Marty Stuart: "People Take Music Too Seriously!"

This appeared in Modern Screen's Country Music Magazine - November 1995

The International Ambassador of Tourism for Nashville is feeling a bit weary right now. It's 8:00 a.m., practically the middle of the night for a musician, but Marty Stuart soon springs to life. An opportunity to talk about one of his favorite subjects--country music--provides his wake-up call.

"Music is a powerful thing," says the 36-year old singer, songwriter and, yes, world spokesperson for the mecca of country. "Roger Miller once told me that having talent was one thing, figuring out how to use it was another. Music is a healer; sometimes it's a way of bringing people together and settling things down and making people happy and inspiring them. To me, that's what music is all about: to inspire. I guess it was time to re-inspire myself so I could go out and re-inspire others."

"I really believe music is a heaven-sent thing. I wanted to honor where the music came from and really sit down and have a talk with heaven and see what heaven might want you to do with the next step in your musical life, and really dig down."

He describes his latest all-new LP, Love And Luck (he's since had a retrospective called The Marty Party Hit Pack) as a spiritual odyssey. "It's one thing to sit down and write and go to a publishing company and book a band, that's easily done," he says. Another perspective is to really get inside yourself and honor the music, he adds.

He started the album and it was just not ringing true to him, Stuart says. He went to MCA, his record company, and asked if he could scrap what he had already done. "I wanted to get a little more time and put together the songs. They stood by me and I really appreciate it."

His odyssey, among other places, took him to the badlands of South Dakota, near Wounded Knee, to be inspired by the Native American culture.

Stuart also returns to his own roots, performing a mandolin instrumental on "Marty Stuart Visits The Moon." The instrumental provides "one of those ancient tones that goes right through your soul," he says. "It cuts through the trends. It's a heavenly sound." Stuart grew up listening to records that occasionally contained instrumentals. "Basically, I'm a mandolin player and I thought it was about time to just play," he says.

As to whether or not instruments could have more of a presence in music again, Stuart suggests "it goes down to what the taste makers and trend setters do. If Vince Gill did an instrumental or if Travis Tritt or Garth Brooks would--if a few people did it, all of a sudden we would have too many instrumentals."

Stuart says the manner in which he approaches songwriting has changed through the years. He wrote the ballad "That's What Love's About" on the album. "My main goal in the last couple years is to have fun, first and foremost," he says. So many people are taking it too seriously around here. I want to treat it with the irreverence it deserves." He says he also realized he had "never shown anyone his heart." "I wanted to see if I had the guts to do that. It's a real challenge for me," he explains.

On the road since the age of 12 playing mandolin and guitar with Lester Flatt, then Johnny Cash, the Mississippi native says "I'm really amazed I'm still around."

"I left a respectable pile the first half of my life," he says. "There are some worthwhile things in there. There's also a lot of garbage, but some worthwhile. Somebody once said that God leaves you with a hot dog and a road map. I've based it on having fun and staying true to heart and soul and looking at what I haven't accomplished."

To be sure, there is still much to be accomplished, Stuart says. "Oh my gosh, there's so much," he says. "It's all down to a popularity contest. To me, I'm just getting my point of view and music intro the mainstream for real. I'm just beginning. We still need that two to three minute bigger-than-life smash. I've had a lot of cult hits and country hits. I still have a whole lot of seats to fill."

Stuart and Travis Tritt kept country fans wiggling in and out of their seats when they teamed for a duet on the title track of Stuart's last album and then followed with the lengthy "No Hats" tour. They have discussed future projects together. The first one left a positive image in most people's minds, he says. "To record now just to record, we thought was not the thing to do. Not just because we were hot," he says. "I think when we make a record together, it has to be ten dangerous songs. I think we need to make a record that makes a statement for country music."

Stuart certainly is one of the country music industry's most respected artists. Ongoing are his efforts to keep respect for country roots and traditions alive. "I think definitely we are making an impact," he says. "Even if we're shouting into the wind. I have to do it from where I come from. You love your family and love who raised you. Those people truly raised me musically and personally. I'd be doing myself a dishonor if I didn't speak up."

At a time when country's current trend of popularity probably is peaking, "it's important a few of us stand up and remember where we came from," he says. From Bill Monroe to Billy Ray Cyrus, a long history of country music still can be experienced live, he reminds. "I think that's incredible and I urge any new country fan to go out and check out what is going on."

Stuart says one of his passions is "getting the Grand Ole Opry into the 21st century."

"It's in the process of rebottling itself and adding some fire," he says. Stuart has been a major supporter of the Opry. When he and his new band, the Rock and Roll Cowboys played for the first time in public, it was at the Opry in January 1994.

He says it bothers him "real bad" that some of the main people who invented country are being forgotten and left behind. "I refuse to let Johnny Cash go away. Every time I mention my name, I mention his. It's a personal thing to me," he says.

Will country see new legends in the sense of the roots artists like Lester Flatt and others who defined the music early on? "I think time will take care of that," he says. "The current crop of country stars, you'll definitely find a few legends out of that bunch. But time will tell. The last time there were this many acts in country music was the mid-'50s. From that you got Buck Owens, Johnny Cash and others who were just making their records and doing their things."

Stuart appears to just be doing his thing in his role as International Ambassador for Nashville. He says he plans to keep the job "till they kick me out. I'm diggin' it man. I got a real good parking place at the airport," he laughs.

There are many reasons a person should consider coming to Nashville, Ambassador Stuart says. "If you're a young person looking for a career, there is music, medicine or education, whatever. Nashville is truly a town where dreams can be realized," he says. "It's a small town, but definitely you can get your shot heard 'round the world here. It's a small town with a quality of life and friendly atmosphere. And if you just wanted to be entertained here, there are an incredible amount of things offered by a town this size."

Those seeing him live can expect a high-energy show, Stuart says. "It's a high-energy Saturday night show," he says. "If you are coming for a safe, low-volume concert, you might as well stay home. It's a good country show with a lot of rock 'n' roll edge to it. The band is great. They play excellent music; songs of past, present and future. It's a traveling honky tonk revival. It's Saturday night music.

He is fronting a new band, he says, because his old band "pretty much accomplished the goals they set out to accomplish." "I love making bands where the guys can go and be stars somewhere. I like star-making bands. The Rock and Roll Cowboys have a new edge."

With more country stars adding Europe to their touring plans, Stuart says, "I think the music we play will definitely translate there." "CMT (Country Music Television) has videos over there. When I played with Johnny Cash, we played there a lot. These videos are a major breakthrough over there.

Stuart cites Peoria, not Nashville, when asked what he feels the public perception of him may be. "I think it translates to Peoria," he says laughing. "I'm 'that guy with the goofy hairdo that wears his pants too tight--wears flashy clothes--who makes us have a good time,' I think I'm welcome in most people's living rooms and that's a great feeling."

By Rex Rutkoski

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