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Marty Stuart makes country music

By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2003

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After one self-released disc and "Busy Bee Café" on Sugar Hill in 1982, Stuart eventually signed with Columbia, which released "Marty Stuart" in 1986.

When things with Sony didn't work out, Stuart went to MCA where he enjoyed his greatest success. From 1990 to 1992, he scored top 10s with "Hillbilly Rock," "Little Things," "Tempted" and his biggest hit, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," recorded with soul mate Travis Tritt. He had another hit with Tritt as well, "This One's Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)" and on his own with "Burn Me Down."

But after enjoying moderate success with "Now That's Country" (as you can see, Stuart's been plying for country music for a long time), Stuart continued a downward spiral commercially, culminating in "The Pilgrim."

Stuart says he feels he's at a better place now with Sony. "First and foremost, they let me alone, and I think that's great."

"I always had the benefit of an A&R staff that I'd never had the benefit of before," says Stuart, referring to the label staff that signs artists and also helps them with recording.

Having written 5 of the 12 songs on "Country Music," Stuart relied on staff to find "Tip Your Hat," Mike Henderson's "Wishful Thinking" and "If There Ain't."

"Tony Brown (former MCA label head) and MCA just depended on me to bring it all in," says Stuart. "The upside to that is it's totally my product, but the downside is a lot of work to put on any artist when they tour. It's the hardest thing."

"Finding 5 or 10 great songs, finding things that will stand the test of time is the hardest thing of all," says Stuart.

When "Tip Your Hat" was presented to Stuart, he, at first, begged off. "I thought I've talked this kind of language for so long," says Stuart. "I passed on the song."

But the more Stuart listened the song of former Boy Howdy lead singer Jeffrey Steele, the more he liked it.

While calling it "well written," Stuart put his own stamp on it. The second half mentioned bands like Charlie Daniels Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival, 'which are absolutely valid bands, but I wanted to rewrite the song...and make it more traditional. The song felt like a sermon that I wanted to preach."

Stuart had another motive in mind as well in recording the song.

"I didn't know that I wanted to tackle that again," he says of the subject matter. "Why just tell the same old joke one more time? The more I thought about it, the more I listened to it...it became a vehicle to use (Dobroist) Uncle Josh Graves and Earl (Scruggs) on the record, and that made a lot of sense to me. It gave it a platform. Go back to my old alma mater of the Foggy Bottom Boys. Josh and Earl are true masterful teachers. I can tell it, but you can also hear it."

When Stuart was 13, he left his home to hit the road with Lester Flatt of Flatt & Scruggs fame.

Merle Haggard also appears on the album singing "Farmer's Blues" with Stuart. That's an outgrowth of the Electric Barnyard tour they are doing this summer.

"It just seemed like country music marketing 101," says Stuart. "If we tour, we should sing a song together. It was a song that Connie and me wrote. That I think that is one of the finer things I've ever been a part of. Of course, with Merle on it, it gives it another whole level of credibility and interest."

The Barnyard tour also includes bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent, BR549 and Smith.

"A year ago when I first put the new band (the Fabulous Superlatives) together, my request to the booking agent was to hype me. We don't have any records out. The '90s have run their course, and we're basically starting over again. I said let's go back to places where there is not so much pressure. Be ourselves. We started playing small towns across America. I noticed people were starting to come again. The more I played these small towns, the more I fell in love with the atmosphere of small town America. I also saw it as a life that country music had gone off and kind of forgotten. Everything is so urban and pop driven that our original country audience has been left behind."

After thinking about the old Grand Ole Opry shows with Roy Acuff, Stuart went with the idea of having making "a hillbilly circus out of it. The first person I thought about was Merle because he's written the soundtrack to the common people. We've put a blue collar price on the ticket. Made it a very affordable."

Stuart closes "Country Music" with the haunting, mournful "Walls of a Prison," a song recorded by Stuart's ex-father in law, also known as Johnny Cash, about 40 years ago.

The melody is the same as "Streets of Laredo" with the song about a prisoner determined to break out.

"This my very favorite Johnny Cash song ever ever ever. The way it came about is in truth is a happy accident. We had a recording session booked one night, and it was full of musicians. I didn't have anything else to record, and we had more time on the clock. I said, 'let me play you this one.' What you real is the original recordings, live performance, no overdubs, second take."

Stuart clearly is happy with the end result of "Country Music." "The main thing on my docket right now is this tour and make this record happen hopefully," he says.

"I totally feel like there is plenty of commercial (possibility)," he says of "Country Music." "I think it's balanced out with heart and soul. There are songs - 'If There Ain't,' 'By George,' 'Here I Am' - as commercial as you could ask. We'll see."

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