Marty Stuart - STYLE - Country's Jumpin' Jack Flash!
|This appeared in That's Country Magazine - November 1993|
|Introduction by Carlene Carter:
I've known Marty almost all my life. He used to be my brother-in-law (he was married to my stepsister, Cindy Cash), when he was playing guitar with Johnny Cash. I used to just see him at family functions before he became a solo artist. He's become a close friend of mine just by the fact that I feel a kindred spirit; I feel like he's my brother. I've seen Marty go from being someone who had never written any songs to being a great songwriter. I'm really proud of him. We work real good together and our audiences are real similar. They are fun-loving and love the roots part of country music that we both play. Plus, they like the rockin' side to it.
They appreciate the sense of style that comes with our shows, too. Marty definitely has a complete visual style that is a big part of his charisma. He was wearing a lot of the real neat clothes before a lot of other people were. He even borrowed a lot of jackets from my dad, Carl Smith, when he was first starting out, before he could afford to have Manuel make them all. One day, Marty pulled up in a Jeep with his hair all messed up and a bandanna on, and said to my dad, "Hi, I'm Carlene's brother-in-law. Maybe I could borrow some of your clothes for my band to do my video!" My dad practically had to repossess them because Marty wouldn't give them up! He's definitely a fashion statement unto himself.
Being the same age, I know Marty listened to the Beatles and a lot of rock music like I did and somewhere in there, our hillbilliness got caught up in rock which gives us both an edge--that we definitely have in common.
Marty doesn't even have to think about having a rock sensibility--he's got it. It's just a part of him. Marty is country music's answer to Mick Jagger--he's Mr. Jumpin' Jack Flash!
Mixing equal parts hillbilly, rock and traditional country, Marty Stuart has redefined the boundaries of country music and created an all-new sound from a well-seasoned perspective.
Marty is adamant about keeping the circle unbroken between the "Lost Highway" heroes of the past and his current hot country chart successes, celebrating Nashville's history while simultaneously forging his own.
Since he was 12 years old, Marty has been intimately involved with the people and the history of America's music. Early exposure to that lifestyle came while touring at age 13 on Ernest Tubb's bus, a museum piece which Marty toured in himself until recently. "It gets to the point where you can talk about the traditional music scene in Nashville or you can just live it and play it. It comes honestly to me to talk about it. I grew up loving it, grew up around those people and just because they're gone and not in the public eye as much anymore, I can't forget when they did and what they meant. There is a place in country music for just about everybody these days, especially the people who helped invent it. So I have a soft spot for them."
While touring with the late Lester Flatt's band through 1979 and with Johnny Cash's band for six years, Marty earned his reputation as a sought-after studio musician. "My mentors and teachers were legends," he says, including virtuoso fiddler Vassar Clements and guitarist Doc Watson as additional influences.
After recording two critically-acclaimed but unsuccessful albums with Columbia in the 80's, he began developing what has become known as Marty Stuart style. He called "everyone who ever wore rhinestones," to inquire about acquiring their wardrobes, those sparkling, unique-looking outfits that the stars of bygone days wore in performance.
"The thing that really brought it together was when country videos started happening. They were brand new. The videos that we made around Nashville were pretty ordinary. I thought about those old suits that people used to wear when I was a kid, when country was colorful, happy and carefree--and I think that's what those clothes represent; a tremendous amount of integrity and labor that goes into their art; they are truly pieces of art; but the subtotal is like a fun thing. They were colorful and fun. I simply thought, 'Well, if I got some of those and put them on a band, it might make our videos jump a little better and give us an identity,' " He did, and it does.
He also wears custom-made stage clothes from the current king of cowboy couture, Nashville's Manuel. "Manuel has been making pieces for me since I was about 12, and I bought Nudie pieces and Turk pieces and I thought 'Well, Nashville never wears them anymore,' so I just got to thinking about all the people that used to wear them and I went to the union book and started calling people. A lot of people loaned them to me, some gave them to me, and some people sold them to me. Somehow I wound up with a lot of cool pieces."
Much of his extensive memorabilia collection is stored in a climatized warehouse somewhere in Nashville, contents and location a closely-guarded secret. "It's well taken care of; it's 'flamatized.' everything is pretty much in order. It is museum-quality stuff. I have one piece in the Hall of Fame." A serious collector, Marty has pieces from Turk, Nudie, Manuel and a new designer named Jaime, as well as vintage guitars, Bohlin silver and Western art. Bo Riddle's handmade boots, with designs patterned after Marty's more colorful jackets, are also an integral part of his wardrobe.
"Porter Wagoner and Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb, with a shot of Bob Dylan just for good measure," is how Marty sums up his musical and fashion influences.
"The short jackets that Manuel does now have always been a lick! When I was working with Johnny Cash, Manuel was primarily making suitcoats and I just hadn't seen bolero jackets in years and years. I went in and asked him if he would make me an old bolero jacket. He did, and it was a black-on-black piece. It was real beautiful. I thought the style was real cool, and I think that kind of got him interested to get back into it. Then Dwight came through with that turquoise jacket not long after that. I think that bumped the profile of his jackets back up again. I think it took off from there and there's been a whole revival of that look."
In both his music and his style, Marty combines his love for hillbilly history a with a passion for flamboyance, as he envisions in his dream monologue "Me & Hank & Jumpin' Jack Flash" on his most recent release.
Stuart, a veteran performer who remembers being country when country wasn't cool, offers this fashion advice: "I've always said, even when country music's not popular or when Western wear is not popular, that if it's your style in life, stick to it. Country music has not always been the most popular trend, nor has Western wear; but the one thing you can count on is that they're always here .... they're timeless! When I look at That's Country magazine, I find it real encouraging to see all the country stars endorsing hats, glasses, boots, belts, whatever. There's a true culture out there and it's due to magazines like this."
While Marty has developed a unique look to separate himself from the 'hat acts,' he remains cognizant of the current appeal of country and western fashion. "It's nice to walk out in the middle of a bunch of yuppies and spot the cowboys and cowgirls. It's like 'Oh, there's some of ours!' I think Garth Brooks is a marketing genius because every guy in America can go and look like Garth Brooks for $300. If you want to look like Dwight Yoakam or me--it's silly to spend that much money on clothes! It's nice that you have a choice. There's something in the cowboy for every level of the pocketbook. In mine, you know, it's Manuel and those guys that are top-end."
Current trendsetters in the country fashion field are "George Strait, Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart. Travis Tritt's a true trendsetter. He came up with that fringe thing, and the rebel thing. I think in the last couple of years, Travis pulled his own program together ... sound and look. Travis is another one of those who may not grab all the awards, but is here to stay as long as he wants to. He's a timeless person and there's always a need for Travis."
Marty recently played a role in the TNN dramatic musical special, "Music Of The Wild West," starring ex-Dirt Band leader John McEuen, who wrote and produced the period piece. "John McEuen was my first rock star buddy because when I was playing bluegrass with Lester Flatt, at that time the Dirt Band was considered like real a rock 'n' roll band," Marty recalls.
"I used to hire him to be my sideband in the 80's," says McEuen. "We had a ball on the road--it was like a vacation we played gigs on!" John remembers Marty's determination to succeed in music and his own belief that Marty would make it someday. In the TNN special, Marty plays a grizzled prospector, unrecognizable in his wire-framed glasses, hat, and overalls. His singing voice is recognizable if you listen closely, but it is definitely not a glamour part that he portrays. "When I told him I was going to write a part for him as a funky old miner and nobody would recognize him, Marty said, 'that's good!' His ability to perform like that, in a whole new area, really comes across in this role. Many artists wouldn't have had the nerve!"
"I don't care about image, but image is a cool calling card," explains Marty. "It's a personal expression and everybody is entitled to one. I'm serious about all the stuff I do with it, but it ain't no big deal. Success to me is choices. That's the most fun part!"
Image does play a big part in Marty's hair style, although he maintains "I really don't take that image that seriously ... it's all about being a good person on the inside."
Next up for Marty is his "Love and Luck" album. containing the Gram Parsons song, "Wheels," plus songs co-written with Harlan Howard and Bob DiPiero and some self-penned tunes, it continues in the wildly popular vein he has established. His "hillbilly rock with a thump" has been perfected on recent albums "Tempted" and "This One's Gonna Hurt You," both on MCA.
As for his award-winning success doing duets with Travis Tritt: "The role Travis plays is major because associating with Travis kind of helped pull me into the mainstream. And getting together with Travis, I think we both gave each other a lot of power. I think that's evident in record sales, ticket sales, T-shirt sales and awards. That's important, but the most important thing about hooking up with Travis is that I've found somebody I dearly love like a brother. It's looking like a life-long buddy-ship here!"
"Marty's my brother," agrees Travis. "I love him to death. Marty is the kind of person I like hanging out with He has such a cool sense of humor--we relate and that's what made the on-stage performance. That wasn't a put-on, we literally just went out there every night and had a blast!"
The exposure from the 'No Hats Tour' was a two-way street. "Marty has got a real strong connection to rockabilly and hillbilly music," acknowledges Tritt, "and he's been around the business for so long that he knows everybody in that genre. What I bring to the table is I know a zillion people in the rock world. So we introduce people to each other. Marty is probably the lone crusader for hillbilly music, and I'm probably the lone crusader for southern rock outlaw music, so it's a good combination. He's a pure original. Marty gives me advice on things and I take it 'cause he's been around a long time. In that sense, he is the older brother."
And the next 'No Hats Tour'? "We've talked about a few isolated dates in '95," Marty reveals, "but we may both be wearing hats by then!"
By Christopher Burkhardt
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