by Millie Voliva-Wiggs
He is an extraordinarily gifted artist and one of the best instrumentalists in the business. “Real country,” “real music” and “real artist” are just a few ways that have been used to describe Marty Stuart.
He and his Superlatives will kick off 2020 Americana Tour with the The Steve Miller Band but along the way (for Virginia fans and more), March 14 at the Old Dominion Barn Dance is the real place to be. Stuart is scheduled for two shows that day — one at 1:15pm and one at 6:45pm.
Stuart is a icon — a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, photographer, essayist, collector, preservationist and defender of music’s rich traditions.
He is sure to fill you in with his latest project: “The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey.” An illustrated book that's more than just one landmark album. It's about art, discovery, artistic integrity and a Stuart vision.
It also includes a CD of the original album and unreleased bonus material. Hopefully there will be some available for purchase the day of the show.
To say he was ‘born a star’ would be a correct description according to his mom.
John ‘Marty Stuart’ was born on September 30, 1958 in Philadelphia, Mississippi to proud parents John and Hilda.
Mom says as an infant, he would hold on to "this little music box and wouldn't let go. We would keep winding and winding it for him. We have pictures of him lying in his crib holding that music box and listening to 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' over and over. He just loved it."
Stuart earned his first ‘play’ guitar at age three and by age five, he was ready for a REAL guitar. Stuart began teaching himself to play the guitar — and mandolin just a few years later. His life focus became music.
By sixth grade, Stuart wrote an essay about ‘what songs he would sing, the kind of music he would make, the awards he would win and where he was going to live.’
His after-school play was enjoying the sounds of Flatt & Scruggs and Johnny Cash on the stereo — he even remembers giving away his copy of “Meet The Beatles.”
His parents loved music too and took him to see Bill Monroe perform. At the show Mr. Monroe's mandolin pick found a place in Stuart’s hand. It became the gift that he always carried in his pocket.
He is a strong musician that turned professional at the age of 12. He spent time touring with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass-gospel group, as a mandolin player. They played festivals and Pentecostal churches in the South. Stuart would perform with them on weekends and during the summer.
It was life-changing.
"I felt like I had found my life. I felt like I had run away with the circus. But when school started . . . I hated it. I didn't fit in any more," Stuart reflected later.
Marty first saw Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass at Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Festival in 1971.
"I stood by his bus to watch him come out," Stuart reveals. "When Lester finally came out of the bus, the speech I'd planned for about seven years kind of got lost inside of me. I did manage to get an autograph."
He also met the man who would play a pivotal role in launching his professional career — Roland White — a member of Flatt’s band. White obviously saw talent in Marty.
It was during one of these festivals that Stuart ran into Roland White again. This time White gave Stuart his phone number and told him to call him if he could ever come out on the road with them for a weekend.
Stuart could think of nothing else. He daydreamed about what it would be like. He decides to call Roland White — the invitation was still open but he had to convince his mom and dad to let him go.
It was a tough decision for his parents but they knew that it was his dream. Upon Stuart’s arrival in Nashville, he saw the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. Another life changer.
Labor Day road trip in 1972 to Delaware ended when Flatt offered Stuart a full-time job with his band.
He agonized over whether his parents would allow him to pursue his vision.
"I knew they would do what was right," Marty says. "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."
Stuart performed with Lester until his death in 1979. At age 20, he had lost a hero, a mentor, a father-figure and a friend. He knew it was time to move on. He went on the road with fiddler Vassar Clements, worked with Doc and Merle Watson, toured with Bob Dylan, played as a session musician on albums by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Billy Joel.
Stuart recalls daydreaming about meeting his hero, Johnny Cash — and meet him, he did. Once Cash heard Stuart play guitar, he invited him to join his band. He traveled all over the world and moved in the social circles he only dreamed about as a child.
After a six-year stint with Cash, Stuart decided to move on. He signed a recording contract with CBS Records and in 1986, they released the album MARTY STUART. His first single "Arlene" broke the Billboard Top 20 and he was nominated for “Best New Male Vocalist” by the Academy of Country Music. The album garnered little success after that and CBS scrapped the upcoming project LET THERE BE COUNTRY (it has since been released on Columbia Records).
Marty at 10, shows his new Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album to his sister, Jennifer. 1968.
“Even back then, I knew I would know Johnny Cash," he says. "He was my ex-band leader, my mentor, my first country music hero. He was even my father-in-law for about 15 minutes. I loved Johnny Cash and I miss him.”
Marty Stuart and wife Connie Smith
Life was in low gear for the singer and he decided to return home to Mississippi for guidance and to pray for a sign from God.
That sign came thru a call from his friend Jerry Sullivan, from the Sullivan group he first played with, wanting to know if he knew of a mandolin player that could join them — and Marty said, "ME!"
He was back to performing music and he ready to take on the world once more.
Stuart’s solo career from 1989 to 2000 was with MCA Records. With four gold
albums and countless hit singles, his career continued to grow.
Returning with 1989's Hillbilly Rock, Stuart reached the top 10 of the country music charts with the album's title track. From Bluegrass to Country he won over music fans with 1991's TEMPTED, which featured "Burn Me Down" and "Little Things."
Partnering with Travis Tritt, Stuart won his first Grammy Award for “Best Country Vocal Collaboration” for "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'" in 1992. The pair toured together and scored another big hit with their "This One Is Going to Hurt (For a Long, Long Time)" that same year.
In 1993, Stuart won another Grammy Award for “Best Country Instrumental Performance.” He joined forces with Chet Atkins, Vince Gill, and several other artists for the song "Red Wing."
The country music legend conquered another feet when he married the Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry — Connie Smith. They met when Smith performed at the fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, July 24, 1970.
Stuart recalls getting his mom to buy him a special yellow shirt so Smith would be sure to notice him. He also told his mom that evening that he was going to marry Connie Smith. They were married on July 8, 1997.
Smith calls him a “genius” and his fans agree. His love is never ending. There is always time to sign an autograph or listen or give encouragement to an up-and-comer.
Marty Stuart bridges the strong traditional/bluegrass/gospel past of country music with the new rockabilly, Southern Rock and contemporary sounds. No matter when you see him one thing is for sure, the history of country music lives within him.
…and the beat goes on.
Marty Stuart will be going on tour with Steve Miller Band this summer!
Grab your tickets at martystuart.net/tour
Stuart also recorded duets with Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and B. B. King. He worked behind the scenes, serving as producer for songs by George Ducas, Pam Tillis, and Jerry and Tammy Sullivan.
Stuart worked on film soundtracks for a range of movies from the Steven Seagal action film “Fire Down Below” (1997) to the Western drama “All The Pretty Horses” (2000). For “All The Pretty Horses,” he received a Golden Globe nomination.
Working again with Scruggs, Stuart earned a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Country Instrumental Performance for their version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Legendary banjo player Scruggs had recorded the song decades earlier when he teamed up with Lester Flatt.
The following year, Stuart formed his own band called the Fabulous Superlatives. He recorded several albums with them, including 2003's “Country Music” and 2006's “Live at the Ryman.” The group has also toured with the likes of Merle Haggard and the Old Crow Medicine Show.
An avid collector of music memorabilia, some of these items were featured in the 2007 exhibition “Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey” at the Tennessee State Museum.
He also served as president of the Country Music Foundation from 1994 to 2001.
An accomplished photographer, Stuart had some of his works published in the 1999 collection PILGRIMS: SINNERS, SAINTS, AND PROPHETS. His images were featured in 2007's COUNTRY MUSIC: THE MASTERS, in which Stuart shared memories from his long career.
His personal collection includes more than 20,000 country music-related artifacts comprising the largest private collection of its kind in the world; presented digital renderings of the project at the Mississippi State Capitol.
The Congress of Country Music will be built in Stuart’s hometown of Philadelphia,
Mississippi, incorporating the town’s historic Ellis Theater and will include a concert venue, museum and the Marty Stuart Center — an educational facility where students can learn about the wide array of available careers in the music industry. The center is endorsed by the Grammy Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Library of Congress.
“There could not be a more meaningful location for the Congress of Country Music than downtown Philadelphia,” Stuart said, according to Jackson‘s WAPT-TV. “Congress means ‘gathering place,’ and that is exactly what we intend to create here. The Congress will be a beacon to country music fans, history lovers and all those invested in the future of American music.”