Marty Stuart: Hardcore Country--And Lovin' It

This appeared in CountryBeat Magazine - Winter 1993

Singer / guitarist Marty Stuart has a rich background in country music. As a teenager, he went on the road with legends like Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash. As a sideman, he's played with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Wynonna and Travis Tritt. As a solo star, he recently hit it big with Hillbilly Rock. When CountryBeat's Grace Catalano recently interviewed him before one of his concerts, she found him to be one of the most interesting artists in country today. "Marty is a 20-year veteran in the music business," Grace said. "He's come a long way and is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. Marty is not just another singer with a few hits under his belt, he's an entertainer, writer, musician, and producer. His music rocks like a roadhouse and his concerts are high-energy, the kind that keep fans dancing and sends them out humming his tunes. Marty has certainly made a mark in country music. The former student of the masters now emerges as a master himself, the creator of a new style of music that is solid, vital and here to stay."

CountryBeat: It's well known that you began playing professionally in your teens. How did you get started?

Marty: I started with the Sullivan Family, a gospel / bluegrass band, at the age of 12. I began working for Lester Flatt at 13, in 1972. I played with Lester for seven years until he passed away.

CountryBeat: What did you learn in those years?

Marty: One show in particular made me see this whole thing. I was with Lester Flatt. We were playing Michigan State University. The opening act was Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris. Lester went on in the middle, then the Eagles closed. The audience went crazy over Gram and Emmy's traditional thing. They loved Flatt's 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' and they went wild over the Eagles. I saw that if you stand your ground without changing a thing, you're going to be all right.

CountryBeat: After Lester Flatt died in 1979, what did you do?

Marty: I did six years working with Johnny Cash as his utility player: mandolin, fiddle, but mostly lead guitar. When I was with Johnny, I used to watch the Highwaymen work, and I picked up real fast that the way you get partnerships to work is that you show up and do your job at night and leave the rest of the day alone. I ended up using that when I worked with Travis [Tritt] on the "No Hats" tour. I never saw him until it was before showtime. We respected each other's privacy and I think that's why our teaming worked so well.

CountryBeat: How do you feel about country music today?

Marty: My job is to tell people about the legends: Ernest Tubb, Waylon [Jennings], Willie [Nelson], Kris [Kristofferson], and [Johnny] Cash. My job is to tell young people about the Grand Ole Opry. It really impresses me that they love songs like "The Whiskey Ain't Workin" or "High On A Mountain Top." Those are hardcore country songs. The kids are lovin' it, but a lot of them don't know about George Jones or why the Grand Ole Opry exists. I think my mission is to tell them. I'd be lying to myself and cheating myself if I didn't go ahead and do it, because that's what I'm about. That's where I come from in country music, and that's where my passion lies. I'm not standing at the edge of the city limits of Nashville beating a drum saying we must have the old days of country music. We have a great future. I'm simply saying we can't forget where we come from or we're gonna miss the whole deal.

CountryBeat: What about the fact that you have achieved success on your own?

Marty: Stardom is something I've been a part of for over 21 years, and I truly understand it. I've seen it through the eyes of Johnny Cash--all of the masters' eyes. But it's different when it's finally on your shoulders. Everybody takes notice of every little thing you do. If you make a turn to the right, they say you should go left. It hurts your feelings, but I've learned to recover.

CountryBeat: Is it true you have Ernest Tubb's old bus?

Marty: Yes I do. We have a new bus because we've outgrown that one, but we're gonna keep it on the road as crew bus. I'm repairing it now. I just feel that we're on the brink of hitting the big time and I want to know that E.T. goes across the country with us. I refuse to turn E.T. into some junk rental bus.

CountryBeat: Do you care what the older country stars thing about you?

Marty: Yes. After Hillbilly Rock took off, was invited to the Opry. Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Thompson, Porter Wagoner, all the old-timers were there. And Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins--they were the main ones--they all gave me their seal of approval, like "Stay with what you're doing. We're proud of you."

CountryBeat: Do you think image has anything to do with your success?

Marty: My image is a little ahead of my music. I think for a while, people played my songs on radio because of the hair and the sequins. I think we're finally getting some substance across now.

CountryBeat: Has your music career interfered with your private life?

Marty: I live the music, but I did get off the track for a while. I got a divorce from Cindy [Johnny Cash's daughter] after being married for five years. I've proven that I'm the worst husband on earth. I cleaned up my act in the mid-1980's; I was in jail a couple of times. I went back home to my mom. I sang in church and studied the Bible. I still have to do that. To go home to those woods and stop and be still and pray and to ask for guidance and wisdom is the most important thing that I do at any point of the year. I'm lucky that I have such support from my family. I call my mom four times a week.

CountryBeat: Did you ever think a solo music career wouldn't work out for you?

Marty: I never doubted it would happen. Well, for one minute I did but I thought, "hell, I don't know how to do anything else.

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