Stuart Gets Back To His Roots With Country Music

This appeared in The Grand Rapids Press - November 19, 2003

While the title may sound generic, Marty Stuart had a simple reason for naming his latest album Country Music.

The 45-year-old country music veteran said he was just getting back to his roots with his first album in nearly four years, so the title seemed the most appropriate way of putting things.

"I hadn't really made a record since 1999," Stuart said in a phone interview from his home in Nashville.

He worked on other projects to get away from making records and touring for a while.

"I wanted to be fresh when I came back to it, so when it was time to come back to it, I had yet to say anything inside the 21st century. I thought, if I kick off tomorrow, the obituary will read 'Country music singer ...,' " he continued, with a chuckle.

"So (I thought), let's just take it back to the dirt and call it what it is."

No one can blame Stuart for wanting to take a little break. Since leaving his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi, at the tender age of 12 to work as a sideman with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt -- and later with American icon Johnny Cash -- the talented musician had been touring and making records for 27 years.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, Stuart scored several top 10 hits, including "Hillbilly Rock," "Tempted" and "Little Things." Throughout his musical career, the virtuoso guitar and mandolin player has recorded with such diverse artists as Travis Tritt, The Staple Singers and Rolling Stone Keith Richards.

While his 1999 concept album The Pilgrim featured such stellar guests as Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and George Jones and earned a couple of Grammy nominations, the critically-acclaimed project failed to generate any excitement on the country-music airwaves.

However, Stuart takes such things in stride and says he is more concerned with making music for its own sake. "(The Pilgrim) wasn't the first flop album I've ever had commercially, and it certainly won't be the last, so I don't think you can run home every time something doesn't work," he said.

Part of making a fresh start in his career was forming a new band to deliver his musical vision. Known as His Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart's three-piece backing band consists of Nashville heavyweights Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and Brian Glenn (bass).

Containing 12 tracks, Country Music opens with his makeover of the Porter Wagoner classic "A Satisfied Mind" and fittingly closes with a heartfelt reading of Johnny Cash's "Walls of a Prison."

Stuart says recording "Walls" was a spontaneous decision. "That's my all-time favorite (Johnny Cash) song," he said. "It kind of happened by accident. We just ran out of songs one night and still had an hour or two left on the clock."

Stuart decided to take a shot recording the song, even though he wasn't sure he knew the correct words.

"What you hear is live," he said. "There (were) no overdubs; that's exactly what happened on the floor -- no second takes. It was a great feeling."

While the album was recorded and released long before Cash's death on September 12, Stuart says closing the album with "Walls of a Prison" has even more meaning for him now.

"I didn't plan it that way, but I think it's a salute to one of my dearest friends," Stuart said. "The walls of the prison don't hold him no more. He (had become) kind of bound up in his own body as a prison," he added, referring to Cash's health problems.

"He's free now; he's totally free."

By Jack Leaver

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