Marty Stuart - "I Don't Take My Looks Seriously!"

This appeared in Modern Screen's Country Music Magazine - May 1993

New Traditionalist: It's probably the most over-used term in country music today. Hats/no hats, Levi's/Wranglers, boots/Reeboks, steel guitar/no steel guitar--like everything else these days, substance too often falls by the wayside as the emphasis turns to image, packaging and labels. Thankfully, we have Marty Stuart. He's turned style into an art form and has survived every trend without selling himself out. Consequently, it has taken him a little longer to get to where he deserves to be, but integrity will keep him there long after the others have come and gone.

Two hours until showtime--tonight the No Hats tour is doing a benefit for Charleston, SC's Air Force Base Morale and Recreation Squadron. Stuart is holding court on his bus; actually, it's Ernest Tubb's bus and Stuart merely its caretaker, but if anyone belongs within this Country Music Smithsonian on wheels, it's Marty Stuart. You can practically feel the spirits of country legends wrapping themselves around you when you enter the inner sanctum--eerie, perhaps, but not surprising; after all, Marty Stuart is single-handedly keeping these spirits alive.

Interviews are brief at best: ten minutes here, fifteen there, never enough to get beyond a mere scratch at the surface. He has "learned to condense it into sound bites--seemingly important stuff--and leave out the chatter." Quick results come from working both sides of the microphone--his own interviews have been published in country magazines. "I always tried to do my homework, pay attention to my subject, and cut past how they started to what they contribute to the country music industry. I've walked press people through interviews, but if you request time with someone, the least you can do is research your subject in advance. If not, what's the use in talking? Professional press people," he says, "understand what fans want to know: human interest stuff, your heroes, are you married, blah, blah, blah. Thin stuff. The usual." However, there is nothing "usual" about Marty Stuart and his music. What he does is as valid to the Nineties as it is a homage to the stars who made country music what it has become. Comparatively speaking, one need only trace the genre's heritage as proof.


Elvis Presley: "I don't like to be called 'Elvis The Pelvis' ... I mean, it's one of the most childish expressions I ever heard coming from an adult. But if they want to call me that, I mean, there's nothing I can do about."

Marty Stuart: "It's all part of the game. It amazes me that I can work 20 years to hone my craft, get a sound people recognize, and they still want to talk about my clothes and hair. I'm just as patient about those questions and give the best information I can. I don't care. I go to the closet and put on Marty Stuart. I don't take my looks seriously. I just have fun with it. I look in the mirror and see hair that pokes out and a butt like a speedbump."

Corporate Rules

Merle Haggard: "By the time I got home, I was beginning to wonder if the music business was right for me. I still loved the music, but I sure was hatin' the business."

Marty Stuart: "(An artist without looks) might get a token deal. It counts to have looks these days because this is a video-oriented industry. Most country stars have 'a look.' There is a lot of emphasis on that. It's not fair, but what is fair about the music industry?"


Ernest Tubb: "When I first joined The Opry in 1943, Roy Acuff was the biggest artist in country. But there were no stores that featured country music records. In fact, if you went into any one of the big stores and asked for a country record, they would laugh at you. They only sold 'pop' music, meaning the music from New York."

Marty Stuart: "Country is finally getting to a place where we don't have to do as much explaining. For years, we apologized on talk shows, apologized for being what was then called 'country-western' stars."

Sharing The Spotlight

Johnny Cash: "When sidemen receive the recognition they deserve, it can only make the leader a bigger man."

Marty Stuart: "I always dreamed of being part of a musically diverse group of open-minded people. These guys love country music first and foremost, but they've all played something else seriously. You wouldn't believe the stuff we listen to on the bus: everything from monks chanting to Tony Bennett, heavy metal, classic rock. bluegrass. The more we listen and the more open our minds, the more we are inspired to do what we do and do it better."

Truth And The Inner Being

Merle Haggard: "Country music is feelin' and heart, not a bunch of stuff some asshole says the public wants just because he's made 'an extensive study of the market.' It's enough to make you puke."

Marty Stuart: "Country does have a handful of world-class stars to offer and I see the same thing with Hollywood, with rock and roll. The most impressive guy I've seen lately is (Chris Robinson) the singer for The Black Crowes. He was talking to Jay Leno and going off on the other end of the world, talking about drugs, being impotent--most people don't have the guts to do that. If there is something in my heart and I feel strongly enough about it, I say what needs saying. Travis (Tritt) got slapped on the hand for voicing his opinion of 'Achy Breaky Heart.' Whether he was right or wrong is not my call. The point is, country music is not ready to get out there and talk about things."


Bill Monroe: "I put in the music what I wanted to have in it. You'll find Scots bagpipes in it and Methodist holiness singing in it. I wouldn't play it if it wasn't pure."

Marty Stuart: "When I was five years old, I got Meet The Beatles, a Johnny Cash record and a Flatt & Scruggs record the same week. The Beatles entertained my head. Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs entertained my heart; the way they sang, played guitar, the mountain songs. They tore me up inside. The only time I played rock and roll seriously was when I toured with Bob Dylan for a while. It took me six weeks to realize that these were not my people, so I went back and started working with Doc Watson."

The Importance Of Believing In Yourself

Willie Nelson: "It amuses me the people who set themselves up as critics ... What do they know? ... Being true to the heart of your own self puts you way ahead of the game no matter who thinks they're keeping score."

Marty Stuart: "(I knew I had talent) when I was eight or nine years old. Since I was a kid, I was always able to get people's attention and keep it. I got serious about country when I was nine and put together my first band entering talent contests. People said the same thing they're saying now: 'It's different.' They liked it, but there was always someone more plastic and accessible who went before me--a girl who twirled a baton or sang with water in her mouth won, and I got a respectable hand. There are people today who claim to love country music and don't know the reality of it. There's enough out there for everybody these days and I don't begrudge anyone. I know I'll outlast them."

By Elianne Halbersberg

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