Marty Stuart performs in River Forest
by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Sun-Times Media
At age 53, Marty Stuart is a “young” legend. But he’s been on the scene since his early teens, and has shared the stage with greats like Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash to name a few, and he’s paved the way for a “new” kind of country music.
The five-time Grammy winner, will be in concert with his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, at Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium in Park Forest April 21.
Stuart’s repertoire includes rockabilly, traditional country, roots rock, and bluegrass. Since 2008, Stuart has hosted his own TV show in Nashville. He’s also curated historical exhibits of country music and memorabilia, and come to realize that the “old” country music needed to be nurtured so it’s never forgotten. Stuart spoke recently with Pioneer Press.
Q: What made you realize that the “real” country music was being left behind?
A: It came in a multi-level kind of awareness. In the ’90s, my band had such a wonderful commercial run. But we kept getting bigger and louder, and my heart kept getting smaller, and that feeling that made me fall in love with country music was getting lost somewhere along the way. And I was coming to the end of the decade with MCA, and had one album left. Commercial radio was starting to cool on the efforts we were doing, and I was chasing, trying to catch up with, the ever-changing sonics in country music. But I thought, I better follow my heart and go deep. I made a record called “The Pilgrim” that was probably a critical disaster but a spiritual success. And it was a line in the dirt. I knew I had to rethink these things, because my legacy inside of my own heart is not how I look at myself in the mirror. So I really just stopped and started over. And where my heart led me, song by song, was right back to the heart of traditional country music. That’s what I fell in love with when I was a little boy, and what spoke to me the loudest, and all of a sudden I saw a piece of American culture that was slipping away, the treasures of it, the artists themselves being forgotten, and this big wasteland of commercial nonsense. I dedicated myself as best I could to goin’ after writing a new chapter in the 21st century song by song, to stand for something, and to just back up, as this is way too important to let go.
Q: While other kids played outside, you were inside listening to the radio, of country greats of the day, and learning to play guitar. What put this fire under you? How did you come to play with Lester Flatt at such an early age?
A: Well, I think I was born to play music, first and foremost, it was kind of my destiny. When I was twelve years old, I went out on the road with some bluegrass gospel legends, down in Alabama, I’m from Mississippi. There was a group, The Sullivan Family Gospel Singers, they were big stars of the churchhouse circuit down in the deep south, and I got a job playing in the band. That summer we played a bluegrass festival, revival meetings in Pentecostal churches, and George Wallace campaign rallies, so I mean I got to see it all that summer. Fell in love with the road and all the things that went with it. And one of the crossings that summer was a bluegrass festival, we played it with Lester Flatt and his band, and there was a man named Roland White, who I befriended, and he showed me some things on the mandolin, and he said that maybe sometime I could ride along with them to Nashville for the weekend. When the summer circuit was over and I had to go back to school, (I was a pitiful excuse for a student and couldn’t stand the fact that the band was out there playing and I was stuck in the role of a civilian back in high school), so I got kicked out of school. I called Roland, he invited me to Nashville, and my mom and dad let me go for the Labor Day weekend, that was 1972. Lester heard me play and he offered me a spot on stage. It worked out good and the result of it was he offered me a job.
Q: Marty, were you surprised by the surge in popularity of old-time and bluegrass music that many attributed to the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and would you agree with that as being one of the reasons for this renaissance?
A: Absolutely. Go back further to the movie “Deliverance” in the 1970s. When I was in Lester’s band, he was coasting along as an old legend, kind of a weary musical Opry act, and we (were playing) the way it was since 1945 when he first hit town. Just kind of going through the motions. And “Dueling Banjos” was a song we played on stage every night, and unknowingly it was in the movie “Deliverance,” played by somebody else, but everybody thought it was us. And one night we were on the stage with Chick Corea and Kool and the Gang, we played that song and it blew up, and we encored like nine times throughout the evening, and the next day we were rock stars. We were playing the Grand Ole Opry on the weekend, and playing shows with rock and roll bands during the week, and hippie bluegrass festivals. I saw it happen then, bluegrass had a big resurgence, then it settled down. And when “O Brother, Where Art Thou” came along, it did the same thing for a different group of people. Movies, when they’re done right, will help anybody’s culture or sub-genre.
Q: What’s neat about your look, Marty, with your ‘big hair’ and glitzy outfits, is it’s definitely a throwback to the vintage country look, definitely the Opry look, but at the same time you are in the moment with a rock star presence.
A: When I was a kid, we went on a field trip the state capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. I think my mom had given be a 20-dollar bill to take with me that day. I looked up on the walls of all the paintings of all those old characters, with high collar and Mozart-looking hair, and I looked at my twenty dollar bill and there was Andrew Jackson, and I thought: that’s a cool look. Between that, and the black culture that was around Philadelphia, Miss., the street musicians who were the flashiest characters in town, and the cowboy suit, I thought there was something in there I needed to explore.
Q: Tell us about your new album, “Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down.”
A: Well, it’s kind of a lineage that started five years ago. I produced Porter Waggoner’s final album, named “Wagonmaster,” and then we made a record called “Ghost Train,” then I produced a record of my wife, Connie, “Long Line of Heartache,” and I’m just in a very traditional country music state of mind right now. “Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down” is just a follow up to all those records, and we’re in mid-flight in a wonderful creative space. We have real country music, authentic country music, flying in all directions around here at the moment, and I love it.
Q: Your song, “Now That’s Country,” you mention fishin’, a pick-up truck, a dog, a rockin’ chair on the front porch, a jug of homemade wine, lying in a field of clover late at night to watch the stars, and from your lyrics: well that’s country, I was raised on that Mississippi mile. Are you still a Mississippi country boy at heart?
A: Without question. Connie and I just got back from my farm in Mississippi, and spent the last three days on my Grandpa’s farm. I promise that Mississippi feeling feeds me wherever I go.