Marty Stuart Builds On His Hillbilly Roots

This appeared in the Buffalo News - February 28, 1992

Four years ago, Marty Stuart hit bottom. His first major album bombed, he was let go by CBS Records, and his marriage to Cindy Cash, daughter of country great Johnny Cash, dissolved.

"I was feeling pretty sorry for myself," said the 33-year old country rocker, who will play at 8 and 11 tonight at the Marquee at the Tralf. "All I did was walk around Nashville and mope."

Then one day Stuart ran into George Jones, a legendary country star with a long history of personal and professional turmoil. "George saw me walking in a parking lot, rolled down his car window and gave me a big hug." Stuart said over the phone from his home in Nashville. "George told me, 'Kid, look at me, what the hell have you got to be sad about?' When you hit bottom, you find out what you're made of, there comes a point when you've got to stop feeling sorry for yourself and move on."

Stuart has done just that and how is one of the hottest acts in country music. His album "Tempted" (MCA) has been on the Billboard country charts for nearly a year and produced four Top 10 singles: "Little Things," "Till I Found You," "Tempted" and "Burn Me Down." Travis Tritt and Stuart recently combined for a smash single called "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."

While Stuart is part of the new wave of country artists that includes Garth Brooks and Clint Black, he also is a throwback to pioneer performers like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, Sr. "I'm a bridge between the past and future and I'm proud to be a hillbilly," said Stuart, whose music also echoes such performers as Buddy Holly, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. "The coolest part of all this success is that I'm 33 and have been playing country music for 20 years."

The album "Tempted" has been a turning point in Stuart's career. "It came from my gut," he said. "I took all the elements from the past and put them together with what's happening now. I've just gotten to the point of playing my kind of music. I've played so many kinds of music with so many kinds of people, it was a long way back to my heart and soul."

Stuart's musical journey began when he left his Mississippi home at 13 to play mandolin for bluegrass star Lester Flatt. In the early '80s, Stuart joined Johnny Cash and built a reputation as a studio musician. As a sideman, he played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Randy Travis.

Still, Stuart never strayed from his country roots. In his early days in the business, he kept a journal and interviewed country stars. He hopes one day to write a book about those experiences.

Stuart plays a guitar once owned by Hank Williams, Sr., owns more than 200 vintage country state outfits and travels the country in Ernest Tubb's old tour bus. "I love the stuff from the past," said Stuart, who called one of his early albums "Hillbilly Rock."

"The stuff from the old days has high quality," Stuart continued. "I think the old suits have more soul and the old guitars sound better."

On records, though, Stuart has a fresh sound. "He's country music with an edge," said Ken Johnson, program director of WYRK-FM. "Marty combines a lot of the old rockabilly stuff with a contemporary style. The other thing that makes him different is his look. He wears the flashy clothes and has the big hair-do. He's part of the new country artists but has his own style."

Two of Stuart's biggest fans are Deborah and Denise Dimino who live in Tonawanda. "They're great. They've been to a lot of my shows; one time they saw me in Texas," said Stuart. "They call themselves 'the Buffalo Girls'."

The sisters travel to see Stuart whenever they have the time and money. "He's absolutely the tops," said Deborah Dimino.

Stuart accepts such adulation in style. "I can handle it. My ego is in the right place," he said. "I grew up in this business and I know how fast things can change. I do my best to be happy every single day and play my best every single performance. That's the only way to survive for the long haul.

Lester Flatt once told me, 'You've got to build things slow.' I don't want to make $2 million a week and then fade away. I want to play hillbilly music the rest of my life."

By Anthony Violanti

Return To Articles Return To Home Page