As two of the most consummate musicians in country music, Merle Haggard and Marty Stuart weren't always traditionalists. Along with Buck Owens, the Hag invented the Bakersfield sound, which paved the way for country rock. Two decades later, Stuart followed by fully modernizing rockabilly and honky-tonk into some of the '80s and '90s' catchiest radio hits. They now stand as the twin towers of tradition, not because they lean on the good ol' days (they're "over for good," as one Haggard classic recognizes), but because the work of rebuilding the sound of gospel, swing and blues in the here and now is never done.
Behind the Stars: The still-unfolding legacy of Merle and Marty owes much to their bands, the Strangers and the Fabulous Superlatives. Tighter ensembles you'll never hear.
By Roy Kasten