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Clip: Marty Stuart, "Creatively Pardoned"

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  • Carl Z.
    Creatively pardoned January 8, 2006 BY MARY HOULIHAN Staff Reporter With his rooster
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2006
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      'Creatively pardoned'

      January 8, 2006

      BY MARY HOULIHAN Staff Reporter

      With his rooster haircut and flashy rhinestone-studded Nudie suits,
      country singer Marty Stuart made a flashy entrance onto the country
      music charts in the early '90s. Spouting a rebel attitude and a
      country rock aesthetic with deep roots in traditional country, he
      breathed new life into the genre. With songs like "Tempted" and "Burn
      Me Down," he scored half a dozen top 10 hits and four gold albums, as
      well as hit duets with fellow country singer Travis Tritt.

      And then, as is often the way in Nashville, Stuart fell out of favor
      and country radio stopped playing his songs.

      "I was a radio darling and then it just cooled," Stuart recalled. "It
      was like a curtain went down and I had to rethink the way I was doing

      Since that time, Stuart has proved he was no flash in the pan. He's
      had no more chart-busting hits but instead has managed to form a
      solid, varied career and in the process become one of the more
      interesting characters in Nashville. He will perform two shows Jan. 15
      at the Old Town School of Folk Music with his band the Fabulous
      Superlatives, featuring Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums)
      and Brian Glenn (bass).

      In 1999, Stuart drew a line in the sand with the compelling and
      ambitious concept album, "The Pilgrim." He had one record left on his
      contract with MCA and he could either pander and try to get back on
      the radio, or he could "walk to his death honorably."

      "I decided this was how I was going to make music from now on," said
      Stuart, in a conversation from his office in Nashville. "I felt it at
      the box office, and I felt it at the cash register in the record
      store. But it's leveled out, and I'm loving what I'm doing now more
      than anything I've done in my life. I feel creatively pardoned."

      In 2005, Stuart, who is married to country singer Connie Smith,
      released two more distinctive albums off the mainstream Nashville
      track -- the gospel drenched "Soul's Chapel," and "Badlands," a
      musical telling of the story of the Oglala Lakota people on the Pine
      Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

      But Stuart has also become a sort of country music Renaissance man;
      his interests do not stop at making music. As a diehard collector, he
      has amassed one of the biggest and most important collections of
      country music memorabilia and served six terms as president of the
      Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Also a writer and accomplished
      photographer, Stuart is compiling several books, featuring country
      singers, the Badlands and old church signs.

      Stuart, who grew up in Philadelphia, Miss., has been performing since
      he was 12 ("I think I was born with a guitar in my hands"). Like his
      peers Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, he has roots in country music that
      continue to define his music and his life. Somewhat of a child
      prodigy, he played mandolin early on with the Sullivan Family Gospel
      Singers. In 1972, he came to Nashville with the legendary Lester Flatt
      and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He later joined Johnny Cash's band
      and the man in black became a mentor.

      "We got to hang out with the people who invented the music and that
      was a really wonderful thing," said Stuart, adding that from Cash he
      learned to be "creatively fearless and morally good."

      It was Cash who introduced Stuart to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
      in 1983, when his band performed a benefit concert there. The poverty
      of these Native American people and the integrity and dignity that
      surrounded their lives impressed Stuart, who continues to return there
      (he and Smith were married at Pine Ridge in 1997). His goal with
      "Badlands" was to tell the story of Pine Ridge and spell out some of
      the issues and problems and challenges that "no one outside the
      reservation pays any attention to."

      "Do I think my record will change anything," he asks. "Probably not.
      It's simply a flag of awareness and hopefully a beacon of hope for
      these people."

      Stuart, 47, has done studio work with a wide range of artists, from
      George Jones and Merle Haggard to Neil Young and B.B. King. His coming
      out as a solo artist began during a recording session at Sun Studios
      in Memphis for the album, "Class of '55," which featured Jerry Lee
      Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

      "It was a magical week," said Stuart, who was a member of the studio
      band. "That was kind of the back door of being somebody else's musican
      and the front door of getting out there and figuring it out on my own.
      Experiences like this made me so much more ready for what I've been
      through in the last 20 years of my life. There's a lot to learn from
      people who were there before you."

      Stuart has authentically explored many different musical styles.
      Recording a gospel album was a project he had been thinking about for
      years. Released on his own Superlatone Records, "Soul's Chapel" is an
      eclectic affair that is rootsy, reflective and takes Southern soul and
      rock to new heights. A highlight is "Move Along Train," written by
      Roebuck "Pops" Staples and featuring the mighty vocals of Mavis

      "A lot of people talk about Lester Flatt raising me and Johnny Cash
      being my mentor but Pops Staples was as much an influence on my life
      as anybody," Stuart said. "He and his whole family have had a very
      powerful and positive effect on me."

      Stuart first met the Staples when together they recorded the Band's
      "The Weight" for the 1994 album "Rhythm Country and Blues." The
      friendship carried through to 2000, when he was a pallbearer at Pops'
      funeral, but the relationship with the family did not stop there. When
      Stuart got in trouble in June, 2004, for driving under the influence,
      the second such arrest in three years, it was Mavis and Yvonne Staples
      who came to his emotional rescue. The day after being released from
      jail, Stuart was performing at FitzGerald's in Berwyn when the sisters
      showed up with a gift.

      "I was feeling worthless and just going through the motions that
      night," recounted Stuart. "And in walked Mavis and Yvonne toting this
      black guitar case. I thought they wanted me to put strings on Pops'
      guitar but instead they gave it to me. I considered it the most divine
      gift at the most divine time. It was God's way of saying put this in
      your hand and go on. I used that guitar all over 'Soul's Chapel.' "

      Stuart sounds like a man reborn. He may not be on country radio
      anymore, but he's content to be as busy and as happy as he's ever

      "My life is a full tapestry. It doesn't depend on one aspect to make
      it work or not work. I get up every day and there are books to work
      on, a collection to oversee, records to make and songs to write. I
      like being a part of it all. I've spent my whole life trying to get to
      this spot."


      Stuart the collector now a curator

      In the early '80s when the hip urban cowboy trends infiltrated country
      music and the old legends and styles were relegated to the pasture,
      Marty Stuart became their savior.

      "I loved the costumes and the artifacts," said Stuart, who began
      collecting records, magazines and autographs at an early age. "And
      outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame, no one was doing anything
      to preserve and protect these treasures. I wasn't ready for that to
      happen. So I made it my mission to start seriously collecting."

      Stuart has amassed a stunning collection, from clothing, autographs,
      guitars, boots and handwritten lyrics. About 10 years ago, he acquired
      a large collection of Hank Williams' personal effects from Williams'
      sister Irene.

      "I went to dinner with Irene, and I could tell she wanted to talk
      about something," recalled Stuart. "Back at her house, she started
      pulling out original manuscripts of 'Your Cheatin' Heart,' " the death
      certificate, family pictures, boots, suits, hats and guns. I couldn't
      even speak. It was almost like coming face to face with the man."

      What began as a small collection scattered around Stuart's house is
      now stored in a Nashville warehouse. Hopes are to find a permanent
      home for the invaluable artifacts. In the time being, Stuart is in the
      planning stages of a traveling exhibit, "Marty Stuart's American
      Journey," that will debut in the fall of 2007 at the Tennessee State
      Museum in Nashville.

      Mary Houlihan


      When: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15

      Where: Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln

      Tickets: $18-$22

      Call: (773) 728-6000; www.oldtownschool.org
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