The Wall Street Journal
Crossing Music Row
By JIM FUSILLI
website article link
Marty Stuart keeps a warehouse here that's filled with guitars, paintings, photographs and miscellany said to constitute the world's largest private collection of country-music memorabilia. It includes several of Johnny Cash's guitars, a coat worn by Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner's rhinestone boots and a briefcase of songs that rode in Jimmie Rodgers's casket on his funeral train.
The warehouse is a cheerful, reverent space that Mr. Stuart enriches with his presence. Though his rooster-comb hair is now silver-gray, at 53 he looks much as he did when he came to Nashville some four decades ago. Mr. Stuart's new album is "Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down" (Sugar Hill), a rollicking collection with a spirit that comes from what Mr. Stuart calls "the Old Testament days" of country music. It avoids current Nashville trends that, in a grab for a mainstream audience, repudiate most of what's great about traditional country. Mr. Stuart rejects the overly processed, market-driven music that uses arena rock as a template rather than his country idols of Cash, Rodgers, Wagoner and Williams.
He says he's well aware of what's going on, having for years issued muscled-up pseudo-country music in a bid for wider acclaim. To his mind, the glossy music coming out of Nashville today is bad country and bad rock.
"When I was playing the chart game, I was embarrassed to play my albums for my rock friends," he said, mentioning Tom Petty and Jack White. "When people think of country music, they want a feeling of authenticity. Now you have to homogenize." He recalled an insight Cash once shared with him: "In trying to become all things to all people, we have virtually become nothing."
"That knowledge comes from his own hard-won wisdom," Mr. Stuart said. "If it's chart or heart, choose the heart. It'll take you to the right place."
The line from Mr. Stuart's career to the origins of country isn't hard to follow. At 13, he joined Lester Flatt's group. In the 1940s, Flatt was a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, the seminal band in country-music history. Two Blue Grass members, Flatt and Earl Scruggs, later found an audience in the '60s and '70s in a Woodstock Generation searching for authentic American roots music. "When rock 'n' roll hit, Flatt and Scruggs never wavered," he said. "Their sonic empire was founded on something beyond the commercial."
One day, Mr. Stuart was tempted to leave Flatt's band. "I went to Lester and told him I'd been offered a job with Glen Campbell in California. Seven hundred and fifty dollars a week. At the time, I was making $165 with Lester. He hugged me around my neck and said, 'You're not ready.' And he was right.
"When he saw something that helped me, he pushed me toward doing it. That's the kind of mentoring that's divinely ordered," he said. "I had a lot of wisdom around me."
Flatt died in 1979, and a year later Mr. Stuart was in a hotel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when Cash called from Des Moines. "He asked, 'You got anything black to wear?'" Mr. Stuart jumped in the car; the assignment lasted five years. On stage one evening, Mr. Stuart extended a mandolin solo well beyond the point of reason. Cash leaned over and told him, "Saying too much of something is the same as saying nothing."
Mr. Stuart went out on his own in 1985. Since then, he's released 16 solo studio albums, the past six—including "Tear the Woodpile Down"—with the Fabulous Superlatives.
On the new album, Mr. Stuart and his band touch on many streams of what constitutes traditional country, the kind welcomed more by Americana music fans than those who consume what comes these days from Nashville's Music Row. "A Matter of Time" is a twangy country waltz with bite and "Truck Drivers' Blues" chugs along on the thwacks across a mandolin's strings. Mr. Stuart's haunting composition "The Lonely Kind" is delivered with Roy Orbison-like poignancy. Hank Williams III joins in on his grandfather's tune "Pictures From Life's Other Side," while Lorrie Carter Bennett, heir to the Carter Family mantle, is Mr. Stuart's vocal duet partner in his composition "A Song of Sadness."
Mr. Stuart and his band have showcased the songs on "The Marty Stuart Show," which appears weekly on cable's RFD-TV. It's reminiscent of "The Porter Wagoner Show," which ran for more than 20 years beginning in 1960. As a boy, Mr. Stuart watched it with his dad back in Philadephia.
A few years ago, Mr. Stuart visited Wagoner, a man he says provided comfort and stability with his music and presence on television. "Porter was just sitting around, staring at walls," he recalled. "I said, 'You got any songs? I want to produce you.' He'd been keeping them secret, and it was the sound I hadn't heard in years except in slivers and splinters. He thought he'd have to make a contemporary country record to be heard."
Music Row rejected the album by Wagoner, once known as Mr. Grand Ole Opry. The independent label Anti released it, and shortly before his death in 2007, Wagoner played Madison Square Garden, opening for the White Stripes. Mr. Stuart sat in on guitar. "The Wagonmaster went out on top," Mr. Stuart said with pride.
Mr. Stuart's new disc reaffirms his commitment to the predecessors he calls "legacy artists" and "cultural missionaries." With Flatt and Cash, he said, "I was what I needed to be—part of a great fraternity.
"The music that I love the very most is traditional country," he said. "It's an empowering force of our own country. I felt it was fading away. So I went back to what made me fall in love with it. I thought, 'Let's make it again and see who shows up.'"
A version of this article appeared May 1, 2012, on page D5 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Crossing Music Row.
Marty Stuart tells the world about his mission every chance he gets — which is, after all, what you expect from a man with a mission. So it's no surprise to find that another statement serves as the liner notes to his new release. "When I reconnected with country music," Stuart concludes, "I found myself, my calling . . . to champion it, love it, protect it . . . and to make sure that everybody understands that it's alive and well in the 21st century." He walks the walk in many ways, including the albums he makes. This one is no different. It's full of Stuart's turbo-charged version of hardcore trad country: the guitar (and, courtesy of guest legend Buck Trent, electric banjo) pyrotechnics of "Tear the Woodpile Down," the irresistible, mandolin-driven shuffle of "Truck Driver's Blues," the Haggard-channeling "Going, Going, Gone," and the shimmering gravitas of "The Lonely Kind," and "A Song of Sadness." Cue up any of the songs on "Nashville" and you hear the sound of Stuart's mission being fulfilled. (Out Tuesday) Stuart Munro
Marty Stuart Releases Churning, Twang-Filled 'Woodpile'
by Chuck Dauphin, Nashville | April 20, 2012 2:45 EDT
Forty years ago this fall, Marty Stuart rode a Greyhound to Nashville from the streets of Philadelphia -- Mississippi. His intention was to visit with Roland White, the mandolin player for Lester Flatt. Stuart had no idea that he would be offered a job playing in the Nashville Grass. All these years later, that love affair with Music City is still burning as strong as ever.
Fast forward to 2012. Stuart is still in Nashville, making some of the finest music of his career. His latest Sugar Hill album, "Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down," will hit stores April 24. In an exclusive interview for Billboard, the singer says the disc continues down the traditional path that he has been on for the past five years.
"I've been in a traditional country mindset for the last few go-rounds," he says, adding that "It all started with Wagonmaster, the album I produced on Porter Wagoner back in 2007. I loved that record, and getting to make it with Porter. It really got me to thinking about and looking at things differently. After that we made Ghost Train, then Connie Smith's record, Long Line Of Heartaches, and we just kept it going. The result of that is this new record."
While Porter Wagoner passed away not too long after making the triumphant "Wagonmaster," a key part of that sound is represented on Stuart's new record. Buck Trent, who played in Wagoner's band for close to a decade, is featured on two cuts - the title cut, as well as a cover of Porter and Dolly's 'Holdin' On To Nothin.' Stuart stated he enjoyed getting to have Trent on the album.
"One of the things I've always loved is star musicians," he said. "I'm just kind of drawn to them. When I was growing up, Buck was such a star of Porter's show. He was such a flashy character, but he was also such a genius - kind of like Don Rich with Buck Owens or Luther Perkins with Johnny Cash. As time goes on, those people shouldn't be forgotten, because their gifts are timeless. The only reason I recorded 'Holdin' On To Nothin' was so I could hear Buck play the banjo, because they cut the record right a long time ago," he says fondly.
Nashville, Volume 1 contains some classic sounds -- as well as some classic themes, such as the churning "Truck Driver's Blues." Stuart says it all goes with keeping with tradition.
"On Ghost Train, the last record, we recorded it at Studio B. One of the things I took into the studio was the original blueprint of country music - by way of subject matter," he affirms. "I went back to what Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family sang about when they were coming up with what we call country music today. It was the working man, the jailhouse, hard times, good times, it was love, and all those things that people make fun of country music for these days. At the same time, they are very real. If you don't believe it, turn on the news or pick up the paper or go out on the road and you'll see the trucks on the highway. Those people in the trucks live real lives, and they're my fellow road dogs."
Stuart is joined on the disc by his incredible band, the Fabulous Superlatives - which many laud as one of the top bands in country music. They are prominently featured on the album, as well as on Stuart's highly-rated RFD-TV show. He says he has never enjoyed a musical partnership any more than his current band.
"Cousin' Kenny Vaughan, 'Handsome' Harry Stinson, and 'Apostle' Paul Martin are the band of a lifetime," Stuart says with admiration. "I've been in bands since I was nine years old, and never met anyone more versatile. But, beyond all their musical ability, they are great men."
One track where the band - as well as guest musician Gary Carter (who is the steel player for Stuart's wife, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Connie Smith) shines is the Bakersfield-esque "Going, Going, Gone." Stuart says the song was written last summer.
"That was one of those songs that just came out of nowhere. The more I wrote on it, it became autobiographical. It tells the story of my life," he confesses. After he finished the song, he says a California country legend came to mind. "I told the band 'I wouldn't be ashamed to play that one for Merle," he says with deep admiration and respect.
Great American Country
By Daryl Addison
The honky tonk gods of Nashville's famed Lower Broadway have long guided Marty Stuart's way. Throughout his career, which in 2012 finds the singer/songwriter celebrating 40 years in Nashville, Marty has stood firm with a blend of traditional country and rockabilly that echoes the heartache pouring out of Music City's world famous strip. On Marty's new record, Nashville Vol. 1: Tear The Woodpile Down due in stores April 24, the 53-year-old Grand Ole Opry member shuns modern trends for a soul-bearing collection that is as true and honest as the lonesome realities faced by Lower Broad's hillbilly forefathers.
The overall sound of Nashville Vol. 1 can be described as retro in that twang-heavy guitars, gunfire percussion and thumping bass unapologetically chug along while a steel guitar cries out. Marty's longtime touring band, The Fabulous Superlatives, back up the singer here with an energy and familiarity that only a seasoned group of players can provide. While the scorched fretboards of the instrumental jam "Hollywood Boogie" show off Marty & Co.'s musical prowess, it's the album's powerful and vivid lyrical imagery that remains long after the songs end.
On the stomping ¾ time "Sundown In Nashville," music and voice are locked together as Marty addresses the 'dark side of fame.' Pulling no punches, he sings, Each evening at sundown in Nashville, they sweep broken dreams off the street, when discussing the good with the bad of going for broke. On the steady "Going, Going, Gone," a chorus of layered harmonies opens the track before a slight tempo shift cues Marty's deeply personal voice admitting discontent directly related to his own choices. There's just one thing that I know about tomorrow, Marty sings through the chorus, When it's all said and done I'll be alone. There's no sugarcoating here. It's classic country filled with brutal realism.
Throughout the record, guests such as Nashville musicians Buck Trent, Kenny Lovelace and Robbie Turner join Marty to add their talents. The project closes with a pair of songs featuring the bloodline of country music royalty. Lorrie Carter Bennett of The Carter Family adds bittersweet harmonies on the tender "A Song of Sadness" while Hank Williams III duets on "Picture from Life's Other Side." The latter is a country classic originally written and recorded by the late Hank Sr. that Marty and Hank III have performed live together previously. In ways a tribute to Hank Sr., the gritty acoustic song is an impressive reminder of the power of words through its unflinching everyday truths.
Marty wrote the majority of material himself and also serves as the project's producer. This level of control, along with the support of an indie label, allows for freedom in regards to such decisions as opening the record with, and titling it after, a song with political undertones. On "Tear The Woodpile Down," Marty sings aggressively, Taxpayer dollar ain't worth a dime / Government's got us in a bind/ Think I'll run for President / And I won't have to pay no rent. Though this is the only time Marty gets political, and even here it's subtle in relation to the entire song, it's yet another example of Marty's unwavering approach to his art. Nashville Vol. 1 is a strong and authentic collection of country music dealing directly with blue collar values and leaves only one question after it's done – when do we get to hear 'Volume 2'?
Key tracks – "Sundown In Nashville." "Picture from Life's Other Side," "Going, Going, Gone," "The Lonely Kind"
10 Questions: Marty Stuart
By Russell Hall
Traditional country music has no greater ambassador than Marty Stuart. Whether using his acclaimed RFD-TV show, The Marty Stuart Show, as a platform for the music's best practitioners, or sending his vast collection of country memorabilia on the road, so that fans can get a tangible sense of the music's history, Stuart nurtures country traditions with boundless care and respect. Stuart's own music stands to become an integral part of that legacy as well. His latest album, Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down, teems with the authentic spirit of someone who's immersed himself in the work – and the worlds – of such icons as Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Recorded with his terrific longtime band, the Fabulous Superlatives, the album perfectly embodies the bromide, "practice what you preach." From his home just outside Nashville, Stuart spoke with us about the new album, songwriting and traditional country music's place in our culture.
1. How did you approach writing songs for the new album?
The thing that helped, oddly enough, was my television show. The songs came to me very quickly. What always helps me, as a writer, is to have a bull's eye in mind. The television show, which is an unapologetically traditional country music show, gave me a style, an audience and a destination to keep in mind for these songs. When I would come up against a particular episode that needed a song, instead of looking for something I already had, I would try to write a new one. That spurred the album along. Having your own TV show, and running out of songs, is a wonderful motivator for writing.
2. What first drew you to country music?
When I was a kid, I got Meet the Beatles, The Fabulous Johnny Cash and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs Greatest Hits all in the same week. I liked the Beatles album – it entertained my feet – but the Johnny Cash album and the Flatt & Scruggs album touched my heart. So I gave away the Beatles album and kept the country albums. What I responded to, and what touched me, was the stark realism in country music. The things I saw outside my window – whether it was the landscape or someone going through hard times – brought those songs to life. I thought, "This applies to me and my world."
3. Which songwriters have had the greatest impact on you?
If you go back to Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, and listen to all the recordings he made in his short life, you find that his songs are still the best. Merle Haggard and I have talked about that several times. Those songs were our blueprint. They are a pure reflection of the human condition – whether that involves heartache, tragedy, love or broken love. Also, Johnny Cash was a unique songwriter in the pantheon of country music when he first hit the scene. His songs rippled like poetry. His was a wonderful heart to ride alongside of. And Hank Williams' songs are still profound, for me – how elegant and simple and straight to the point they are. One of my favorite things about country songs is that the greatest ones are about two-and-a-half minutes long. An entire lifetime can be wrapped up in that span of time. That's something that appears to be simple, but in reality it's very hard to write that way.
4. Is there any subject you've wanted to write about that you can't quite get your head around?
Not yet. Starting with the album The Pilgrim, which I made in 1999, I've tried to write without regard for who might play the songs, or who might like them. I write what my heart dictates. I've found myself on Indian reservations, and in the Mississippi Delta, just writing about what I see. Years ago I had a wonderful conversation with Pete Seeger. I asked him a "fan" question about Woody Guthrie. Pete said, "I'll tell you, Woody was like a correspondent who wrote from the perspective of someone in a boxcar. He wrote from the perspective of someone going down the rails, looking to the left and to the right, writing about the human condition, and the justices and the injustices he saw." I thought, "Man, that's a perfect description of what a songwriter should be."
5. Waylon Jennings was emphatic in his belief that a songwriter-performer should have his or her own band. Your thoughts?
I'm spoiled. I've been in bands since I was nine years old, and I knew from the first rehearsal with the Fabulous Superlatives – 11 years ago – that this was my "legacy" band, the band of a lifetime. And that's proven to be true. You can drop any kind of song or music into the Superlatives, and they play it authentically. I've never met a group of musicians as deep and well-versed as they are. They're also wonderful men for whom I have boundless respect. As a bandleader, it's important to have enough confidence in yourself to turn everyone loose and give them an equal share. That's the beauty of our band. Everyone is a star, in my opinion. I can flip over and be the guitar player, and Kenny Vaughan can step to the front, or Harry Stinson or Paul Martin. It doesn't matter. Each person in the band knows how to lead the show, and also how to step back. There are no egos involved. That makes for a wonderful evening.
6. What's your favorite place to perform live?
As a money-making proposition, the bigger, the better. But as a songwriter, I prefer small, intimate halls – 1,000- to 1,500-seat theaters. There's one in Meridian, Mississippi, called the Riley Center that seats around 900 people. That's a wonderful place to sing quiet songs, where the lyrics don't have to compete with anything else. Those are fun rooms to play. Of course we also like places where we can turn up the Telecasters and light up the sky.
7. You've collected some of the greatest artifacts in country music. Have they taught you anything?
There are about 20,000 pieces in the collection. Johnny Cash's first black performance suit is among them, and the boots Patsy Cline was wearing when she lost her life. That's the level of the collection. I have a lot of handwritten manuscripts, including several manuscripts written in Hank Williams' own hand -- "Cold Cold Heart," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I Saw the Light," "Men with Broken Hearts" and others. The interesting thing is, Hank could barely spell. On "I Saw the Light," he spelled Lord "L-O-A-R-D." That sort of thing gave me confidence. It took me back to a conversation I had with Merle Travis, when I was a teenager. I said, "I want to be a writer, Merle, but I don't have a very good education." He said, "Neither do I, and neither do most of the people you're singing to. The idea is to say things in terms that everyone can understand. Just tell your story simply."
8. Do you have additional advice for songwriters just starting out?
We all begin by being inspired by somebody else. But at the end of the day, a good song has to come from your own heart, and from your own perspective. I encourage all young writers to be fearless, as you learn how you feel about things. I want to know how you feel about something. That's how you become an original voice. It's important to not just keep pace with what's going on at the moment, but instead to write with a timeless sort of wisdom. That's the mark of a great writer.
9. Are you optimistic that traditional country music will always be part of our culture?
No question. That's my mission. The goal, to me, is to throw a lasso around traditional country music, see what's left of it, shore it up, and honor it. My television show has been a good staging ground for this. The big job has been to attempt to write new songs and forge a new chapter in the 21st century with this particular style. We've taken our case to the people. When we go out on the road, we fill up halls. People in the younger generation are looking for authenticity, and they're finding it in traditional country music – whether it's through Johnny Cash, or Merle Haggard, or George Jones or eventually finding their way to us. The audience is there. We just have to grow and build it.
10. Why did you choose BMI?
Everyone is like family here in Nashville, but I knew everybody at BMI, and they made me feel welcome. They truly made me feel like family. The organization has a great legacy, and it's great to be a part of that. They're good people. That's the bottom line.
Review: Marty Stuart, band dazzle on latest album
April 24, 2012, 1:40 PM EST
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, "Nashville Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down" (Sugar Hill)
Performing traditional country with roots in the 1960s and 1970s, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives make for a Fab Four.
On "Nashville Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down," Stuart sings about topics typical to the genre — loneliness, shattered dreams, heartache, trucking and fratricide. But the musical execution is the kind that makes jaws drop, whether the tune's a slow waltz or frenetic instrumental.
The title cut that opens the set is a showcase of lickety-split picking, and "Hollywood Boogie" likewise features the sort of guitar playing that take years to learn, condensed into a 90-second sprint. Also exhilarating is the unplugged "Truck Driver's Blues," driven by Stuart's mandolin, while ringing pedal steel guitar and airtight harmony vocals make "Going, Going, Gone" memorable.
The 10-tune set is over in only 32 minutes, but many listeners will likely hit the repeat button.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The band dials down the flashy playing on "The Lonely Kind," which instead benefits from a lovely melody and a sparse arrangement, where even the tap of a tambourine hits hard.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Tear the Woodpile Down is a reminder that Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives are damn good at walking the line
Back in Black
by JEWLY HIGHT
Not just anyone could've gotten Hank III — stubborn individualist of a famous bloodline — to perform a Hank Sr. recitation, first for a television show, then an album. But Marty Stuart did. Their duet version of "Pictures From Life's Other Side" is the final track on his new album, Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down.
"Shelton is a brilliant man," says Stuart, using the third-generation Williams' given name. "I knew that that side of him is one that has been, you know, pressed upon him: 'You go down grandpa alley.' And I didn't want to be one of the guilty ones for that. But I simply asked him if he would even consider coming to do a Hank song on [The Marty Stuart Show]. He was in the mood to do it. So he came out to the warehouse to rehearse with me, and I showed him one of his grandpa's old suits. ... He just peeled off in the middle of the office and put it on, and it fit! He showed up on that TV show and came around the corner, and everybody just lost their breath.
"When the record came around, I said, 'Shelton, that was so good. As a personal favor to me, would you mind doing it again?' And he graciously showed up and did it again. I know he don't do it much. He probably doesn't even like to do it much. But he did it for me, and I love it."
The warehouse of which Stuart speaks is home to an impressive collection of country music memorabilia he's been amassing his entire music-making life — artifacts of such historical value he's loaned them to museums. Then there's his photography — decades of country and bluegrass portraits taken behind the scenes where only an insider could go, a selection of them published in his book Country Music: The Masters a few years back.
The remarkable thing is, Stuart strikes an outsider stance even as he conserves the genre's past; he's about the best, smartest and most stylish there is at lacing reverence with rebellion. Today, the Mississippi native's mainstream success with hard-partying country is too distant for him to get airplay, but still too recent for albums like 1989's Hillbilly Rock to be lifted up as venerable documents, as tends to happen when country hits get a little dust on them. In 2003, Stuart capped his commercial run with one final attempt — an album simply titled Country Music — and he's really never looked back. "I like the record," he says, "but at the same time I thought, 'You've gotta be one thing or another here, because radio is done with you until further notice.' "
Since then, Stuart's blazed an alternative trail for 21st century traditional country by reviving long-discarded institutions like barn dances (his small town-centric Electric Barnyard Tour with Merle Haggard) all-night sing-alongs (his annual Late Night Jam) and down-home variety shows (his Saturday night slot on RFD-TV). Most importantly, he's done all that and more with Nashville's most envied country band, The Fabulous Superlatives, by his side. So far, they've been together for a decade. "That's 30 years in real-people time," says Stuart.
There's no end to the praise Stuart has for guitarist-with-a-punk-past Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin, all of whom can sing lead and harmonize. "The thing is," says the frontman of his band's collective talents, "you can aim it 40 other directions, from AC/DC to deep jazz or to world music, and they can go down those trails and never bat an eye."
Stuart's latest — which arrives precisely 40 years after his first visit to Nashville, and 30 years after his initial album for Sugar Hill, his label home once again — showcases the personalities of the players, an anomaly in current star-vehicle country recording. Plus, the tracks sound spiky and vivid, rather than compressed into sleek, dense, three-minute blocks, and the taut, twangy licks bring no shortage of freewheeling energy to the proceedings.
There's the subject matter, too. Amid the heartbroken honky-tonk blues numbers, Stuart keeps an eye out for the sort of disenfranchised souls Johnny Cash used to sing about — on this occasion, one of them being a long-haul truck driver. In another forward-to-the-past twist, the Connie who makes an appearance in "Truck Drivers' Blues" — and to whom he's married — is none other than Connie Smith, member of the Country Music Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.
Stuart the institutional historian and DIY showman has settled on his mission statement, and he repeats it at the close of Woodpile's liner notes: "Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tenn., is play country music." This comes several pages after the black-and-white cover image of him, in his dark Western suit, simultaneously raising a guitar and toying with a tiger cub, with a cross, a flag and a hay bale for a backdrop.
And so, seeing as how he's something of an outlaw, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Stuart can also appreciate the hillbilly-thrash side of Hank III. "They can bring Assjack next time," he laughs.
Marty Stuart, 'Nashville, Volume 1' Is 'Hard-Hitting Country Music'
Posted Mar 15th 2012 9:00AM by Vernell Hackett
Marty Stuart's new album, 'Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down,' continues to take the singer down his journey of rediscovering country music.
"It would be full of country music," Marty tells The Boot with a smile. "It's wonderful music. Seven or eight of the ten songs on it are originals. Every one of them is special."
The singer brings a bit of country music royalty with him on the CD, which is set to release on April 24 via Sugar Hill Records. "Hank III (Hank Williams Jr.'s son) came by and we did his grandpa's song 'Picture From Life's Other Side.' That closes the record. Then Mother Maybelle Carter's daughter, Lorrie Carter Bennett, came by and sang with us on one of the songs. The rest are just hard-hitting country music."
Marty is celebrating 40 years doing what he loves, he's proud to be playing what he calls real country music. The Mississippi native arrived in Nashville on Labor Day Weekend, 1972. "I came to Nashville from the land of Jimmie Rodgers, looking for a place to belong inside the world of country music. It was a country boy Hollywood, the air castle of the South, a dream factory."
Considered one of the artists who is a true historian of country music, Stuart not only has a collection of memorabilia huge enough to start his own museum in Mississippi, but a love for the music that allows all the country singers today, no matter whether they have pop leanings or straight-ahead country, to come to town and declare themselves a part of the country music community.
Marty says that when he first came to town, the worst thing you could do was take country music and add a little rock 'n roll to it. My, how times have changed. "Today, the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville is play country music," he declares. That's just fine with Marty, who continues to perform the music he grew up loving before he started touring with the likes of the late Lester Flatt and became friends with the legendary Johnny Cash.
Marty has performed a variety of music since he's been in town, everything from bluegrass to his self-proclaimed hillbilly rock. However, it's the mainstream country that has brought him the most joy in recent years.
"When I reconnected with traditional country music, I found myself, my calling," Marty says. "The kind that is timeless, beautiful, beyond trend, the empowering force, the reflection of a people and a culture. The kind of country music that the working man and scholars alike call home ... The job seemed to be to champion it, love it, protect it, care for its people, attempt to write a new chapter for it and to make sure that everybody understands that it's alive and well in the 21st century."
If anyone doubts his love for country, just check out 'The Marty Stuart Show' on RFD-TV. The singer-songwriter and wife Connie Smith welcome a host of country singers as they explore the traditions that country music has to offer. Among those traditions will be the songs found on the upcoming release of 'Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down,' on April 24.
ALSO FROM THE BOOT
Marty Stuart Interview: Nashville Icon's 'Woodpile' Is Stacked With
Posted by Stephen Betts
When Marty Stuart speaks, it is often with the gravitas of an elder statesman. Perhaps that's one reason that at a mere 53 years old he has become just that for traditional country music -- a spokesperson and standard bearer with an encyclopedic knowledge who also still carries with him, on stage and on record, the same young man's passion and zeal for music that teenaged Marty had when he joined bluegrass great Lester Flatt's band in 1972. Today, the Mississippi native is ably assisted in his mission by the Fabulous Superlatives, his band (named after the catchphrase of a Nashville florist) who all share that same zeal and sparkle with talent that's as bold and bright as their custom-made Manuel suits.
The Boot met up with Marty recently at the warehouse north of Nashville which functions as both his offices and as a storehouse for a dazzling array of country music and American memorabilia -- from suits worn by Hank Williams to every album Marty's wife, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Connie Smith, has ever made. While the main subject was his new album, Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down, out today (April 24) on Sugar Hill Records, Marty also addresses why it's important for him to carry the mantel of traditional country, explains why a classic duet on the record was performed solo, and reveals what he'd be doing if he weren't making music. Hint: his band name actually figures into the answer.
RCA's historic Studio B on Music Row, and studios like it seem to be a key component to crafting the sound of this record. I assume that's by design?
If you're after kind of records I hear on conventional country-music radio via the current crop of hit makers, there is a sound and a set of sonics
that you kind of have to abide by. But going back to the songs that the band and I are presenting right now, there is also a sound and a set of sonics that you should pay attention to. Going through the hoops at Studio B is a wonderful thing because it requires the band to play quieter; it requires you to listen to the vocal on the floor.
We have the same sound engineer, Mick Conley, the invisible Superlative. He did all of my SiriusXM radio shows, he's done 104 episodes of my [RFD] TV show, Kathy Mattea's Coal record that I produced, he engineered that, Connie's record, Ghost Train, and now this one. We have a team and the band in place; we've been together 11 years now. There's a thing in place, that's first and foremost. You drop a song of any kind inside of that and there's a band to go around it. And if you bring a guest artists or guest musicians in, there's a thing in the middle that's already in place. It's not about exploding drums, it's not about guitars that are over the moon. It's about tone and finesse, phrasing, from a vocal standpoint, pure harmonies. It's really just going back to the old template. If I'm going down the road and I
listen to 50 songs in a row, when just about any Buck Owens song comes on the radio, or any Merle Haggard song from the Capitol days, or just about anything recorded at [Nashville's] Quonset Hut, or RCA Studio B, they are head-and-shoulders above everything else that happens around them.
When that's what you're striving for, does it inform the writing of the songs or the approach to what you want to say in a song?
I'm spoiled because the TV show has given me a stage that I don't have at radio. At the end of the '90s, it was just like a light went out at radio
[for me]. I floundered around trying to make a three-minute radio hit happen and it wouldn't come. So one day I thought, "there are other ways to get around this." Our television show has a target audience, it has a point of view which is traditional country music. There were so many masterful writers around this town saying, "you can't get a country song recorded in this town anymore." I said, "Oh, yeah, you can, on our TV show." Having that audience to write to, knowing in my mind who watches us and who buys our stuff and who cares, it helps to have a bull's-eye. You're not sitting in a cubicle on Music Row hoping somebody will pay attention to your song and maybe stick it on the back of a record. When you take it from the television show to making our own records, doing all those things that I do, it's kind of easy to write. Once again, it's back to the blueprint of country music and what it was designed to be, the people's music. The common man's dream. Harlan Howard's "three chords and the truth." I can write about things and sing about things that probably wouldn't get on the radio but the sky's the limit, and that's a wonderful freedom to have.
You can also include lines such as "feelings are cauldrons of mystery, they leave but they're never gone," in the song "The Lonely Kind," which is one of the most haunting things I've heard in a long time.
When I was getting sobered up, there was a line that came to me: "you're sick as your secrets." [laughs] They would talk about feelings. You and I both -- and everybody on this planet -- we are one big feeling. People either hurt our feelings or they make us glad. And those hurt feelings that we've all had down through the years, whether it was something our best friend said to us on the playground or a lover or whatever, when you get your heart broke we try to be adults about it and we stuff them down in there. It's amazing how, 20 years later, something that you stuff down in there will drag you around by the nose sometimes if it's not dealt with. That's a mysterious thing to me, how something that happened so long ago can still rule a piece of your life. You can pretend that they're out of there but they're never gone.
One of the songs on the new album, "Holding on to Nothing" was, of course, a great Porter Wagoner - Dolly Parton duet. Nobody will ever surpass Porter and Dolly's version of that. Is that why you decided to do it as a solo?
Absolutely. But the thing that made that song work for me is [musician] Buck Trent. We played a concert and he came out. Off-the-cuff, I started singing that song and he played the exact banjo licks that he played on Porter and Dolly's record. That's why we did the song. We really can't do the song live until we see Buck Trent coming back to town! Porter and Dolly's presence and Buck's presence, they were a
huge part of my growing up years. Porter was somebody that I dearly loved and Dolly is like a soulmate to me. That whole bunch, I felt like they were family before I got to town and after I got to know them all, they are family to me. I think it's one of the greatest songs to ever come out of
You do have a couple of duets on the record. When you were recording "Picture From Life's Other Side," which was famously sung by Hank Williams [as his alter ego, Luke the Drifter], was there ever a surreal moment when you realized you were singing it with his grandson,
Hank 3 ?
Absolutely! It began right here in this warehouse. He did that on our television show. He came out here and he spotted his grandpa's suit and said "Can I wear that?" So he put his grandpa's suit on and when he came out around the corner, I just started laughing and went "Whoa!" I love him, he's like my brother. Shelton [Hank 3's first name] is like family to me. I support him in everything he's doing. I'm honored that he did that song with me because he doesn't turn his beam toward that old traditional side of his family very often, without good reason. I feel like we were both probably under the spell of his grandpa's influence doing that because it's as pure as it gets. It's a treasure.
And you have another descendant of country-music royalty, Lorrie Carter Bennett (whose mother was Anita Carter, featured on "A Song of
Sadness." How did that collaboration come about?
I wrote that track with her in mind. I loved her mama's singing. I thought Anita was one of the greatest singers in the world. Lorrie is a chip off the block because she has the essence of Anita's voice, she has the essence of Anita's presence and spirit and sweetness. And if you're going to make a traditional country record, name me anyone who has paid the price more than the Williams family or the Carter family around this town. So there was a wisdom and a knowing that came with Shelton's presence and Lorrie's presence on this record.
One of the songs that really seems to correspond with the life of a musician is "Truck Driver's Blues."
When I first got to Nashville and joined Lester's band, I found out really fast that the ticket you had to bring in the door with you was your culture. You had to bring who you represented and where you came from, whether it was from Kentucky or whatever world. People brought their former occupations, whether you were singing about farming or truck driving, real-life occupations. Dave Dudley or Red Simpson, those guys [were truck drivers]. Truck drivers are my brothers and sisters out there on the concrete highway. They are the last of the old renegades, the way I see it. I understand truck-stop culture and respect it. It's a great slipstream of American subculture. I love writing about truck drivers. I understand what they go through because we go through the same thing on buses, maybe a different paragraph, but what a great profession. It's a sickness, the same traveling up and down the road, playing your guitar, dressing up funny and getting out on stage. But it's a wonderful sickness.
When you get home, I assume it isn't long before you're ready to get out and go again. Has that changed for you after all these years?
Not really. There's a certain part of me that needs to smell diesel fuel and hear applause and smell popcorn popping before a show starts. A week and I'm ready to go again. In country music, we are weekend warriors and any weekend I'm sitting at home, I'm thinking nobody loves me anymore. [laughs] So I'm ready to get out there and go again.
Having just lost Earl Scruggs and so many other legendary performers recently, do you feel like an elder statesmen in country music and what does that mean for you?
It means as much as anything that you become a shepherd. That's something I've always loved anyway. I think the job is that we see the old-timers home with dignity, as we did with Earl or Porter or Johnny Cash. We make sure that we honor their time on earth and that they get home. But it's also our job to teach the young ones that have this thing in their heart and know that it's to be shared and passed on, the way Lester handed it to me when I was a kid. My end of things is I love traditional country music and there is a handful of people who love it and cherish it and respect it and are in a position to move it forward. That's the job, to keep writing new songs and hopefully attempt to create a new chapter for traditional country music in the 21st century. I watch the ACM awards or the CMA awards, that end of things is well cared for, it's the big end of the business. I made peace a long time ago -- I've got the girl I love, I've got a guitar and I've got $15 in two different banks, so I'm fine. It's a lonely place sometimes but I'm doing what I love and I believe in and there's nothing else to talk about when it comes to that. I'm at peace.
At the other end of the spectrum, "Sundown in Nashville" speaks to the dreams that so many people have come here to pursue and how they sometimes don't work out. If your dreams had not come true and you had to get completely away from music, what would you be doing now?
Well, I would either be an architect or a florist. [laughs] I love design. I feel like kind of a musical architect, anyway. But at the same time, I love
making buildings come to life on paper. And I can probably plant one of the coolest flower gardens in the world. I guess that's being a flower
architect. I love architecture, I really do. I love hanging out with God when the sun is coming up in the morning. In his whole creation, I love
God's presence in my heart. I feel like for the guy who invented the mountains and the seas and the stars, and light and flowers, a three-minute
hillbilly song ain't that big of a stretch for him. So, it's wonderful to collaborate with the creator. He's the greatest architect of all denominations.
"Thank God for Marty Stuart." That's what Merle Haggard sings in his song "Too Much Boogie Woogie," a lament for the ways country music has gone wrong since the days when Haggard himself ruled the genre's airwaves. Marty Stuart, then, is one of the few good ones in Haggard's mind; he's carrying on the traditions that made country music such an important repository for emotional truths back in the day.
Stuart himself writes a biography/manifesto in the liner notes for this brand new album in which he says: "The main musical difference that I see now and when I first came to Nashville is, back then it seemed that the most outlaw thing you could possibly do around here was to take country music and blow it up into rock & roll. Mission accomplished! Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee is play country music."
Of course, country music, riddled as it has been with conservative impulses and a distrust of change, has always had its share of performers and fans deriding the current trends in favor of the way things used to be. As such, the definition of what is country is and has been a fluid question ever since the first performers at the Grand Ole Opry started dressing down back in the 1920s and 30s to play a role of ultra-rural life that even then wasn't entirely true to their own experience. The best country music, from the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers on up to the Band Perry and Little Big Town has always kept one foot in tradition and one foot in modernity. As such, it doesn't make sense to fight the changes that come as time goes on, so much as to look for the connections to real life which inevitably get dropped into every style of country music somewhere along the line.
All of which is a long-winded way of proving background to an appreciation of Stuart's terrific new record, which contains not a single nod to any musical trends after 1975. While he is true to the old ways of country music, his spirit is in the present, and the songs he writes and sings sound lived in and loved. This album delves into all the old tropes - the fiery, electric Saturday night party anthem ("Tear the Woodpile Down"), the difficulty of breaking into the country business lament for broken dreams ("Sundown in Nashville"), the trading of hot guitar and steel guitar licks on a furiously-paced instrumental ("Hollywood Boogie"), the truck driver looking forward to sex at home ("Truck Driver's Blues"), the mournful yet dignified regrets for a failed relationship ("The Lonely Kind"), and even a Hank Williams cover ("Picture From Life's Other Side," here performed with none other than Hank III). But Stuart's enthusiasm and love for each relic from country music's past is twined with a deep need to communicate exactly what needs to be said about each of these concepts today. The first thing you notice is not that this album is retro; it's that these songs and performances are thrilling.
It does not hurt one bit that Stuart's band, the Fabulous Superlatives, has one of the most accurate names in the world. Stuart has always been a hot-shot guitarist; now he has Kenny Vaughan as a foil. Meanwhile, bassist Paul Martin also contributes piano and organ, and drummer Harry Stinson is one of the best backing vocalists in the game. This is the third album Stuart has done with this band, and they continue to find surprising and delightful ways to rev up Stuart's performances.
There's no need to share Haggard's disdain for all modern country performers just to celebrate the music of Marty Stuart. This tantalizing title, Nashville, Volume 1, means that we're going to have more reasons to be excited about him in the future.
CD Review: "Tear the Woodpile Down" - Marty Stuart
Posted by Nancy Dunham on April 24, 2012
Marty Stuart's music is everything country should be.
The minute I put his just-released album "Tear the Woodpile Down" into my player, I felt as if I had come home. There's something about the instrumentation -- especially the lush steel guitar, banjo and of course Stuart's crisp, yet twangy emotion-laden vocals, that touched my heart.
I'm not a truck driver, don't regularly have lonely times, and am not searching for love, so why is it that I could easily imagine myself in every song?
Let's start with the song "Going, Going, Gone," that kicks off with some of the finest steel guitar I've heard, well, maybe ever, and moves into Stuart's passionate, sincere lyrics about heartache as he reflects on the years he wasted.
It'd be easy to credit Stuart's years playing with greats including Lester Flatt, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard for his virtuosity as a songwriter, player and producer. But there's a lot more to the story.
Anyone who reads Stuart's linear notes about his excitement in coming to Nashville so he could "live in the land of rhinestone suits" and immediately pictures Porter Wagoner, will know exactly what I mean.
The true country troubadours, in my mind anyway, were those who didn't just drive by life but dove in and dissected it. Then they made listeners feel as if they had experienced it, too. That's just what Stuart does in "Going, Going, Gone" as he recalls a misspent youth and the lonely times that followed.
In the same way, Stuart digs way beneath the surface when he talks about a true love "leaving you for someone better," in "A Matter of Time" or talks about the painful end of a relationship on "Holding on to Nothing."
So did Stuart live these experiences? Did his friends? It doesn't matter. What's important is that he makes the listener feel as if he or she lived it. Or sometimes wish they had.
Not that Stuart makes the album a three-hankie experience. The bittersweet music in some of the songs is interspersed with plenty of instrumental joy such as on the dueling strings on the instrumental "Hollywood Boogie." Don't think country musicians are virtuoso players? Listen to this song and report back.
And for pure entertainment, don't miss "Truck Driver's Blues," in which Stuart name checks his much-lauded country singer wife Connie Smith. Pure delight.
In a recent conversation I had with Stuart, he talked about how country musicians were often thought of as lesser than pop and rock musicians so they moved their sound more toward the rockin' popular tunes. In doing so, many seemed to abandon country's unique tones.
Lucky for fans that Marty Stuart and some others have never stopped playing for what Haggard called "the forgotten people" -- traditional country fans.
Country Standard Time
Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
Marty Stuart lives and breathes country music. It's in his blood through associations with folks like Johnny Cash. He's a huge collector of country's history, a photographer, and, oh yeah, quite a fine musician.
Stuart returns for another superb disc of only 10 songs (that's the only criticism here in a tight 31 or so minute set) mixing his stellar, full-bodied Mississippi drawl vocals, great playing, an instrumental, a spoken word (not the first time he has done that) with a tamed Hank Williams III on Picture from Life's Other Side.
Stuart, of course, is more than ably backed by his great band, The Superlatives. That's evident right at the start with ace guitarist Kenny Vaughan laying down some great steely licks on the lead-off gospelly country song Tell. where Stuart sings with a sense of urgency. Vaughan, who is the glue that holds the Superlatives together time and again, is not just of the flashy variety (although he does provide them on the instrumental Hollywood Boogie, since he also laid down more textural licks on The Lonely Kind. Stuart gives a shout out to wife Connie Smith on a truck driving song .
The pedal steel comes to the fore with Vaughan's playing interspersed in the country ballad It's Only a Matter of Time. Quite clearly whether ballad, uptempo, honky tonk, gospel or bluesy, Stuart is comfy in all while stamping them with a Country sound. Read the very extensive liner notes Stuart penned as further proof of where his heart lies.
Stuart is a bit of a throwback these days - he's too good to knock what he may think are the failings of Nashville's hit making machinery. He doesn't need to these days. In fact, he pays homage to Music City - calling it a "country boy's Hollywood" and "where they sweep broken dreams off the street" in the mid-tempo Sundown in Nashville. Stuart simply makes great country music the old fashion way, and for that we have a lot be thankful for, once again, from country's foremost renaissance man.
BY JONATHAN KEEFE ON APRIL 23, 2012
In the latter half of his career, Marty Stuart has positioned himself as one of the most vocal champions for traditional country music, carving out a comfortable niche for himself as one of Nashville's most historically minded artists and a fixture on the Grand Ole Opry stage. While there's certainly considerable value in Stuart's ability to preserve the genre conventions that so many of contemporary country music's biggest stars either routinely overlook or never knew existed in the first place, his aesthetic has become predictable. Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down is an expertly performed collection of traditional country songs that aren't substantively different from the music Stuart has been making for well over a decade now.
Taken entirely on its own merits, Tear the Woodpile Down is a fine album, as Stuart's albums always tend to be. The chicken-plucked Telecaster breaks on the title cut turn the song into an out-and-out romp, and Stuart gives a wry vocal performance that sells the song. "Hollywood Boogie," a brief instrumental, showcases Stuart's unimpeachable skill as a bandleader without becoming self-indulgent or overstaying its welcome. The brushed snares and heavy reverb in Stuart's production on "The Lonely Kind" give its minor-key, two-step arrangement a suitably haunted vibe. It's the kind of smart production choice that illustrates just how well Stuart understands when particular genre tropes are appropriate to a specific song, and most every track on Tear the Woodpile Down highlights Stuart's impressive know-how.
Thing is, Stuart has been playing this same hand since 1999's The Pilgrim, the album that marked a clear end to his more commercial period and began his full-on transformation into a historian. Genre formalism is all well and good when there's genuine creativity and exploration behind it, but Tear the Woodpile Down exposes the limitations of Stuart's hardline conservatism. From the heavy pedal steel and massive, belted-out chorus of "Holding on to Nothing," to the rote narrative of "Truck Drivers' Blues," there's precious little here in terms of material or production that Stuart himself, let alone the country music icons whose legacies he's looking to honor, hasn't already done countless times over.
The album's lone surprise is a collaboration with Hank III on a cover of "Picture from Life's Other Side." Though the recitation-type song isn't one of Hank Williams Sr.'s absolute finest, the duet works as a study in contrasting styles. It's fascinating to hear Hank III, whose best work both honors and challenges his grandfather's traditions, paired with Stuart, who does his damnedest to recreate music that sounds just like Hank Sr.'s, with the advantages of a modern recording studio. That Stuart is able to pull off that kind of mimicry so well is an impressive feat in and of itself, but bringing in someone like Hank III on Tear the Woodpile Down only reaffirms how much more exciting Stuart's output could be if he were to get back to making music that is more definitively his instead of being content to serve as Nashville's most high-profile curator.
Published: April 30, 2012
BY TOM NETHERLAND
SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER
If Marty Stuart is a prophet, then his new album "Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down" heralds the coming return of real country music.
If Stuart's a savior, then "Tear the Woodpile Down" amounts to the resurrection of country.
And if Stuart's a general leading the way, then "Tear the Woodpile Down" amounts to a twang-toasting CHARGE and an all-out heave-ho of the rascals who've overtaken Nashville.
Whichever, welcome to the party, Marty Stuart style.
Axe in hand, life on his lips and country in his soul, country music's renaissance man gets down to some serious renaissancing. Take the album opener, the title track. With fleet-fingered Buck Trent along for the ride, Stuart obliterates the woodpile with a precedent-setting, hard-core country preaching boogie woogie wigglin' tune.
Stuart remains in the country pulpit throughout. A steel guitar-soaked "Sundown in Nashville" prefaces a rhinestones-sparkling "Hollywood Boogie" and the Porter Wagoner-imprinted "Holding on to Nothing."
Thereon and throughout the album, country reverberates from Stuart with the passion of a Pentecostal preacher. He's whisper quiet here, fire and brimstone there.
Take "Going, Going, Gone." A mid-tempo, Telecaster meets steel-strewn tune straight out of the 1960s, the song's lyrics of loss elevate upon the strength of Stuart's conviction plugged into quite a cold hard fact of life.
Friends and neighbors, that's country music.
Ditto Stuart's duet with Hank Williams III on the graveyard sad "Picture From Life's Other Side." Agony drips like tears from the corners of the eyes of the saddest of souls.
"Someone has fell by the way," Stuart and Williams sing, "a life has gone out with the tide, that might have been happy some day."
Stuart and Williams' monumental pairing should open eyes, touch hearts, reach into the minds of man and persuade the soul to extend compassion to those who suffer among life's ranks. So it goes well into the annals of country music. Country cares.
And Stuart cares for country. He's managed to haul Nashville's rich and nuanced past into the present with such a verve and point made that country is not going and certainly has not gone. Least ways not as long as Brother Marty's in the pulpit. Country's the word and he preaches it with passion.
Tom Netherland is a features writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.