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Marty Stuart loves honky tonkin' best

By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 1996

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Stuart offered another explanation for the difference on this release. "We recorded it at night," he said. "That made a lot of difference. I didn't start recording until the sun went down. There's an energy. It flows. A couple will stand the test of time real well. It feels like a successful record to me. Last time, it felt like a very proper record. This is very nice music. This record sounds like a successful (disc)."

"Honky Tonkin's" infused with an energy, both vocally and musically, not found as often on previous affairs.

Stuart even shows a tender side on a few love ballads, "Shelter From the Storm," which is acoustic based, "You Can't Stop Love," the mid-tempo "I'll Be There For You" and the closing, soft sounding "So Many People" with Stuart's mandolin spicing the song.

The album, of course, has its more honky tonk, hillbilly rock moments as well. While last time around, Stuart did the instrumental "Marty Stuart Goes to the Moon," here he boards his "Rocket Ship,"an ode to carnal pleasure and the late Del Shannon's bouncy "Sweet Love," about a man pleading for it, but being hung "out there like a puppet on a string."

The latter was not the original version from the man who gave us "The Runaway." "It came to me, and it was called "Cheap Love," Stuart says. "I didn't like the lyrics. It sounded like a hit, but the lyrics were all negative. I turned into 'Sweet Love.' I talked with Tom Petty (who recorded it with Shannon) about it. He said, 'I don't think Del would care.' I said, 'good.'"

"I couldn't talk to Del," Stuart joked.

Stuart also delves into the blues with "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" on which bluegrass legend "King" Jimmy Martin starts off with a spoken intro about his dogs, which he names after the country stars he thinks they sound like when they bark.

Definitely different.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Stuart says, when asked where the song came from. "I was over at Jimmy Martin's house over Christmas. When they barked, they sang like country music people to his ears. I thought it was pretty funny. This thing has got to have some words to go with it. I don't have a clue in the world. Popped out of nowhere. It means nothing other than it's a way into get into "Rocket Ship."

The disc, produced by MCA label executive Tony Brown and Justin Niebank, contains more of a focus on Stuart's singing than previous releases. It's a voice that has improved with age.

"I feel like I enjoy more singing now than I ever have," says Stuart. "I used to really (dislike when) my singing would come on, and I'd walk out of the room. I just didn't feel comfortable listening to it. Nowadays, I feel comfortable. I think it's just confidence."

Stuart is backed on four of the 11 tracks by various members of his crack band - guitarist Brad Davis, Bassist Steve Arnold, drummer Gregg Stocki and steel player Gary Hogue. The band was a powerhouse in concert with Stuart letting the band play out, not roping them in.

The idea of using one's band to record country discs is exceedingly rare. Lee Roy Parnell did with his last album to much success. Dwight Yoakam also utilizes his backing band.

"I wanted to use them more," Stuart says of his band. "You ride down the road together for 200 days a year. You get inside of each other's minds, inside of each other's abilities. You watch each other grow. There's something that can't be replaced with a studio player."

Besides his own recording, Stuart has become busy with other projects. Last year, he started the Marty Party television specials. The specials featured artists who he personally liked with them playing together. The most recent one in June included Shelby Lynn, Delbert McClinton and Parnell.

But Stuart indicated five shows were about enough.

He also has been producing country legend of yesteryear Connie Smith, who will have a new disc on Warner Brothers after a long hiatus. He also may produce a tribute record to Hank Williams Sr.

Stuart has a well-earned for being outside of the country music mainstream. In fact, his upbringing was in bluegrass. At age 12 in 1972, he joined Lester Flatt for a weekend gig on the road.

That quickly turned into a full-time gig with Flatt until he died in 1979.

An epiphany of sorts occurred in 1972 when the band played at Michigan State sandwiched between Gram Parsons and The Eagles. The crowed responded enthusiastically, leaving its mark on Stuart.

Following his stint with Flatt, Stuart released his first album on a tiny album and did session work for such artists as Johnny Cash. Stuart later joined the Man in Black's band and eventually became - for awhile anyway - his son-in-law.

Stuart released albums on Sugar Hill and later Columbia, but did not break through until "Hillbilly Rock" for MCA in 1989. The title track and "Western Girls" were hits.

He followed that with "Tempted," in 1990, yielding four top 10 hits, "Little Things," "Till I Found You" "Burn Me Down" and the title track.

While he has been anything but a follower, being outside the mainstream doesn't please the straight talking Mississippian one bit. "Shit, I'm trying hard to be (in the mainstream)," he said. "I'm trying to be original, but I'm trying to make music that works out there."

While he grew up in the tradition of the past, he is not stuck there. "I don't think it should be the way it was," he said.

While not bemoaning the state of country, that doesn't mean he likes all of it by any stretch. "There are plenty of people out there to make disposable country music and get rich quick...and plenty of people who make artsy music too," he said.

"I think the heart and soul of country music is in good hands," he said alluding to the likes of Patty Loveless, Lorrie Morgan, Alan Jackson, Tritt and himself. "I think it's the natural order of things. I think the hat acts have their place and will always be there. You can just change the face under the hats. There will always be George Strait and Alan Jackson and thank God."

Stuart is doing his part by touring with his brother until next winter with dates expected in Canada and Europe.

Stuart says he already sees differences between No Hats and Double Trouble. "I think we're better," Stuart says. "I really do. I think Travis' voice is settled and focused. I think I'm more settled and focused."

"As far as the buddyship, that never missed a beat," Stuart says. "We kept all that going. There is that. Country music has changed a million times. It's amazing that anybody's still got a job. We're pretty happy about that."

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