"Real Deal Country Focus For Stuart Now

This appeared in the South Bend Tribune - July 4, 2009

In the early 1990s, Marty Stuart had a string of country music hits with such songs as “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” — both duets with Travis Tritt — “Hillbilly Rock” and “Tempted.”

Although he doesn’t quite disavow the hits, he says their success simply allows him to do what he loves: Play traditional country music.

“If I look around at the whole pantheon of country music, the whole landscape, it is traditional country music in all of its forms — with sub-genres like bluegrass and folk music and old-time music — that need(s) the most attention,” Stuart says in a recent phone interview from his office in Nashville, Tennessee. “In my opinion, it is those particular pockets of country music, that is where the power is. That is where the sustaining force is. It is not about a trend. It is not about demographics. It is about heart and soul and spirit.”

Stuart’s musical journey has been one of integrity and authenticity from the beginning. He was a member of both Lester Flatt’s and Johnny Cash’s backing bands before embarking on a solo career in the 1980s, joining Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam as an alternative to the “Urban Cowboy” sound that was popular at the time.

“If I step outside of the story and look at it, it looks pretty blessed to me,” Stuart says about his music career. “A lot of the things I had my sights on when I was just a kid, it happened. It has never been easy and it has never been free. There has always been a lot of work involved, but that is fine with me. It has been a pretty astounding ride, so far.”

In addition to performing with his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart makes use of other forms of media to promote traditional country music. Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey, a collection of his musical memorabilia, is touring across the country. It is presently on exhibit at the Gene Autry National Center in Los Angeles. He has also published a couple of books of photographs he has taken of country musicians throughout the years.

Furthermore, Stuart has a weekly show on XM Satellite Radio called Marty Stuart’s American Odyssey, as well as The Marty Stuart Show, a television show that airs every Saturday night on cable’s RFD-TV.

Stuart has produced albums for other like-minded artists, such as Billy Bob Thornton’s Private Radio and the late Porter Wagoner’s final album, Wagonmaster. His next projects include a couple of records with the Fabulous Superlatives and an album from his wife, Grand Ole Opry star Connie Smith.

From the Nudie suits he wears to the music he plays, Stuart is on a mission to keep the tradition of country music alive.

“That is the point of country music that I started from,” he says. “I have been all around the room several times, but that is the point where I feel the most at home, and I see the greatest need right now. We really need to care for it and tend to the roots of country music and make sure that it lives on.”

Stuart sees hope for traditional country music in such up-and-coming bands as Old Crow Medicine Show.

“I discovered them in a parking lot of a bluegrass festival in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,” he says. “I loved them. From the minute that I met them, I said this is it. They just needed a stage and a voice.”

As the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, Stuart presented the band on the Ryman Auditorium stage to a standing ovation from the audience.

“They tore the house up,” he says. “They started going from there. I am really proud of those guys. They are like my brothers.”

Stuart is encouraged that young people are picking up the traditional country music baton that he and others have passed on.

“The good news is it is not just about celebrating ghosts and legends,” he says. “I promise you, go to Shipshewana and take a look around the parking lot. I guarantee you will find kids that are playing the banjo and the mandolin, singing traditional songs. There are a lot of young people that are playing the real deal. That is what interests me.”

By Tom Conway

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