The Marty Party

After becoming 'soft on radio,' Stuart takes television by storm

This appeared in the Nashville Banner - February 1, 1995

Click on The Nashville Network and there's Marty Stuart playing at the Opry, or on Music City Tonight chatting with Brother Oswald. Or there's Marty playing with Willie Nelson on Willie's Legends of Country Music special. Over on CBS, he's on Opryland's Country Christmas and The Roots of Country specials. About the only network country music special he hasn't been on recently was Garth's.

Tonight, Stuart gets to show the first of four Marty Party specials he will host this year on TNN, each of which will show a different musical facet of the multitalented Stuart. The first--at 7 p.m.--will feature the honky tonk music of Merle Haggard, Pam Tillis and David Ball.

Stuart has been on television in general, and TNN in particular, a lot of late. "I'm sick of me" says Stuart, joking a little.

TNN and Stuart have a symbolic relationship and it's one that each is happy with. TNN needs country stars like Stuart who are ready to go on camera. Stuart needs TNN for exposure.

"Last year we got soft at radio," Stuart says. "The album (Love And Luck) we did just didn't have a lot of radio impact. And so you have to keep going. So I turned around and aimed force at television. And I do get the feeling that I'm on the verge of seeing me too much on TV. We get a call every day to do something on television and it's not something I want to make a career of."

Stuart, 36, has "been on every spot on the charts," he says. His biggest hit and sole chart topper was The Whiskey Ain't Workin', a duet with Travis Tritt.

He can't name all his musical influences, but he has close connections to Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs. If there's a musical instrument with strings on it, chances are Stuart can play it.

When Brother Oswald answered one day that he was not, as many assumed, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Stuart was a leading advocate of adding his 83-year-old friend to the roster. When Stuart isn't jamming, he's a photographer and archivist of his craft, with an insider's insight and connections.

And trying to find someone in Nashville to say an unkind word about Stuart is like trying to find a good parking spot near the Wildhorse: ain't any. And it all combines to make Stuart just what TNN wants.

"My personal feeling, and this is shared by a number of people at the network, is that Marty Stuart is a great television personality," says TNN general Manager Kevin Hale. "He has great camera presence. He is loved by the viewers and the fans. He comes across the screen as very warm. He's very comfortable up there.

"He obviously has a very unique look and presence about himself that sets him apart from a lot of the other artists," Hale says. "Also the fact that he started in country music at such a young age. He's still a young man himself. So he relates to the younger fan as well as the older fans because he was on the Grand Ole Opry stage at 13 years old (playing with Lester Flatt).

"He brings a lot of history for a relatively young man. He brings a great perspective on country music. He has a real reverence for the Opry. He has a real reverence for the Ryman Auditorium. What sets him apart, really, is not everyone up there charting top hits can come across and relate on the screen," Hale says. "A lot of them are very shy and bashful and nervous when they are on television. Marty is just the opposite. Marty is like he was raised in front of a TV camera."

When TNN decided in 1994 to let select artists do their own series of specials, it was only a matter of time before Stuart was approached. Stuart liked the idea of getting some his friends together and playing. "I get the feeling TNN is trying to stretch beyond anything they have done before, trying to reach into a section of this new country audience that has been gained the last 4 to 5 years," Stuart says. "I really wanted to do an un-TNN kind of show, look-wise and style-wise. So I came up with this title The Marty Party.

"We want to do four theme shows. The first one is Marty Party goes honky tonking. The second one, Marty Party goes down home for a back porch, country blues jam kind of thing. The third one will be Marty Party goes rocking. The fourth one, we will go to a church and do a Christmas show."

My guests are a mix of new artists, underappreciated musicians and, Stuart says, "favors I called in. Obviously, we have to keep in mind who has a drawing card on TNN. At the same time, everyone and his uncle has a TNN special coming out right now. So I really want to step outside and try to walk the edge as close as I can."

An obvious benefit to all the television exposure is recognizability, a problem Stuart doesn't currently have, thanks to TNN. "You can stop the bus anywhere in the United States of America, in any suburban city, in any back road, any part of Canada, and somebody knows who you are," Stuart says. "I don't think you can argue with 50-something million viewers.

"I really have watched TNN closely because I've started trying to make solo records about the same time TNN and CMT came on line. I've really watched my career alongside of that network out there. What happened to TNN is the same thing that has kind of happened in my career.

"I think the audience we both signed on with is not the same audience we are playing to today," Stuart says. "A fraction of that audience is still there, but we have so many band new viewers and listeners to country music. I think TNN is searching for ways to find that audience and the traditional audience. I really think by some of the shows they are writing and doing these days, they are honestly headed that way."

In March, Stuart has a greatest hits album coming out called The Marty Party Hit Pack. After that, he will spend the spring recording a new album. He'll tape the second Marty Party next week at the Ryman. But other than Marty's parties, don't expect he will be on TV quite as much.

"Let me put it this way. We are being real conscious of every move we make."

By Jim Molpus

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