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Marty Stuart Sees the Big Picture

A musician who aspires to be great must understand far more than how to play the notes. There are plenty of people who can do that. Nobody would argue, for instance, that Willie Nelson is the greatest guitar player around. His appeal — and hence his fame — comes from something entirely different.

This interesting quote from Marty Stuart suggests that he has this very real, albeit hard to define, quality:

“I’ve always thought that country music had a really unique relationship with gospel music,” Stuart says. “It is interesting to me that country stars can sing drinking and cheating songs authentically, then at some point during the evening or the broadcast, take their hats off and say, ‘Friends, here’s our gospel song.’ If it’s the right messenger it seamlessly flows. That’s a time-honored tradition, from Jimmie Rodgers to Hank Williams to Johnny Cash. Rogue prophets and rogue preachers. That is my world.”

Stuart — who is of French, English, Choctaw, and Colombian descent — clearly gets it. This understanding, coupled of course with great musicianship, has made him a bit of a ubiquitous figure in country music. The fact that he hosts a country music show (along with his band, The Fabulous Superlatives) doesn’t hurt.

He was born in 1958 in the other Philadelphia — the one in Mississippi. He of course was a guitar nut and a professional at the age of 12. His bio shows that he quickly was on stage with the very top country performers. He began by playing with Lester Flatt. When Flatt passed away, he was in bands with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson. He joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980. He eventually married — and divorced — the icon’s daughter Cindy.

The real bios do a better job of the tracing Stuart (or anyone else’s) career than I do. Hopefully, this is enough to give a taste of how quickly Stuart advanced. In addition to playing with the elite, Stuart launched a solo career, which continues.

A telling highlight of Stuart’s trajectory is a 1999 theme album called “The Pilgrim,” about a tragic love triangle. Stuart explained that he had been “chasing hits” not enjoying what he was doing. The album, on which he wrote every song (with co-writing credits on one) was a way to reinvigorate his love of music. The album was a critical success but did not do well commercially. My guess is that he was fine with that outcome.

Above is “(Now And Then) There’s A Fool Such As I,” featuring Kayton Roberts, Hank Snow’s steel guitar player. Below is “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” with Travis Tritt.

Biography, Marty Stuart’s website and Wikipedia were sources for this post. The hompage photo was taken by Forrest L. Smith III.

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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