The Ambassador Of Country Music Marty Stuart Brings The Honky-Tonk Sound To the Pee Dee

This appeared on - April 27, 2014

 Before he became one of, if not the, most respected curators and representatives of traditional country music, Marty Stuart was living the life backing up one of the genre’s true titans, Johnny Cash.

While on tour in 1983, Stuart was looking to earn his road stripes.

Another face on country and rock music’s Mount Rushmore, Jerry Lee Lewis, was happy to oblige.

So after the two went at it for about 48 hours — carrying on, as your grandmother might politely put it — Stuart crashed in his hotel room.

Some 30 minutes later, a rap came upon his door. There, standing with his shirt off, was Lewis.

And he was covered in chocolate cake.

Naturally, like any man doused in delicious confection, The Killer only asked Stuart for one thing.

“He asked if he could borrow my fiddle,” Stuart said with a laugh.

It was the first and last time he saw Lewis covered in dessert. It was also the last time he saw that fiddle.

No hard feelings, though, because “Uncle Jerry,” as Stuart lovingly calls him, is part of the large extended country music family that Stuart has gathered in his four-plus decades in the business.

He turned professional at the ripe old age of 12, playing with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass-gospel group. The following year, he became a member of The Nashville Grass, the backup band to the legendary Lester Flatt.

He was 13 at the time, a teen on his own in the bright lights of Nashville, Tenn. So wherever Flatt went, Stuart was by his side, meeting the likes of Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Emmylou Harris.

The tutelage of those early days helped shape an appreciation for traditional country music that Stuart, 55, has carried with him for the rest of his career.

Not only does that love flow through his music but his home as well. A renowned historian and archivist, Stuart has the largest known country music collection of its kind in the country, featuring artifacts and photographs from Willie to Waylon and pretty much everyone in between.

He’s also married to one of the first ladies of country music, Connie Smith.

“I love the roots of country music,” he said. “That other stuff comes and goes, but the roots never change. My flashlight turns to authenticity. I love traditional country music and how it speaks to my heart.”

Stuart will bring some of that foot-stompin’, honky-tonkin’ country music with him Saturday when he performs at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.

He said Florence is catching him and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, at a prime time.

“We’re hotter than a firecracker right now. The sky’s the limit for us,” Stuart said, referring to his two records coming out later this year as well as his top-rated show on RFD-TV that harkens back to the variety country music shows of yore.

“We’ll play a lot of the old favorite songs Saturday, but we’ll also kind of see where the breeze takes us,” he said.

After leaving Cash’s band in the mid-80s and embarking on a successful Grammy Award-winning solo career, Stuart put together the Fabulous Superlatives, consisting of “Handsome” Harry Stinson, “Apostle” Paul Martin and axman extraordinaire “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan.

Cash was long associated with the Tennessee 3, and Buck Owens had his Buckaroos. Stuart said The Fabulous Superlatives will be the band that will be talked about for years to come.

“They live up their name,” he said. “They’re statesmen. They’re the band of a lifetime.”

Stuart said playing in a performing arts center is career-affirming, accomplishing a goal he had in mind when putting together the Superlatives about a decade ago.

“When I put together the Superlatives, we wanted to get country music accepted as an American cultural art form along with dance, ballet and the like,” he said. “The fact that we are playing your Performing Arts Center tells me we are doing something right.”

By Matt Tate

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