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Marty Stuart Takes Charge of His Music


by Derek Halsey
February, 2006

Marty Stuart has entered what may be the golden age of his career. He has taken hold of the reins of his musical visions and ideas by starting his own record label, Superlatone Records. Even though he is still in his 40’s, this has been a long time in coming.

Marty Stuart started playing and traveling in a professional band at 12 years of age when he joined the Sullivan Family group in his native Mississippi. He left the Sullivans to join the legendary Lester Flatt and his Nashville Grass band a year or two later, went on to play with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, and then played guitar behind the great Johnny Cash for six years. Along the way he became a noted country music historian, a collector of many famous guitars and other instruments, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, a film score writer, and a performer who charted with great albums such as “Tempted,” “The Pilgrim” and 2003’s “Country Music.” But now, with his own record label, he is finally and truly in charge of his own creative direction.



“Superlatone is my playpen, I call it,” says Stuart from his office at Marty Stuart Tours in Nashville. “If I can think it up I can record it, within reason. It is distributed my Universal. You can make records all day long, but if you don’t have the right distributor what’s the use? So, it makes me feel good to know that anywhere I go my records are represented. It’s about artistic freedom. I feel like I’ve been creatively pardoned. The idea of it is that in the span of things, in the long run, I can look back at this section in time creatively and go ‘Well, this truly represented what was going on inside of me and what I saw as an artist.’ So I am very proud of the work I’ve done so far on Superlatone.”

As a result of this newfound creative freedom Stuart has come out of the shoot with three new CD releases in recent months; “Soul’s Chapel”- an electric guitar-based Mississippi style gospel record, “Badlands” – a Native American themed record inspired by the time Johnny Cash took him to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and “Live At The Ryman” – a bluegrass-based concert recorded at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. All three projects feature his top-of-the-line backup band The Fabulous Superlatones featuring Harry Stinson on drums, Brian Glenn on bass and harmony vocals, and guitar ace Kenny Vaughan.

“I call these three records I’m working off of right now my church house trilogy,” says Stuart. “The Ryman Auditorium record is from the Mother Church of Country Music, ‘Soul’s Chapel’ is from the Mississippi Delta, which is kind of a church within itself, and the Badlands is a sanctuary all its own up in the Northwest.” These three new CD’s have been stewing inside of Stuart for a long time. “Soul’s Chapel is a record that I’ve intended to do for 35 years,” he explains. “The first place I ever played was in church. The first job I ever had on the road was with a gospel band. I produced a gospel record for Johnny Cash. I’ve written a lot of gospel songs with Jerry and Tammy Sullivan and produced records with them. But, I’ve never been given the opportunity to make a record of this kind of music that is well beyond any other kind of music that is way down in my heart.”

However, there was another inspiration for the “Soul’s Chapel” CD that sprang from a friendship with a now deceased music legend combined with a rough time in Stuart’s life. “Pop Staples and the Staples family are like family to me. Years ago I recorded with them on a project called ‘Country Rhythm And Blues’ and we did ‘The Weight’ together and from that day on Pops was one of my best friends,” says Stuart. “I got in trouble down here (in Nashville) for drinking and driving and got out of jail and got on the bus with my lip on the ground and my head hung in shame to go to Chicago the next day. The media was all over it and I was just embarrassed and felt worthless. Awful. And Yvonne and Mavis came to our concert in Chicago the next night. I don’t think they knew anything about what had gone on with me, and they brought me and gave me Pops guitar It really was like God saying, ‘Here son, I still love you. Take this and do something good with your life.’ Hanging Pops guitar around my neck is like hanging a flashlight around my neck. It is an instrument of light, and it is to be taken seriously when used.”

The electric guitar gospel of the album reflects the music of the South that Stuart has heard his whole life. “Well, it’s rock and roll. It’s beyond rock and roll. It is the product of the Mississippi Delta and that is, for my two cents, where all American roots music sprang from. It is where the Staple Singers came from. BB King. Muddy Waters. Elvis Presley. Tammy Wynette. It just all seemed to come from there.”

The idea for the “Badlands” CD came to Stuart after a trip to South Dakota during his 6-year stint as a guitar player in Johnny Cash’s band. It is an inspired set of music about the plight of the American Indian. “I fell in love with the story behind it a long time ago,” explains Stuart. “1983 was the first time I came face to face with it when I was working with John. We played a concert up there on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and it was pointed out to me that the reason we were there was because it was the poorest county in the United States. Being from Mississippi, I understand poor. But it was the first time I’d ever been face to face with people inside the United States that were that poor, that had basically been shoved out in the middle of nowhere to die and signed off on by the U.S. government. But what I saw that night was not an oppressed people so much as it was a lot of dignity and integrity by the original Americans. The very minute that you and I speak, it is still the poorest county in the United States of America. Nothing seems to change up there. Do I think this record is going to change anything up there? I doubt it. It’s just another log on the fire of hope, is the way I see it. I know for a fact that it has encouraged certain people up there just to keep going for another season. It has raised an awareness. Most people, most citizens outside of that culture just don’t understand or know that anything like that exists in the United States.”

Buy Marty Stuart's Badlands at AMAZON.COM

On that first trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation Stuart was so touched by the young folks he met that he went back on the tour bus and brought out his suitcase and gave away everything he had with him. It was a day he will never forget. “Johnny and I were both introduced to the tribe by the same man, John L. Smith, who collaborated with me on this record,” says Stuart. “John was introduced to the tribe in 1968. I was introduced in 1983. Johnny Cash didn’t really give me any instructions or information about what I was riding into. I could look at the results of some of his comings and goings up there and glean for myself what I was in for. That very night, after we got there, these kids followed me to the bus like I was the pied piper or something. These kids up there, it’s like going to a third world country. Anybody that has candy in their pockets they’ll follow around. So, for some reason they followed me and when I turned around and started to get on the bus they were looking at me. And, with those eyes all staring at me, the only thing I knew to do was give them everything I had.”

The third CD that has been released on the Superlatone label is “Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatones – Live At The Ryman.” The Ryman Auditorium was the long time home of the Grand Ole Opry back in the last century before the Opry moved to its current home in the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Because of that the Ryman is known as the ‘Mother Church Of Country Music.’ This live album features Stuart breaking out his mandolin and slinging some bluegrass with a special guest – the legendary Dobro pioneer of the Flatt and Scruggs band, Uncle Josh Graves. “The Ryman Auditorium is a magical place to me,” explains Stuart. “It’s my home showplace. I can go anywhere on Earth and the Ryman is home to me. We came in off the road to do a one-off night and booked a bluegrass concert and I threw together a band and we rehearsed for 15 minutes in the dressing room and didn’t have time to learn any new songs. So, we just went out there and had fun. It was captured and I listened back to it and it was like, ‘Wow!’ The spirit of this…if I had it to do over again I could get the sound better. I could choose new and different and broader songs. But for what this is, it’s a great reflection of the spirit of the music and the times at the Ryman. The pickin’ is pretty good on it. I always find a spot for the mandolin. It’s my magic wand.”

These days Marty Stuart is well aware of the fact that a lot of the older generation of music legends and pioneers are leaving us. From the deaths of John and June Carter Cash to Jimmy Martin and others, the torch is being passed on to Marty’s generation. “It’s the natural order of things. Once again it goes back to the Native American way of life to me. If you look at it, you start out as a little scout, then become a water boy and a brave, and you earn your way to being a warrior and the end of the line is being a chief. Along the way, I was taught that you honor the chiefs until they are all gone. And then, guess who, should that be set aside for me. I look around this community and I see people like Ricky Skaggs and Alan Jackson, myself, Vince Gill, and there are just a few people, and I think the responsibility becomes ours to pass it on to the next generation of musicians. I think it is a great thing. I look forward to it. In the meantime, we still do have enough old chiefs around here that there is some honoring to be done first. It’s scary, and it hurts to feel them go.”

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