Marty Stuart Dishes About Country Music, Falling For Connie Smith

This appeared in Tulsa World - March 24, 2011

When he was 12, Marty Stuart knew who Grand Ole Opry star Connie Smith was - his future wife.

Smith, 17 years his senior, was performing at the Choctaw Indian Festival in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Stuart was born and raised.

"I told my mom on the way home I was going to marry that girl," said Stuart, a huge country fan who became one of country music's most respected artists - and, 14 years ago, Smith's husband.

You can see them both, as well as their respective bands, 7 p.m. Friday at River Spirit Event Center, 8330 Riverside Parkway.

Smith had approached him about doing a record together years ago, Stuart recalled during a recent phone interview. "I thought that was an enchanting idea." He knew she could sing, but he asked if she could write.

They fell in love while creating music, he said, and he's watched her songwriting craft blossom. You'll be able to hear their collaborations during the concert, as well as in an upcoming album, her first one of new material in 13 years.

Their concert will also include songs from Stuart's 14th studio album, Ghost Train: the Studio B Sessions, a frequent disc on many music critics' best-of-2010 lists and billed as "quintessential traditional country music."

"It's the craziest thing," Stuart said of the designation, chuckling. "All these years, I thought I was one of the most edgy, innovative musicians. Dammit if I didn't turn out being traditional."

It's something he's widely respected for, too.

"Martyis absolutely doing his part to keep it alive," said Ray Bingham, a local entertainment agent who booked Stuart at River Spirit. The last time the country star was in town, Bingham recalled, was for a KVOO picnic.

He may "rock the traditional stuff," he said, "but he's probably done more for keeping country music alive. He's a real fan."

A self-taught guitarist, Stuart (named after country-western singer-songwriter Marty Robbins) has worked with the Sullivans, Lester Flatt, Vassar Clements and the one and only Johnny Cash. He was even married to Cash's daughter Cindy for five years. The song "Hangman" on Stuart's latest album was co-written with Cash four days before the Man in Black passed away.

But he was never starstruck by the lyricists and luminaries surrounding him. "Even as a kid in Mississippi, I set my sights on who I thought was important - important to me, at least," he said. At the Choctaw Indian Fair, which frequently showcased Nashville-style acts, he could tell if an artist had something special or not.

"And their legacy still holds up," said Stuart, who has invited some of those legacies onto The Marty Stuart Show, now in its third season on RFD-TV, cable 147. Airing at 7 p.m. Saturdays, it's the channel's top show.

"Now, I'm one of the family," Stuart said, "standing square in the middle of the bridge, seeing where it came from." Unfortunately, it's also a vantage point to see musicians he fell in love with overlooked, "brushed off to the side - that doesn't seem right to me."

Although he's heard the criticism about the pop nature of country, and despite how often he misses the steel guitar of the traditional stuff, "It's about balance," he said. "We need modern country music. It picks up a certain segment of the audience."

After all, when Bill Monroe, who's often revered as "the Father of Bluegrass," covered some Carter Family songs in the '30s, "everybody thought country music was going to hell," he said.

But here we are, 80 years later, with everyone from Taylor Swift to Stuart and Smith performing variations on the single genre in which they and so many others are rooted.

"There's something in it for everybody," he said. "Until further notice, I'm totally at home on the back road. I'm happy to be there."

By Jason Ashley Wright

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