in the midst of Native America culture and their belief. I was sitting on the steps of a church and I started thinking about the mandolin instrumental, what it would be like if you landed on the moon. The first thing would be the sound of your heart in your throat, feeling totally alone and overwhelmed. But all that changes when you were suddenly surprised by the Indians sundancing to a Dave Brubeck record. It's all imagination. From that song, I slammed into the one I wrote with Harlan Howard, "Oh, What A Silent Night," which has a definite bluegrass feel to it. That tells me that bluegrass is really a deep language and ancient tone, deep, deep music. I'm glad I know how to play it."

After finishing Love And Luck, Stuart put together a new band to showcase his new music. The Rock and Roll Cowboys include: Steve Arnold, formerly of Human Radio, on bass; Gary Hogue, formerly of Child Prodigy, on steel; two-time world Champion fiddler Dale Morris, Jr.; Jack White, veteran of David Lee Roth, Eddie Money and Roger Millet bands, on drums; and Alan Accardi on guitar, whom Stuart describes as Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Don Rich (Buck Owens' former lead guitarist). "This band has everything from rock to hardcore country players," Stuart says. "We're playing instrumentals on stage, hoedown fiddle tunes, radio records, historical songs, classic stuff as well as the new stuff. For the first time I've put the mandolin back in the concert, returning to my heart." As in earlier years, Stuart sought approval not from the record business but from the Grand Ole Opry crowd, and the Rock and Roll Cowboys played their first public performance on the Opry in January 1994.

Stuart's experiences in music have inspired him in two other creative fields--writing and photography. His photos have been published in Country Music magazine and he has written several articles for music magazines including a journal of life in the road for Country Music.

Marty Stuart's first priority is still music and now that he's firmly established his own style of music, he's looking forward to a long career. "It just really gets down to doing what you love and believe in, and the kind of music I'm making is what I love and believe in," he says.

Stuart's integrity--his determination to be true to himself and to the country tradition--has made him one of the most respected people in country music. He's an entertainer, a singer, a songwriter and a musician. He's able to combine the classic roots of where country has been with the cutting edge of where country is going. He is a student of the masters who has become a master himself.

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