Stuart Tells Us About His 'Compadres"

This appeared in the Spartanburg Herald Journal - May 18, 2007

For not being one of country's hat acts, Marty Stuart sure does wear a lot of hats offstage.

The prolific country singer-songwriter isn't exactly sitting on his hands lately; actually, when the Herald-Journal spoke with him, he had those hands in dirt, and during the phone interview he still found time to speak to his garbage man.

If he seems a little busy, it's surely in his blood. Stuart has spent a great deal of his life on the stage, joining the legendary bluegrass picker Lester Flatt's band as a teenager in the early 1970s, moving on to Johnny Cash's band in the 1980s and eventually scoring as a solo artist in the 1990s with hits such as "Hillbilly Rock" and "Tempted." His more recent (and more eclectic) efforts haven't had the same commercial success, but that hasn't stopped him from lingering outside the mainstream. How many country artists would put out a concept album of Native American ballads and an ambitious take on traditional gospel - in the same year, no less - which Stuart did in 2005?

But Stuart's musical contributions don't stop with his own records. He's got a laundry list of projects to take care of this year: producing an album for Grand Ole Opry leader Porter Wagoner; launching Sparkle & Twang, an exhibit of his huge music memorabilia collection at the Tennessee State Museum; publishing Country Music: The Masters, a photography book; and releasing Compadres, a duets album that pairs him with legends going all the way back to his childhood.

In between, he still finds time to tour with his band, the Fabulous Superlatives. On Sunday, they'll play with John Anderson at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. Assuming Stuart can tear himself away from his garden, of course.

Question: What are you up to today?

Marty Stuart: Planting flowers.

Q: Planting flowers?

MS: Come on, it's yard day … I love getting out in the dirt.

Q: I think you guys played Greenville pretty recently (last fall, at The Handlebar). Do you have any good memories of playing Spartanburg and the Upstate?

MS: Spartanburg was one of the towns, when I first started out, back about '87 with my own band … the clubs around there kinda gave me a voice. You had a little toehold in a grass fire there, something to build off of. So I've always got a good spot in my heart for Spartanburg.

Q: You're playing with John Anderson. Your favorite song of his would be?

MS: All of 'em. Everything that comes out of John's mouth is my favorite. He's one of the new classics of the modern era, and he came on the air that way … I guess one of my favorite songs is probably "Wild and Blue."

Q: You're touring kind of sporadically right now. Is that because you've got a lot of projects on the back burner?

MS: Not on the back burner anymore - they're done. I had a record called Compadres … after that, I produced a record on Porter Wagoner that's coming out. I had a photography book to finish, I had a Tennessee State Museum exhibit to finish, so all of that's just about completed now. So now I can get back out with my band and get to work.

Q: Can you tell us about Compadres, the new album?

MS: It's an anthology. There's collaborations on there from everybody from when I was 13 years old, with Lester Flatt, to Johnny Cash, to Merle Haggard, Connie Smith, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, Travis Tritt, Earl Scruggs, Loretta Lynn. It's not a thrown-together record. It's well thought out, and lived through.

Q: You've put together a pretty enviable string of out-of-the-mainstream types of albums, starting with The Pilgrim (1999), and they've all been reviewed really well. What is it like, having that kind of freedom to tackle these kinds of projects?

MS: It felt like a creative pardon, when I just kinda walked away from everything that I was "supposed" to do and did what I, really, was meant to do. The lesson for anybody, I think, is follow your heart. It'll take you to the most awesome places.

Q: Do you see yourself as sort of a teacher, as far as the roots of music are concerned?

MS: Well, it would be wrong not to pass it on … the people that raised me, like Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, and Pops Staples, they taught without really having a classroom. Everything they did was a classroom. Hopefully, something I do touches somebody or inspires somebody.

Q: What are you listening to now?

MS: Birds (laughs).

Q: I mean, like, on the bus …

MS: I've only bought two things off TV in my whole life. I bought a coin one time, painted up real pretty, like, a silver dollar, and the other thing I bought, I was in a hotel somewhere recently, and I saw a Time Life collection called the Soul Series - all soul records - and I've been listening to some of the old soul stuff that came out of Stax and Memphis, and it was just awesome.

Q: What's something about Johnny Cash that would surprise people?

MS: He was a really good photographer.

Q: Did he kind of lead you in that direction?

MS: No, but he encouraged me. He was a wonderful subject; he was real cool about having his picture taken, so that made it easy.

Q: Do you mind talking a little politics?

MS: I'm not much of a politician. Go ahead.

Q: I just asked because we've got a politician from this part of the country (John Edwards) who paid $400 for a haircut a while back. And we were wondering if you would you ever pay $400 for a haircut.

MS: I could tell him how to do that a lot cheaper.

By Todd Money

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