Marty Stuart Beats It Back to the Dirt Road
The guy from Philadelphia, Mississippi, appreciates country music as well as he plays it. Chuck Shuford catches up with Marty Stuart.
Busy Bee Cafe (1982) — Marty Stuart and a legion of country music legends
Marty Stuart is a Renaissance good old boy. Most people know him as a country music performer with one platinum and five gold records and four Grammy awards. He’s that but a lot more. He’s also a producer, a writer, and accomplished photographer, and he's an historian and archivist of country music, with the largest private collection of country music memorabilia in existence. For my money, Marty Stuart is essentially a storyteller ““ an interpreter of life as he experiences it ““ and he uses all of the tools available to him to tell the story.
Stuart is a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town best known for events during the civil rights struggles (incidents that its people, we imagine, would rather forget). Stuart was such a close friend of gospel/blues/r&b legend Pops Staples that when Pops died, his daughter Mavis gave Stuart Pops’ guitar. Another close friend was his ex father-in-law Johnny Cash, whom he honored with an album that may be the best tribute recording ever made (Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash).
Stuart once initiated a booking on the WDVX Blue Plate Special, a live radio broadcast from Knoxville, with his band the Fabulous Superlatives. Curious as to what appeal a low-power radio station and a small audience might hold for a performer of Stuart's stature, the Yonder arranged for a phone interview. When asked how he had first heard about WDVX, Stuart said that it “came across the hillbilly grapevine that there was this station playing really cool music” in Knoxville. The station and the idea of the the Blue Plate Special were especially appealing to Stuart because he appreciates Knoxville’s vital role in country music history ““ a role that he believes is largely overlooked.
At a WDVX music festival, Marty Stuart photographed Blue Plate Special's co-host Red Hickey and DJ Nita.
Photo: Jack Goodwin
When the Yonder suggested that it must have been a very long time since he had played to that small a crowd, Stuart responded as the artist/philosopher that he is: “It’s better to play for 70 people who are there for the right reason than for 70,000 who are there for the wrong reason.” He described how in the '90s he had gotten so tired of “consultants” and “demographics” driving radio and the music business, nosing out the primacy of musicians and music lovers. “The Blue Plate Special is a bright light burning on the embers of hope,” Stuart said. “They have a dirt road approach”¦they start with the listener. It’s a place for anybody who wants to hear something that goes beyond the face value of things, and the value of that is immeasurable.”
By the way, if you want to give yourself an auditory treat, find Stuart’s 1982 recording Busy Bee Cafe on Sugar Hill Records that features Stuart, Johnny Cash, Doc and Merle Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Douglas ““ not a bad group of studio musicians.