Star Shows Staying Power

Marty Stuart brings 35 years of experience to Craven Jamboree

This appeared in The Star Phoenix - July 9, 2007

Marty Stuart has been in the music business for 35 years and if 2007 is an indication, he doesn't have any plans to slow down.

Stuart, who will kick off the Craven Country Jamboree on Thursday with Marty's Party, has brought a number of projects to fruition last month:

  • Compadres: An Anthology of Duets was released on Stuart's Superlatone Record label. The disc features 14 tracks of Stuart duets recorded at various points of his career.
  • Country Music: The Masters is a 355-page book of photos taken by Stuart, tracing his life in country music. Included in the book is the last photo taken of Johnny Cash, along with pictures of legends like George Jones, Dolly Parton and Earl Scruggs.
  • Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey is a museum exhibit covering 10,000 square feet at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. There are thousands of items in the exhibit, all of which were collected by Stuart. Included in the gallery is Hank Williams' handwritten lyrics for Your Cheatin' Heart, one of Johnny Cash's black suits, Bob Wills' cowboy boots and Jimmy Rodgers' briefcase.

The first question that springs to mind is: How did Stuart do it all?

"I don't know, it just happens," said Stuart in a recent telephone interview. "It's kind of like building a house. You just build and build and one day you look up and you're done. It's just kind of an ongoing process.

"I get up and go to work every day. I have a lot of projects and some days some projects get more attention than the others but somehow they all tend to get finished."

Stuart, who will turn 49 on September 30, learned to play the guitar and mandolin while growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1972, at the age of 13, Stuart joined Lester Flatts and the Nashville Grass. He stayed with the bluegrass legend until Flatts retired in 1978. Stuart did session work until joining Cash's band in 1980. In addition to marrying Cash's daughter Cindy in 1983 -- they subsequently divorced in 1988 -- Stuart benefitted immensely from his association with the Man in Black.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice Stuart took from Cash was to be absolutely fearless creatively and not worry about chart numbers. Cash told Stuart it was more important to follow what fills your heart, have fun doing it and be serious about it and the music will find an audience.

"It wasn't just words," said Stuart.

"The Johnny Cash movement that occurred just before he passed away -- it just took him into the stratosphere. But what people forget about is a 25-year stretch where nobody cared, except for a core group of fans. I was there for a lot of that.

"We made record after record and played show after show with half-full houses but he never, ever compromised. Even when his ideas were awful, it's what he believed in. He was damned and determined to follow them through. Whether it sold three copies or three tickets, it was what was in his heart to do. That costs you either way at times.

"And that's how I've lived my life since 1999 and sometimes it's worked out well and sometimes it's bombed at the box office. At the end of my life, I know from 1999 forward I'm going to look back and know that I'm proud of that body of work. That's what my heart told me to do. Even the mistakes are OK when you're living under those terms."

Stuart, as busy as he is with his various projects, hasn't forgotten about his own music. With four Grammy Awards, five gold albums and six Top-10 hits, Stuart still enjoys hitting the road with his band, The Fabulous Superlatives. They play around 75 shows per year and Stuart warns they shouldn't be missed when they come to Craven.

"This is a staggering band," said Stuart. "We can back it up. It's the best band in this town, hands down. I'm not a rocket scientist but I do know how to put a hillbilly band together. I can tell you that this is a band for the ages. They're modern masters and every artist lives to have that one combination of musicians that you can't absolutely wait to get back to work with, to create with.

"These guys are a band of a lifetime for me. We clicked from the very first minute. From the first night and the first show, it's been a pure joy."

Joining Stuart in The Fabulous Superlatives are drummer Harry Stinson, guitarist Kenny Vaughan and bassist Brian Glenn.

By Jeff DeDekker

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