WHAT HE DOES BEST
by Shaun Mather
To refer to Marty Stuart as just a country singer is to sell the man a bit
short. Yes, he's a celebrated country music singer, but he's also a
producer, author, photographer and a proud historian. Best of all, he is an
ambassador, both for country music in general and Nashville in particular.
He has a passion for the music's history, from the stories and memorabilia
to the songs and look. He's an avid fan of Nudie's rhinestone look and
follows in the footsteps of Webb and Porter - the gaudier the better. Come
to think of it, do him and Porter use the same barber.
Page Posted: November, 2003
One of country's new traditionalists in the 1980's, he'd served his
apprenticeship for a decade before, learning the tricks of the trade and
developing a love for the music's history. His music over the years has
embraced bluegrass, honky tonk, rockabilly and country-rock. Surprisingly,
considering so many of his heroes are rural hillbilly singers, he's never
really done much with the pure traditional sound. He's described it as
"hillbilly with a thump".
Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi on September 30th, 1958, John Marty Stuart
was obsessed with country music from an early age and soon learned to play
guitar and mandolin. His parents John and Hilda were also music lovers and
took him to see Bill Monroe when his tour came to town. He left the show
with a happy heart as well as Monroe's mandolin pick.
By the time he was twelve. he was playing weekends and school holidays with the father and
daughter bluegrass outfit, the Sullivan's. He couldn't believe his luck
when, in 1972, he met Roland White, a member of Lester Flatt's band. White
invited the fourteen year old child protege to play with Lester at a Labor
Day gig in Delaware. Lester was equally impressed and asked Marty to join
his band on a permanent basis.
Once Lester had promised to take care of the boy's schooling and keep
a father-like eye over him, Marty's parents consented and he was on the road
to his destiny. He remembers "I knew they would do what was right. And I
knew that Lester would shoot straight with them. He assured them I'd be seen
after, that I'd keep a little money and send the rest to the bank. He'd have
our manager, Lance Leroy, work out the details of how to finish my
education. And he would assume responsibility for it all." "I was in the
ninth grade in Mississippi one day and the next weekend I was a Grand Ole
Opry performer and playing poker with Roy Acuff backstage. What could be
finer?" Marty stayed with Flatt until 1978 when poor health forced Flatt
into retirement - he died the following year. Stuart hooked up with Vassar
Clements and Doc and Merle Watson, more old school traditional acts. He also
toured with Bob Dylan and did session work with Willie Nelson, Waylon
Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Billy Joel and Neil Young.
In 1980 he joined Johnny Cash's band before cutting his first solo album two
years later for Sugar Hill records. Busy Bee Café included contributions
from Cash, Watson and former Flatt partner, Earl Scruggs. In 1983 he
promoted Johnny Cash from being just his band leader to father-in-law by
marrying Johnny's daughter Cindy. Two years later he left Cash's band to
pursue a solo career at Columbia. The first album didn't sell well despite a
reasonable hit with Arlene which earned him a nomination for Best New Male
Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.
Things turned sour for him when he
saw his follow-up album Let There Be Country left in the bin, the same place
his marriage went. He went back home with his tail between his legs, but
like his heroes, you can't keep a good man down, the lure of the honky tonks
is too strong. Of the Columbia situation, he was quoted as saying, "I can
arrange a deal: they don't tell me how to play guitar and I won't tell them
how to release an album" - nice one.
He rejoined the Sullivan's on mandolin, and soon built up enough self esteem
to head back to Nashville. He signed with MCA in 1989 and this time was here
to stay. The albums title track, Hillbilly Rock was a hit and a dance hall
favourite. Both the label and the press were impressed and he was a made
man. Tempted followed in '91 resulting in saw further hits with the title
track, Little Tings and Burn Me Down. His star was sufficiently bright that
Columbia saw fit to finally release Let There Be Country - man, life is
Back at MCA he was continuing the good worth with my favourite of his
albums, the brilliant This One's Gonna Hurt You. The album doesn't have one
filler, there are ten solid gems. It also spawned the first of some very
successful duets with Travis Tritt.
On 28th November 1992 he was inducted
into his beloved Grand Ole Opry by Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens, just
five days after the passing of Acuff. 1994's Love And Luck was a bit
moreuneven but had more than a few goodies. It was followed in quick
succession by a sort of greatest hits compilation, The Marty Stuart Party
Since then there's been too few hits to add to the package, with Honky
Tonkin's What I Do Best and The Pilgrim faring better with the critics than
the record-buying public. It's probably the radio stations not the public
who are to blame - by this time radio wasn't really looking for artists who
were proud to call themselves hillbilly singers.
In '96 he became the president of the Country Music Foundation, an
honourable position which he held until last year. It enabled him to oversee
the Country Music Hall of Fame, a great museum that houses more than a few
items from Stuart's own considerable collection.
On July 8th, 1997 he collected one of the most beautiful treasures in country music when he
married Connie Smith. He'd originally fallen for her when she played a show
in Mississippi in the summer of 1970. Apparently the eleven year old asked
his mum to buy him a bright yellow shirt so that Connie couldn't miss him.
During the show he told his mum that he would marry her - as he was later to
sing, dreams do come true in Nashville. His most recent venture is this
years CD simply titled Country Music for Sony's Nashville division.
An interview with him on the new albums bonus DVD disc has a telling moment
when he tries to recap his career. He says that he always wondered why a
legend like Lester Flatt asked Marty to join his band when he could have
chosen virtually anyone. He said he now knows why. It's because Lester
wanted to pass the torch on, keep the flame burning. Well luckily for
country music, Marty seems to have that same philosophy and seems intent on
passing it on.
He told Modern Screen's Country Music in 1994, "My job is to
tell people about the legends, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson
and Johnny Cash. The kids are lovin' it (his own songs like High On A
Mountain Top), but a lot of them don't know about George Jones or why the
Opry exists. I think my mission is to tell them". He's a good man, and
country music needs a few more like him.
Marty Party Hit Pack
Not just a Hits package, this also includes a couple of unreleased numbers
and two project recordings. Both of these, a bouncy Don't Be Cruel with the
Jordanaires and a gospel-esque The Weight, with the Staple Singers are top
notch, and hold there own against the considerable originals. Above all
else, the album focuses on the uptempo fun-loving side of Stuart, with
Western Girls and Hillbilly Rock hitting the right spots. The two duets with
Tritt are fine performances and were deserved hits. For collectors the
inclusion of "If I Ain't Got You" and "The Likes of Me," was an added
bonus - The Likes Of Me Being being twangy, sparkling country-rock in
inimitable Stuart style. The hits like Tempted and Little Things are typical
sound. Whilst they rock in a contemporary radio-friendly way, the beat comes
from hillbilly boogie guitar, not some disco drum machine like some of the
artists tend to find so appealing.
This One's Gonna Hurt You
My favourite album and one of the best albums to come out of Nashville in
the '90s. It ranges in style from the top draw bluegrass of High On A
Mountain Top to rabble-rousing honky tonkers like Honky Tonk Crowd. Hey Baby
had radio appeal as did Cowboy Jack's Just Between Me And You. If I had to
choose a favourite I'd go for either The King of Dixie, a perfect homage to
the door-breakers, or Jimmie Skinner's Doin' My Time, a superb duet with
Love and Luck
This album actually sounds like Marty Stuart is trying to get hip to radio.
It works well, but the albums best moments are when he leaves behind the
commercial fodder like That's What Love's About or the title track in favour
of things like his intense, heartfelt rendition of If I Give My Soul. Two
covers that work really well are the Byrds' Wheels and his hypnotic take on
Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips. His mandolin playing on the brisk instrumental
Marty Stuart Visits The Moon also turns heads.
The new album sees Marty introduce his new band, The Fabulous Superlatives.
There's plenty of ringing guitars and vocal harmonising, and has some real
stand-out tracks. The rumbling guitar work on Sundown In Nashville underpins
a poignant lyric, "each evening at sundown in Nashville, they sweep broken
dreams off the street" and his pronunciation of "Naaashville" is a killer.
Farmer's Blues is a touching duet with Merle Haggard. Written by Stuart and
Connie Smith it's the sort of thing that Merle has made a career of - his
yodel at the end rounds of a brilliant track. Guests Uncle Josh Graves and
Earl Scruggs add their experience to Tip Your Hat, a role call through the
music's legends, that serves as a bollocking for today's young hat acts.
When Stuart urges them "for God's sake boy, tip your hat to the teacher",
you get the feeling he wants to flick their hats off and make them stand
tall and respectful. The new teacher, passing it on. Too Much Month (At The
End Of The Money) is near-rockabilly and is no doubt a show stopper live. A
mournful rendition of Johnny Cash's Walls Of A Prison rounds out another
quality album. The CD comes with a free bonus DVD that consists of Stuart
talking for about twenty minutes. A nice extra, that shows the guy really
does care about the future of country's past.
Cry, Cry, Cry
We didn't get CMT for long in the UK. We've got eight MTV channels, rap and
heavy rock channels but no CMT. Even if it was pay-for-view we'd have the
option. One of the most memorable videos on circulation when we did have it
was Marty's cover of Johnny Cash's Cry, Cry, Cry. It's brilliant. Marty and
legendary Cash drummer W.S. Fluke Holland mime along to the music then watch
a video clip of the dear Luther Perkins playing from a '50s clip. They stand
there encouraging and egging Luther on. It's a great tribute to both Luther
and Fluke and was the sort of thing that only Marty Stuart and a few others
Pilgrims: Sinners, Saints, and Prophets
Unfortunately I've only seen this book in passing, and therefore could only
glimpse at the photos. The text is apparently very enlightening with him
retelling tales of his heroes, as well as his philosophy on life. The photos
are a treat, with plenty of shots of Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and
Lester Flatt. There're party snaps of Waylon and backstage shots of Bill
Monroe. The photos are Jerry Lee Lewis are priceless, as is the tale he
tells of Jerry Lee knocking on the door of Stuart's hotel room in the middle
of the night, completely naked, covered in chocolate with a couple of
girls,asking Marty if he could borrow his mandolin - priceless!
Albums and the Singles from the Album
If There Ain't There Ought'a Be
Too Much Month (At The End of the Money)
Red, Red Wine and Cheatin' Songs / Goin' Nowhere Fast
Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best
Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best / Me & Hank & Jumpin' Jack Flash
Thanks To You / Country Girls
You Can't Stop Love / Mississippi Mudcat & Sister Sheryl Crow
Sweet Love / So Many People
The Marty Party Hit Pack
The Likes Of Me / You Can Walk All Over Me
If I Ain't Got You / Wheels
Love and Luck
Kiss Me, I'm Gone / Marty Stuart Visits The Moon
Love and Luck / Oh, What A Silent Night
That's What Love's About / Shake Your Hips
This One's Gonna Hurt You
This One's Gonna Hurt You / The King Of Dixie *
Now That's Country / Me & Hank & Jumpin' Jack Flash
High On A Mountain Top / Just Between You And Me
Hey Baby / Honky Tonk Crowd
Little Things / Paint The Town *
Till I Found You / Half A Heart *
Tempted / I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome *
Burn Me Down / Blue Train *
Cry, Cry, Cry / The Wild One
Don't Leave Her Lonely (Too Long) / The Coal Mine Blues
Hillbilly Rock / Western Girls *
Western Girls / Me and Billy The Kid *
Let There Be Country
Mirrors Don't Lie / Freight Train Boogie
Matches / Old Hat
Arlene / Midnight Moonlight
Honky Tonker / Anyhow I Love You
All Because Of You / Maria (Love To See You Again)
Do You Really Want My Lovin' / Heart Of Stone
Thanks to http://www.martystuart.com for the discography/producer details.
Thanks to Roland White for finding him.
Thanks to Connie Smith for looking after him.
E-mail Shaun Mather
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