A Party With Marty: Memorial Day Weekend Swings Into High Gear As Mr. Stuart Comes To Town
|This appeared in The Maryville Daily Times - May 25, 2011|
Nashville can be a cruel vixen, and no artist knows that better than country star Marty Stuart.
With a pedigree of authenticity unrivalled by his peers how many other country icons in the 1990s could boast of growing up alongside such luminaries as Lester Flatt and Roland White? Stuart courted that fickle city with all the aplomb of a Lothario lifted from one of his songs. He was faithful, he was giving, he was everything a good man should be.
And in the end, none of it mattered. Like a lot of guys who have found their way to Music Citys boudoir, Stuart woke up one morning to find his woman had moved on to younger stars with plenty of bank account-padding potential.
In 1999, Id had about a 12-year run of huge commercial success, and it got to be where I was getting up every morning and chasing the same 2-1/2 minute wonder down Music Row, Stuart told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. When that started fading, I found myself having gone from leading a parade in my own mind to chasing everybody elses parade, and that didnt quite work.
Instead of drowning himself in a liquor bottle or settling for the leftovers from Nashvilles table, playing $10 greatest-hits shows at out-of-the-way honky tonks across the American South, Stuart went back to the drawing board. After all, hed been fending for himself since he started playing bluegrass with The Sullivans at the age of 12. If theres one thing his experience in life has taught him, its perseverance.
When he was 14, White invited Stuart on stage at a gig in Delaware to perform with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass; the young self-taught guitarist and mandolin player so impressed White that he invited Stuart to join the band full time, and he remained a part of Flatts team until 1978. After Flatt stepped out of the limelight due to failing health, Stuart studied under a number of roots music masters Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, to name a few, before joining Johnny Cashs backing band in 1980.
Although he released a couple of solo albums during that period, it wasnt until he cut 1986s self-titled Columbia Records debut that he started to turn heads in Nashville. Arlene was a minor hit, but a dispute with Columbia derailed the albums follow-up, and Stuart briefly rejoined White as a fiddle player before giving Nashville another go. That time, he struck gold.
MCA Records released Hillbilly Rock in 1989, and the next year it produced two Top 20 hits, including a Top 10 with the title track. So began a string of singles that put Stuart in a league of up-and-coming country artists touted as new traditionalists guys like Randy Travis, Vince Gill and Travis Tritt. Stuart never enjoyed the mega-sales of some of his contemporaries, however, and by the late 1990s, he had fallen off the country music radar almost altogether.
I had one last effort for MCA, and after that, regardless of its success, I knew a decision would have to be made, he said. The Pilgrim (released in 1999) was the line in the dirt. It started me down a whole different world. It bombed commercially, but it still stands as one of the works Im proudest of.
I tried one more time (with 2003s Country Music) to make an artsy record that balanced out trying to chase the Music Row thing, and at that point, I just threw the gauntlet down. I said I was going to go for it regardless, and in my opinion, ever since its been the happiest days of my life and the most meaningful music Ive ever made.
For starters, he launched his own label, Superlatone Records. Country Music had been credited to Stuart and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, and on his own imprint, he did everything from a gospel album to a record that paid tribute to Sioux culture. He launched his own half-hour cable program, The Marty Stuart Show, for one season highlighting traditional country music and giving himself, his band and his wife (country artist Connie Smith) a platform on which to play and he produced Wagonmaster, country icon Porter Wagoners final studio album.
In other words, Stuart showed Nashville that he didnt need her and that hed be just fine without her. And like most guys who choose self-improvement over self-flagellation in the wake of a painful parting, Stuart has again turned Music Citys head. Hes not being courted for big record contracts or country-pop stardom, but hes a darling of the younger set and respected by the suits once again. And he continues to do things his own way.
We filed our mark with country music, he said. I stuck my sword in the dirt and said, This is where well stand. It serves a certain segment of the audience, and I know the country music Im making doesnt apply to everybody. By skill and craft I could go out and be a part of whats popular, but by way of heart, thats not really where Im at.
Country musics umbrella is pretty broad; if you go all the way back to the Bristol sessions, youll hear theres something for everybody in there. To me, the empowering force of country music still matters and will continue to matter after the poppy end of it goes away and loses its charm. The traditional element, the roots of country music that really is my leaning. It just amounted to getting back in my own skin and doing it again.
By Steve Wildsmith
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