Marty Stuart chats about his upcoming UK tour and performing with Johnny Cash!
At this year's C2C undeniably the stand out act was Marty Stuart. The legend who began his career playing for artists such as Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash has had a long and successful career as a solo artist as well. When he was first announced for the festival which arguably focuses on more modern artists in the genre, it split opinions within the country music community in the UK with many stating they probably wouldn't enjoy his more traditional sounding set. When I first met Marty in the press conference before the show I knew that he would shut those people up the moment he walked out on stage. The man had a personality that shone from a mile away, you were compelled to listen to what he had to say and when he spoke he spoke with such wisdom. Sure enough after the festival all the talk was about Marty Stuart, the people who had done their research, the people who were already fans and those who had doubted his style all agreed that he had far exceeded their expectations! Now he is back and I caught up with him, a hint of nerves in my voice to talk about his return to the UK and his experiences in the music industry.
You’ve been in the music industry since you were a teenager but how did you first get into Country music?
Well there was a radio station in my hometown down in Mississippi that was so cool, it was very eclectic. It came on the air with Country music and in the afternoon it played gospel and then top 40, RnB and Rock and it signed off with classical music so I had everything to listen to and I loved it all but there was something about Country music that really made me stop and listen, it spoke to my heart. I related to the stories the songs told, I related to the dexterity of the musicians and I like the way those people looked on TV. I liked everything about the World of Country Music.
You played a lot in other people’s back bands but did you always want to be a solo artist?
Oh yeah I was practicing my autograph in the 3rd Grade! I’m glad I got to start out as a musician in a couple of other bands. I mean the only bands I got to work with for real were Lester Flatt’s band and Johnny Cash’s band and that taught me just about everything I needed to know about show business.
How did playing in other peoples backing bands influence your music?
It was like being a student, Lester Flatt was one of the master architects that helped shape Country music. He taught me the very basic wisdom of show business and how to treat people and how to treat fans. One of the things I loved about Lester Flatt was his consistency you know he started his career in 1945 and it lasted until the day he died in the late 70s. The greatest piece of advice he gave me he said it’s not about coming to Nashville and having all the awards and all the hits and the money and then being forgotten it’s about being welcomed back every January 1st. That spoke a lot about his consistency and Johnny Cash was much the same, he was a very practical man when it came to show business and matters of life. The thing I learned from Johnny Cash, he was one of the most fearless, creative human beings that I’ve known in my life so he taught me to follow my heart at any cost when it came time to create.
When it comes to Songwriting is the process different for you every time and where do you draw inspiration from lyrically?
Well songs are the most mysterious of things I think they’re gifts from God and I never know when one’s going to come down for a visit. So I’ve learned to keep a pen and paper and a guitar in range coz I never know if words are going to come first or the music or just a riff but after all these years I wish I could tell you how to write songs but I think one of the greatest answers came from Hank Williams one time and the journalist asked Hank Williams how do you write those sad songs and he said I don’t write them, God writes them and I just hang on to the pen.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
Well there’s a song on my new record called Way Out West and that’s kind of a strange song, I didn’t know what I was writing when it was on the paper but I thought well I’ll follow it and see where it goes. It’s kind of a weird song it’s about taking pills.
When you were at Country 2 Country I asked you how your mindset changes from playing in someone like Johnny Cash’s backing band to performing your own material centre stage and you said that ultimately it’s about the song not who’s playing it or standing where. But when you’re performing what are you thinking about, do you take in the moment and the crowd or are you thinking about the chords, the lyrics and what comes next?
There’s a saying you know if you’re an actor you’ve got to know your lines before you go on so you don’t have to think about them anymore, they just become a part of you. I think the songs that are a part of me that I don’t have to think about anymore are the best ones. I try to do my job for the crowd, take them somewhere, take their minds off the troubles that they had when they came in the door that night and entertain them.
Your latest album is fantastic I have it signed and framed on my bedroom wall.
Aww that’s sweet.
Do you have a favourite song off that album and can you tell me the story behind it?
That’s a hard one, that’s a really hard one because there’s so many cool songs on that record. I like Time Don’t Wait but also there’s a song that’s quiet called Old Mexico that kind of transports me to Old Mexico and I like it for a lot of reasons but I like it because it’s quiet and more of a ballad that draws you in and I like the harmonies that the guys sing and the guitar parts are kind of spooky so if you ask me tomorrow it’ll probably be a different answer but today Old mexico sounds good to me.
Do you notice any differences between US and UK audiences?
Well they’re more similar these days. This is something I didn’t know, we took a chance before we came to do C2C because it’d been a while since I’d been there and things change in a short amount of time as you know so I didn’t know if the traditional and all of the new Country music fans in the UK would respond to my music and they did and I think I was reminded that there’s a lot of fans over there that still appreciate traditional Country music as well as the contemporary side of it which my band is a little of both with a lean towards the traditional so I’m always impressed when I come back home. The American audience can learn a lot from the European audience because they do their research, they do their homework and they know what they’re listening to and they know why they’re listening.
How have you seen the music industry change over the years that you’ve been working in it, has it changed for the better or is it just different?
Everything is different. It’s 45 years ago this weekend that I came to Nashville and every thing is different but the look of Country music is different, the sound of Country music is different. There’s a more global acceptance than it’s ever had before the negative is that I think the roots of Country music have been overshadowed by pop culture a little bit. But what has not changed is the Grand Ole Opry’s still the same, The Country Music Hall Of Fame is still the same concept but the thing that hasn’t changed and will never change is what you and I were talking about a minute ago is the song. The song still matters.
What are you listening to at the moment, in your down time what album would you pick up?
Well oddly enough there is a new project coming out in the UK it’s called Marty Stuart Now That’s Country The Definitive Collection it’s 43 or 44 songs and I had to, for the first time in many years, slow down and put all my records in front of me and listen to them so I could choose songs to put on this record I was telling you about so the quick answer is I’ve been listening to me! And I still hear a lot of room for improvement but it brought me face to face with a lot of songs I’d forgotten about that I was very fond of. But when I get by myself and nobody’s looking I still listen to Johnny Cash Folsom Prison and Merle Haggard, they’re still my favourites, they inspire me.
What’s next for you?
Well after we play in Europe, we go back home and we do 12 or 14 shows with Chris Stapleton and as soon as that’s over we’re working on another record it’s a Hillbilly Surf record and I like it so we’re back to the studio to take care of that.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me!
Thank you for hanging me on your wall!