Marty Stuart: 'The road is my office, my cathedral of dreams'
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Until he went out on his own, country music icon Marty Stuart had never played the honky-tonk scene.
That's not the typical route into the country business, but then again, Stuart's route was anything but typical.
A child prodigy, he began performing on the road at age 12 with the Sullivan Family gospel singers, then with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt at age 13.
Young Marty Stuart with Lester Flatts on "The Porter Wagoner Show"
Following Flatt's death, Stuart started touring with Johnny Cash and performed with the likes of Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins throughout his 20s. It wasn't until the 1980s that Stuart struck off on his own and skyrocketed to the top of the charts with "Hillbilly Rock," "Tempted" and "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."
Then, at the height of his fame, Stuart stepped back — but he never went away. He formed a new band, his Fabulous Superlatives, and started over, this time playing the honky-tonk circuit.
"The best place you can possibly train a band is a honky-tonk, and when I formed my band, that's where I headed," Stuart said. "If they can cut it there, they can cut it anywhere."
And, nearly 15 years later, they're still going strong and still playing the occasional honky-tonk, as they will Thursday with a 9 p.m. show
at Hoots Pub, 2424 S. Hobbs Road. Tickets (available here) are $30. (UPDATE: Hoots, which is temporarily closed for renovations, won't host the concert after all. Instead, it will move about a block to Guitars and Cadillacs, 3601 S. Olsen Blvd.; presale tickets will be honored, and tickets will be available at the door.)
"Country music, or the kind I love, was built around the blue-collar worker, and at the end of the week, that's when everybody got to let their hair down, get away from working 40 hours and making way too little money," Stuart said. "(The honky-tonk) has a freewheeling atmosphere, and the music kind of becomes the spark plug. ... We're totally founded on that as a band."
He credited the success of the Bakersfield sound (think Buck Owens) to the Telecaster guitars that could cut through the noise of a busy bar. One thing you'll note when talking to Stuart is his deep knowledge and appreciation for country music's history.
"It's what I wanted to do from the time I was a little boy," Stuart said.
He grew up in Philadelphia, Miss., and grew obsessed with the bands that would come through and play local fairs.
"Something inside me sunk when I saw them leave and I had to stay in my hometown," Stuart said.
He wasn't much older than that when he went on the road with the Sullivans, then later (after a slight deception played on his understanding mother) with Flatts.
You see, after a summer of touring Mississippi and the South with the Sullivans, Stuart just couldn't be bothered with his schoolwork.
"I was useless, was just taking up space," he said. "I got sent home for reading a country music song (stuck inside) my history book. ... The teacher said if you get your mind off that garbage and on history, you might make something of yourself. My smart mouth said I'd rather make history than study it."
When he went home, he remembered an encounter with Roland White, who played mandolin with Flatts. If Stuart were ever to come to Nashville, White said to give him a call — so Stuart did, only the way he told his mama, the call came from Flatts himself.
"There was a lot of begging and pleading, and as I recall it was Labor Day 1972, and my parents agreed to it, and during the course of that weekend, Lester heard me play and put me on stage," Stuart said.
A couple of decades later, Stuart was one of the hottest acts in country music.
"Those were good times," he recalled. "They were exactly what I was shooting for at that moment of my life."
"Tempted," Marty Stuart
Stuart said he knew that he needed big radio hits to find success, and "we did a lot of damage," he said.
But it felt hollow.
"We were in Foxborough, Mass., in the stadium, around 1999 or 2000, and man, I turned around, had a stadium full of people hollering and screaming, twin stacks (of speakers) — we were loud," Stuart said. "And it made me sick at my stomach.
"I said, man you are so far away from who you really are. This is not rock 'n' roll, this is not country. You are about to lose yourself, your legacy and your soul," Stuart recalled. "It was time for a time out."
So Stuart went home to Mississippi, got rid of his band, his record deal, his manager — "and I did the unthinkable — I started over."
Soon, he formed his Fabulous Superlatives, "and the last 12 years have been the best of my life."
"At the end of the day, we did something, we stood for something," Stuart said. "It was traditional country music that brought me back to life, basically."
He's still madly in love with the music and touring the country.
"The road is my office, my cathedral of dreams," Stuart said. "The difference now is that I go to bed after I finish a show and have someone to come home to.
"When I was 12, I discovered girls and that I could get paid for this — for wearing goofy-looking clothes and making music," he said. "I absolute was made for it."