Marty Stuart's Long Climb To The Top

This appeared in The Tennessean - April 10, 1993

Twenty-one years ago, a 13-year old Mississippi boy stepped off a bus in downtown Nashville and got lost in a dream. "I got off that bus and stood in front of the Ryman Auditorium and just looked up," recalls Marty Stuart. "I stood and dreamed for a minute. And I didn't think I'd ever go back to Mississippi...I knew I wanted to stay. Standing there in front of the Opry in 1972, honestly, the only thing I wanted was a Gold Record. When I got a Gold Record and a Grammy nomination--on the same day--I didn't have anything to say. I sat there and cried."

A few weeks ago, Marty Stuart's Gold Record--for the album This One's Gonna Hurt You--was joined on display by a Grammy Award statuette--for The Whiskey Ain't Workin', his duet with Travis Tritt. "I felt like I was 13 years old all over again," he confesses, "and my dream had finally come true."

Unlike most of the "new country" converts, Marty's roots run deep in country culture. Along with Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless and Lorrie Morgan, he's one of the few who grew up steeped in the music, who learned at the feet of the masters.

"A lot of people that we play for probably think country music started with Garth Brooks or me or Travis Tritt or Dwight Yoakam or whoever. But I know where it came from. And it's real important to me to acquaint fans with Flatt & Scruggs, Hank Williams, Charley Pride, Ola Belle Reed, Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb." Stuart manages to do all that and more on This One's Gonna Hurt You.

The set begins with a sound montage of Williams, Flatt and Tubb on the radio 40 years ago, interwoven with Stuart's spoken thoughts. Out of the historic reverie emerges his trademark staccato mandolin playing and the urgent, compelling sound of High On A Mountain Top, his most recent single.

Elsewhere on the CD, he revives Pride's classic Just Between You and Me, duets with Cash on Doin' My Time, tears into Southern boogie on his hit Now That's Country, romps through the title tune with Tritt and salutes Elvis Presley and Hank Williams with the ferociously rocking The King of Dixie.

On his new single, Hey Baby, Marty returns to the nouveau-rockabilly energy of Tempted and Hillbilly Rock, two of his career-making tunes. "I wanted to show a bit of the past, as well as the present and future of country music. It's fun," he says of his rocked-out image, "cause I didn't want to break anybody's rules. I just wanted to see what I could bring to the party. We went out there with our hair poking up and our tight jeans and our boots and rhinestones and played Gilley's right before it died."

"I remember this old fella was standing there, an old hard-core Texan. He had a longneck between his fingers and he was watching. He hollered out, 'Hey, boy: Play The Wild Side of Life!' So I played a verse and a chorus of The Wild Side of Life. He said, 'Play me a Roy Acuff song!' So I played him a Roy Acuff song. He stood there shaking his head like he was looking at a Martian. After the show, he came back and shook my hand. He said, 'Well, hoss, I can tell you this: I don't know what you are, but I like you.' " As that gent discovered, it's pretty hard to play "stump the band" with this hillbilly rocker.

Marty Stuart was hired at age 13 to play mandolin in bluegrass star Lester Flatt's band, 1972-79. He continued as a bluegrass sideman until being hired as a member of the Johnny Cash band, 1980-86. Marty made his first LPs for the Ridge Runner (1977) and Sugar Hill (1982) labels, and released a Columbia Records album in 1986. But in the late '80s, the future looked bleak. He was going through a divorce from Cash's daughter Cindy when he lost his recording contract.

"Some girl walked up to me at a concert last year and handed me a note that said, 'I want to marry you and have your children.' I said, 'You don't want to do that. I have an ex-wife you might want to call and confer with.' I'm more trouble than I'm worth. I always tell the girls that I'm a worthless porch ornament."

"When I was going through my divorce and my record deal went sour, Manuel saw that I was really low." Manuel is the famous country clothing designer. Marty calls him his "adopted brother," but the stylist is more like an uncle or a father-confessor to the youngster.

"He brought out this black leather suit and said, 'Try this on.' I said, 'It's a little big in the shoulders.' He said, 'No it's not: You just have to hold your chest out a little bit more and walk a little bit taller.' And he winked at me. That was his way of saying it."

In 1989 Marty landed a contract with MCA Records, beginning his march to stardom. His musicianship and songwriting started showing up on albums by Randy Travis, Wynonna Judd, Emmylou Harris and George Strait among others.

The albums Hillbilly Rock (1990) and Tempted (1991) paved the way for the million-dollar collection This One's Gonna Hurt You. "I still feel like a student. I still feel like I haven't had my I Walk The Line or Okie From Muskogee. But with this album, I thought it was my time ... I just wanted to turn loose what was inside my heart and my soul. I'm gonna stick this out come hell or high water. I'm gonna stand right in the middle of Music Row until somebody recognizes this trail that's been hacked at for a while. I'm gonna see it through. Last year was my 20th season on the road. And it felt a little different. It was an awful lot of fun."

By Robert K. Oermann

Return To Articles Return To Home Page