Courtesy of Fort Lewis College
Courtesy of Fort Lewis College
Marty Stuart is country music.
The musician, producer, television show host and collector eats, lives and breathes the genre. He leads a band that has produced some legends and amassed some fascinating memorabilia along the way – from Johnny Cash’s first black stage suit to Maybelle Carter’s autoharp to Clarence White’s Telecaster: Stuart is a noble ambassador of classic country music in its finest form.
Stuart will play the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday night with his band The Fabulous Superlatives. Backing Stuart, who sings and plays guitar, is Kenny Vaughan on electric guitar, Harry Stinson on drums and Paul Martin on bass. Guitarist Vaughan slays on the Fender Telecaster, easily ranking up there with the Bill Kirchens and Danny Gattons of the world.
The Mississippi-born Stuart played in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band as a teenager in the 1970s then spent five years with Cash before starting his solo career. His knowledge of the genre, the “true” country genre, is encyclopedic–a vast collection of what, where and when with whom. He’s the unofficial ambassador of classic country, truthful to the sound and its innovators.
“Country has always been my favorite music. The first record I ever owned was a Flatt and Scruggs record, and the second record was a Johnny Cash record, that’s the truth,” Stuart said last week from Nashville.“Then I got ‘Meet the Beatles,’ I liked it, it entertained my head, but there was something about country music in that end of things that touched my heart.”
His memorabilia collection, now numbering 20,000 pieces, comes from wanting to preserve the items of his heroes, many of whom he met as a kid playing around Nashville.
“Those people that raised me, the guitars, their suits, their manuscripts and treasures were winding up in thrift stores or sold to foreign countries, and it seemed like the family treasures were being squandered,” he said.“So I simply went after them because I loved those people and didn’t want that part of our culture and that part of our heritage to get away.”
It is those heroes, and all their collectables, who influence his sound now. He’s a strong critic who acknowledges where country started going wrong in the early 1980s.
“Traditional country music was fading away, being disregarded, and that seemed really wrong to me. That’s what led me and the band to make the kind of music we’re making right now,” Stuart said.“The idea is to make sure the elders and the legends get honored with dignity, and at the same time to shine a light on the path and tell anyone that’s young and playing this kind of music in their heart if it appeals to him say ‘Hey, it’s alive and well, come on we’ve got something good over here.’”
That music he makes is a nice mesh of classic country with early Memphis rockabilly and rock n’ roll thrown in, played by a ridiculously tight rhythm section and two humbling guitar players in Stuart and Vaughan. It’s what you’d expect from someone from the same state as Elvis who grew up around country royalty.
“That’s my Mississippi roots showing,” he said.“In reality everything that comes from Mississippi has a lot of that in it, whether it’s gospel or country it comes with that flavor. That’s the rhythm.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.