Stuart, Marty (1958-)
Stuart, Marty (1958-)
Beneath a rock 'n' roll hairdo that makes donning a cowboy hat impossible, and with a collection of flamboyant jackets that would have made Liberace jealous, Marty Stuart emerged in the 1980s as a talented country instrumentalist—he plays both guitar and mandolin—songwriter, and performer. Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1958, Stuart first picked up a mandolin at the age of five. By 1972, the 13-year-old was playing the instrument with legendary bluegrass guitarist Lester Flatt. After Flatt's death in 1979, Stuart signed on as a guitarist with one of his all-time heroes, country-music great Johnny Cash and remained with Cash's band for six years before leaving in 1986 to begin a solo career. Stuart has also performed with such stars as Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, guitarist Doc Watson, Billy Joel, Neil Young, fiddler Vassar Clements, and Emmylou Harris. Songs penned by Stuart have been recorded by Harris as well as Wynonna Judd, George Strait, and Buck Owens.
Stuart produced his first solo album, Busy Bee Cafe, in 1982, while still a member of Cash's band. For this album, he enlisted the help of fellow pickers like guitarists Doc Watson and Cash, Dobroist Jerry Douglas, and banjo-great Carl Jackson, catching the eye of CBS Records, which signed him on and produced Marty Stuart four years later. In 1990, with his first MCA effort, Hillbilly Rock, Stuart caught fire with country-music listeners in a big way. His "hillbilly music—with a thump!," as he called it, had fans clamoring for more, and he served it up on the 1991 release, Tempted. The album allowed Stuart to focus on his own distinct style, especially in its best-known single, "Burn Me Down," which had a long run on country radio.
This One's Gonna Hurt You, Stuart's first gold record, was driven up the charts by the momentum of Tempted and the celebrated "No Hats" tour he made with fellow country artist Travis Tritt. Released in 1993, This One's Gonna Hurt You blends the best of bluegrass, delta blues, and 1950s rockabilly with honky-tonk swing, ringing gospel harmonies and some gutsy guitar work. One of the album's most popular cuts, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore"—sung with fellow "No-Hatter" Tritt—earned Stuart a Grammy award, his first Country Music Association Award, and three BMI songwriter awards. But Stuart's proudest moment had already come: in 1992 he became the 72nd performer to be honored by membership in Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, the "high church" of country music.
The kudos heaped on This One's Gonna Hurt You made it a tough act for Stuart to follow, and he postponed release of his seventh album, Love and Luck (1994), until he could get the mix of songs just right. Other recordings made in the 1990s, including The Marty Party Hit Pack, continue to provide a musical panorama of country influences that all come together under the musicianship of Stuart and his ever-changing, four-star lineup of collaborators, among them blue-grass fiddler Stuart Duncan, country vocalists Vince Gill, guitarist Ricky Skaggs, and banjoist Bela Fleck.
Throughout his career in country music, Stuart has consistently striven to keep alive the musical traditions of old-time country, traditions that continue to influence him greatly. On stage he plays country-rock pioneer Clarence White's 1954 Fender Telecaster, and he owns several Martins that belonged to Hank Williams, Sr. and Lester Flatt. His tour bus is modeled on the one used by honky-tonker Ernest Tubb. He still likens his career to the tours he used to make with the Sullivans, a family of bluegrass gospel singers, during the 1980s. "You know, sometimes I feel like it's a crusade, or a mission, a crusade for hillbilly music," he once told an interviewer.
—Pamela L. Shelton
Barnard, Russell, D., and others, editors. Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia. New York, Times Books, 1994.
Country: The Music and the Musicians: From the Beginnings to the '90s. New York, Abbeville Press, 1994.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon. Country Music: The Encyclopedia, third edition. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997.