Marty Stuart, Country’s Answer to a Blues Griot, Plays The Egg January 30th

“When I heard that Jim Burns was going to do a show about country music or was considering it, I wrote a fan letter, and three months later I got a reply,” says Marty Stuart, country music’s answer to a blues griot.  

“Four months later, there was a knock at my front door. (PBS documentary wizard) Jim Burns came to my house and we played country music, had cheeseburgers, and talked. We went to work the next morning, and we worked on that show for eight years. The first thing I did, I told him, “I can’t fly a spaceship, but I am the (beacon) of country music. If I don’t know it, I can get you to it. The first thing I did was make a list. ‘Here are the people you need to talk to yesterday because they are old, and they need to be talked to.’” 

To Marty, country music is not just a soundtrack for hillbillies drinking in honkytonks on a wild weekend, but rather an American culture. It took blues a long time to understand that. Country (music) is still catching up, and Marty is the point man for that effort.  

“When I heard Ken and his crew were considering this, it was like having the cavalry come across the hill because I knew the minute Ken Burns touched country music, we would be elevated to the ranks of the Roosevelts of jazz and baseball, and that’s how it works with him, and it was a blessing.” 

Marty Stuart is a true Renaissance man whose career has been a fairy tale existence. At the age of 13, he was on the road with bluegrass icon Lester Flatt who told him, “It’s not about coming to Nashville, taking all the money and all the fame and running away. It’s about treating people right along the way. In other words, country music is not always about my dog died and my wife left me.”  

That perspective has landed Marty one platinum and five gold albums, four Grammy Awards, and numerous collaborations. He toured with Johnny Cash for six years in the ’80s, married Johnny’s daughter Cindy, and held Johnny in his arms while recording one of that legend’s last albums when Johnny cried over the death of his beloved wife, June. 

“After June died, we recorded him at my house. Right after June died, we had a recording session. In the middle of the session, his heart was kind of broken. He started missing June and started crying, and I put my guitar down and just grabbed him and started hugging him. He was talking about Connie (Stuart’s second wife) and he said, ‘Son, cherish her and keep her,’ and he said, ‘Enjoy every day of it.’” 

In addition to being one of the finest multi-string men in country music, he’s also a collector of country memorabilia owning the largest acknowledged private collection of its kind in the United States, with 20,000 different items. I asked him if he were a hoarder or collector?  

“I think the word is preservationist,” he responded. “There are 20,000 items, and they’re all Smithsonian quality truly including the handwritten Hank Williams “Cold Cold Heart.” (I got that) from his sister Irene. She sold the whole collection. (Ther’s also) Johnny Cash’s first black performance case.  

“One of my favorite things is A. P. Carter’s granddaughter Rita Forrester called and said, ‘I think I’ve found something you’ll want. I think I’ll give it to ya.’ She was for some reason up under the front porch of A.P. Carter and dug up out of the mud the sole of his Brogue boot. I called it ‘the sole of country music.’ I don’t know why, but that means the world to me. There was a time and this goes back to the early ’80s. The piece I bought was Patsy Cline’s train case for 25 bucks at a junk shop in Nashville, and that’s kind of how it was around here in this town.  

“You’d find old movie costumes and guitars and personal effects like that, but it was just wrong to me. Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I bought culture. I bought history, and I understood the worth of Johnny Cash black hats or whatever. You find old movie costumes and old guitars or whatever. And that’s where my heart was. I didn’t look at it as an investment. I just thought of it as protecting our culture, just things nobody else cared about at that time.” 

Marty’s biggest commercial success was teaming up with Travis Tritt in 1991. He co-wrote “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” which went to number two on the country charts, won a Grammy, and put the two on the road with a “No Hats” tour. I asked him how heady was it to walk away from that kind of commercial success.  

“It was a great success. It paid for the house and I worked it. It was essential later in being a successful artist, but (you gotta) follow your heart.” In 2008, Marty had told me his hits with Travis Tritt were “some of the happiest days of my life but it was also some of the most miserable days of my life because it boxed me into one street in one town.” 

In a race against time with Ken Burns, Marty helped chronicle the great artists of country music.  Merle Haggard was the first on the shortlist to die after being filmed. Marty didn’t see that one coming. “I didn’t. I didn’t. Nope. I didn’t see that one coming as fast as it did. There were some folks like Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers. That was obvious, but there were some that weren’t obvious, and losing Hag was pretty profound.” 

Maybe in the technical definition of the term, Marty is not a bluesman, but don’t tell him that. “To begin with, I’m from the state of Mississippi, so everything down there comes from the blues. I think it actually comes from the church, but everything down there has a tinge of the blues as you and I both know if it’s worth a shit.  

“In the ’90s there was a record called Rhythm, Country and Blues which was not a great record, but it was a great idea. Don Was (Don Edward Fagenson) produced it, and it was a record that paired us hillbilly singers with rhythm and blues stars, and I had a suicide mission to do “The Weight” with the Staples which I wish we’d never done that song. It was done right with The Band, but what it did do was give me a lifelong relationship with The Staples.  

“I distinctly remember at the sessions I said, ‘Mavis, who did you listen to growing up?’  

“She said ‘Grand Ole Opry. Who did you listen to?’”

Marty’s answer? “The Staple Singers’ 1956 hit version of “Uncloudy Day.”  

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives will perform at The Egg on Sunday, January 30 at 7:30 PM as part of the American Roots & Branches concert series.  

Tickets are $34.50-$59.50 and are available at The Egg Box Office at the Empire State Plaza, by telephone at 518-473-1845 or online at 

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