A Grass-Roots Movement

Young Country Star Marty Stuart Takes You Back To The Old Sound

This appeared in The Tennessean Visitors' Edition - June 21, 1994

Marty Stuart is heading back to his roots--for the second time. He sang with the bluegrass gospel group The Sullivans when he was a mere 12, then when he was 30 in 1988, he returned to play mandolin with the duo. Today he takes the stage of the refurbished Ryman Auditorium with Jerry and Tammy Sullivan as part of the Martha White Bluegrass Night series.

"The first time I remember seeing Jerry Sullivan was on a hot summer night at the National Guard Armory in Jackson, Alabama," Stuart recalled. "The Sullivans were kind enough to give me my start in the music business in 1970."

Stuart's longtime friendship with Jerry Sullivan and his daughter Tammy has led to collaborations between the two throughout the years. Stuart produced the Sullivans' last album and Jerry and Tammy have played on Stuart's albums.

Now Stuart is successfully on his own, touring the country for his latest album Love And Luck which showcases his hillbilly and rock-country style. "I have to be drug out on tour," says the country boy with the flashy clothes and moussed hair. "It's kind of like a kid getting put in a bathtub. Once I get in, then I don't want to leave."

For someone who has been touring since he was 12, Stuart deserves to be a little road weary. "For the first time in my life, I have a home and I really enjoy being around home a lot," the 35-year-old says. He lives in Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River. "At the same time, after I hit the first note of music and hear the first round of applause, I'm ready to stay out there as long as they'll have me."

If things keep on as they're going, Stuart may have even less time to spend at home. Love and Luck, Stuart's seventh album, is being hailed by critics as his best work to date. Listening to the cuts, Stuart's diverse musical influences come through--blues, gospel, rock and traditional country. "It's a bit eclectic," Stuart admits. "But it all seems to tie in."

The binding force is Stuart himself, who started out singing at gospel tent meetings in Mississippi when he was 11, toured with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt when he was 13, played with Johnny Cash's band for six years and won a Grammy for his 1992 recording with Travis Tritt called The Whiskey Ain't Workin'. "Basically, whether it's bluegrass or whatever, if it rocks I like to do it," he says. "A good twang, a little rock, I'm in."

Despite his love of a good beat, Stuart remains true to his hillbilly heritage. "I know that everyone is not attached to the roots of country music as much as I am, and that's okay, but there's a wonderful world of knowledge should anybody decide to check into it. And it does help you play, even if you play the pop, the glossy side of country, I swear it helps you make better music."

Stuart has been on a mission for years to make the newer country sound consistent with the sweeping tradition of country's past. "My simple message, the one thing I would say is as we head toward the 21st century, I love the trail we're blazing and everyone should spend a minute with the roots of it all."

Although he's dismayed to see "bubblegum country" songs shoot to the top of the charts. Stuart has seen firsthand how receptive younger audiences are to traditional country music. "It amazes me that once you get their attention by whatever you've got on the radio, whatever got them into the arena, you can play as hard-core country as you want to out there, and they respond to it."

Stuart said he's thrilled to see music like his, rooted in the past but with a foot in the future, taking off. "There's something about the real thing, the truth if you will, that people usually like."

The Sullivans At A Glance

Acoustic bluegrass music is in the Sullivan's blood. Jerry Sullivan's father, J.B., was a legendary old-time banjo player and bandleader in southern Alabama. Jerry joined the family band in the early 1950s, touring the country to play at road shows and festivals.

It wasn't until the late 1970s that Jerry's teenage daughter Tammy showed an interest in her dad's music. The two put out an album in 1978 and another in 1992 called A Joyful Noise.

By Lisa Benavides

Return To Articles Return To Home Page