Marty Stuart: Hillbilly Crusader

This appeared in the Selkirk Journal - August 7, 1995

When Marty Stuart was 12 years old, he pretty much knew what he wanted out of life. "I knew I wanted to play music. I had a burning desire at 12 years old to be on a bus," Stuart, 36, said.

Instead of letting his dream pass by in the Mississippi wind, the young Stuart grabbed a mandolin and hopped on a bus with Lester Flatt's bluegrass band. Little did Stuart know that his bus ride would last for more than 22 years and make him one of the biggest stars in country music.

Stuart's bus will stop in Selkirk (Manitoba, Canada) on August 13 when he closes out the 1995 Red River Hoedown and SunCountry Jam in Selkirk Park. "I like festivals," Stuart said as he talked about the SunCountry Jam. "I like going and seeing that many people who enjoy country music."

SunCountry is one of the many festivals Stuart will hit this summer as his 1995 Marty Party tour blazes across the continent. "We like coming up to do Canadian shows," Stuart said from Nashville. "I see Canadians as passionate people. If they like ya, they let you know."

Recently, his fans have been letting him know just how much they like him. His single, "That's What Love's About," has had the most requests on TNN (The Nashville Network) than any other video in the last three years. As the country music rage has pressed on over the last five years, Stuart's stock in stardom has been on a constant rise.

"I think popularity for country music is no problem, but I do think some of this trend is going to die in order to give way to innovation," he said. Although he stops short of calling himself an innovator, it is hard to dispute Stuart's progressive influence on the recent country music explosion.

His self-described style of "stompin' rockin' country music" and his somewhat flamboyant appearance have earned him the nickname "Hillbilly Crusader" and made him one of the most easily recognizable personalities in country music.

"I've always believed you have to do it your own way," he said. "Sometimes it makes for great record sales."

Since his third album, This One's Gonna Hurt You, went gold in the States, selling over 500,000 copies, record sales have not been a problem for Stuart. His fourth album, Love And Luck, and his current release, The Marty Party Hit Pack, a greatest hits compilation of 12 songs including two new tracks, have done comparably well south of the border.

Add to that Stuart's numerous awards including two Grammy Awards and a Country Music Association Award, it is easy to see why the rhinestone-clad Stuart is one of the brightest stars in the country sky.

Despite the record sales, awards and fame Stuart has enjoyed, he remains very level-headed about his success. "I've been in this business for 22 years and I've loved every minute and every mile of it. When you're playing guitar for a living, you ain't working," he said. "I'm truly blessed."

Stuart credits a great deal of his success as a musician and a celebrity to the people he has worked with and for over the years, especially The Man In Black. "Johnny Cash had a world of influence on me. He is an international star--it wasn't like working with some guy that was only regionally popular."

After Lester Flatt died in 1979, Stuart played guitar for Cash for six years. Cash saw potential in Stuart--he even called him his favorite guitar player and let him marry his daughter. When the time came for Stuart to record his first solo album, 1982's independent Busy Bee Cafe, Cash backed him on guitar.

At that time, Stuart was in high demand as a session player--he appears on albums by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

Although Stuart has been deemed one of the trail blazers on the broadening frontier of country music, nostalgic fans may recognize some throwbacks to the old style of country and Stuart's bluegrass roots in his life show. For instance, the guitar you'll see slung around Stuart's left shoulder is country-rock pioneer Clarence White's 1954 Fender Telecaster. And while indulging in the Marty Party, you may also catch a glimpse of Hank Williams Sr's Martin D-45. Stuart also plays a Martin D-28 which used to belong to Lester Flatt.

Stuart explains the retro-elements as a natural ingredient in his music. "It's all I had to start with. I'm just trying to be true to myself," he said. "It doesn't matter what you do--if you're a doctor, lawyer, or musician--I think having a knowledge of where you come from makes you better."

In fact, about the only old-time country symbol you won't see on Stuart is the otherwise standard issue cowboy hat. "I look stupid in a hat," explained Stuart, who in 1992 co-headlined the No Hats Tour with Travis Tritt (who has done several duets with Stuart, including the title track on This One's Gonna Hurt You). "I'd wear one if I looked like Alan Jackson or something, but I look stupid wearing one."

As for the trademark rhinestone-studded jackets, Stuart said anyone can get one of those. There's a guy down here named Manuel. He'll be happy to take your money and make you look good," he jokes.

Stuart's accomplishments in country music go far beyond his success as a recording artist. By the end of 1995, he will have been featured in four of his own TNN specials. Last March he hosted the first ever British Country Music Awards and has worked as music director for CBS-TV specials The Best of Country Music and The Roots of Country Music: Nashville Celebrates The Ryman. Last May, he was immortalized in his own Marvel comic book.

Once the Marty Party tour wraps up later this summer, Stuart will shoot a special to air on TNN this fall and then go into the studio in November to finish recording a new album which he hopes to release this spring. This is on top of other projects Stuart currently has in the works, which include a couple of books, one which Stuart describes as "photography from the country music world."

Stuart explains he needs the extra projects outside of recording and touring to inspire him and keep his interest burning. "Absolutely. I mean, I've seen my show so many times, I need something outside to keep it all interesting."

By Cameron MacIntosh

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