Marty Stuart Takes Tradition To Television

This appeared in The Tennessean - December 21, 2008

Marty Stuart used to loathe hay bales.

If he saw one on a stage, he'd walk the other way until someone removed the cursed thing. A hay bale, he figured, was a promoter's way of signifying that the music being presented was rural, unsophisticated and corny.

Stuart now hosts The Marty Stuart Show on the RFD TV network. The show features music, and comedy, and . . . hay bales.

"Country music right now is at the place where it needs a couple of hay bales," Stuart said. "This is an unapologetic, take-it-to-the-people show. There are people out there in rural America that are being unattended to."

Stuart modeled his show, which airs each Saturday at 7 p.m., after The Porter Wagoner Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show, The Flatt & Scruggs Show and other syndicated country programs that existed in a world before Starbucks, Applebee's or minivans. Here, twang is held high and flash comes from rhinestones, not pyrotechnics.

On another network, Taylor Swift sings 1980s rock songs with Def Leppard. On RFD, Stuart smiles while Goodlettsville's Leroy Troy twirls a banjo around and sings "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy."

"The viewer response is off the charts," Stuart said. "There are stacks of mail, as well as e-mail. A lot of people have longed for this kind of show again."

"This kind of show" follows a formula set by Show Biz Inc., the Nashville company that produced the Wilburn and Wagoner shows, among others.

"The Show Biz model was specific — a gospel song went here, a comedian went here — and it's timeless," Stuart said. "I wanted to update that, and reignite it, because people respond to it."

And so Stuart presides over a quick-moving, half-hour variety show, with regular contributions from Troy, from WSM-AM's genial authority, Eddie Stubbs, from Stuart's wife, Connie Smith, and from Stuart's band, the Fabulous Superlatives ("Cousin" Kenny Vaughan, "Handsome" Harry Stinson and "Apostle" Paul Martin). Little Jimmy Dickens was a guest performer on the first show, which aired November 1, and guests since then have included Earl Scruggs, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, John Anderson and Riders in the Sky.

"When the legends come on, we stay as close as we can to the original arrangement of their hits," Stuart said. "We're serious about that. We just had Charley Pride do the show, and when he did 'All I Have To Offer You Is Me' and 'Kiss an Angel Good Morning,' it sounded like the records he cut at RCA Studio B. We go back to the textbook, not the theme park version of an old hit."

In spite of a comparatively miniscule budget, the Stuart show manages to sound cleaner and clearer than the major network country awards shows.

"All the awards shows I did were too loud," he said. "They were over-produced, over-amped and over everything. Here, it's about purity of tone and clarity of voice. Those old shows were all stuck in the corner of some studio. It was personal, intimate and the volume was way down. That helps. You can actually hear each other sing and play."

They can see each other, too, so long as no one hides behind a hay bale.

By Peter Cooper

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