Stuart Digs In With Landmark Album 'The Pilgrim'

This appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin - July 7, 2008

The Pilgrim drew a line in the dirt and hasn't crossed back over it since.

That's the way Marty Stuart looks at his landmark 1999 album The Pilgrim, a song cycle that pulled together several threads of Americana, country and roots music.

"I'm proud of that one; I'll stand by that," said Stuart, who will perform Friday at the 331 Amphitheatre in Rochester.

Unfortunately, despite being released on a major label (MCA), The Pilgrim made no progress on the charts and as a result has been heard by too few people.

"I pretty much knew the outcome of the album commercially before I pulled the trigger on it," Stuart said by phone from his Nashville-area home. But it was the advice and example of Johnny Cash, Stuart's former father-in-law, that made him go ahead anyway.

"When I was making that record, it was one of the times I would lean on him," Stuart said. "At the end of the day, what I took away from J.R. is that he was fearless in terms of creativity. If he believed in something, he was going to do it, come hell or high water, whether or not anybody bought it."

Stuart adopted that attitude for The Pilgrim, which featured contributions from Cash, as well as George Jones, Pam Tillis and Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Critics lauded the record as a milestone in modern country music, and it remains the masterpiece of Stuart's career.

"I'd rather be remembered for that than for 45 ass-wigglin' hits that only last for 45 minutes," Stuart said.

"It was a line-in-the-dirt project, if you will," he added, "Everything else -- the books, exhibits, radio show, music -- all these things I've done began with The Pilgrim."

Those other projects have made Stuart a sort of country music renaissance man. He has a radio show (Marty Stuart's American Odyssey) on XM Radio, and is about to start a TV show (The Marty Stuart Show) on RFD Television. A touring exhibit of country music memorabilia from his own collection will soon be at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland -- a symbolic merging of the country and rock roots that Stuart has long explored in his music.

Stuart's interest in music history also led him to a term as president of the Country Music Foundation.

But his focus on the past has not prevented Stuart from looking forward. Asked for his opinion of today's fragmented music scene, he said, "I think it's great. The independent spirit is out there. There are more ways to get your music out.

"They don't play me on the radio anymore? OK, I'll get my own radio show. They don't show me on TV anymore? OK, I'll get my own TV show."

By Tom Weber

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