Marty Stuart Is Saving Country Music (live review)

April 19, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  31 Comments

I have to start off with an apology. I have let the sainted Saving Country Music reader down. It’s not that Marty Stuart has been completely off my radar, I’ve always been a fan. It’s more I think that I had him typecast from his early 90’s “No Hats” days with Travis Tritt, knowing him most for having the tightest pants in country music. We’ve been looking around, trying to find some mythical country music savior, shoehorning folks like Hank III and Jamey Johnson into the role when they don’t seem to have the necessary universal appeal, or the desire themselves to shoulder the burden. Meanwhile Marty has made a serious play for the position, with his Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, his latest album Ghost Train: Studio B Sessions, and his live show.

With an undying, reverent appreciation for the roots of country music, with bona-fide country music cred, as a songwriter, and overall a brilliant musician and performer, Marty Stuart is saving country music. Like he said during his show at historic Gruene Hall in Texas Saturday night (4-16-11):

I did a lot of other things over the years because I could. But about 3 years ago I really got into traditional country music. Because the most Outlaw thing you can do in Nashville right now is play country music.

That quote more than anything exemplifies Marty Stuart’s approach. He’s not calling himself an Outlaw, unlike so many others in the mainstream who’ve hijacked that term as a marketing tool. He’s simply stating the facts, and letting the country music public decide. He is saving country music the right way. He’s not spouting fire and brimstone anti-Nashville rhetoric like his friends Dale Watson and Hank III, he’s leading by example, and in so doing, created a level of accessibility to his music that works in tandem with the accessibility of the music itself. Then you combine that with his ability to work masterfully across ALL the sub-genres of country music–bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly, Outlaw, traditional–and you have a man and music that can be all things to all people. Marty Stuart is nothing less than a living legend.

He has figured out a way to strike a balance. His live show brings all the high-octane energy of an underground punk-gone-country band, with an unapologeticlly heavy amount of twang. But just when the blue hairs are worried things are getting a little too rowdy, he will bust out three gospel songs with four part harmonies like he did Saturday night, or play a solo acoustic or mandolin number that wow’s everyone. And even the “I didn’t know I liked country music until I heard Rascal Flatts” crowd can appreciate the sheer energy, class, and showmanship he brings to the stage.

One of the keys to the success of Marty Stuart’s “sound” is that Marty and lead guitar player Cousin Kenny Vaughan have a perfectly-matched pair of twangy telecaster tones that can play off each other with such taste and seamlessness. And if you can’t sing, you can’t be in Marty’s “Fabulous Superlatives” band. Simple as that. And you must be able to play anything under the “country” umbrella term.

And to really be considered a living legend in country music, you have to have skins on the wall. In the crowd that night was the legendary keys player Earl Poole Ball. As Marty reminded everyone from the stage, both Ball and him were in Johnny Cash’s band together for years. Another cool moment of the night was when Marty said he felt a cold rush of wind across the stage that he attributed to the ghost of Marty Robbins, before launching into “Don’t We All Have The Right”. Marty Stuart was named for Marty Robbins for those that don’t know. The “did you feel that Earl?” in this short clip is to Earl Poole Ball:

But for all the harmonizing and gospel and good old-time vibes, the heart of the Marty Stuart show is still high-octane, Outlaw-era, rock n’ roll-inspired hard driving country music. This is what Marty Stuart is doing. He’s slinging guitars, he’s kicking ass, and he is doing it with class. If anybody, no matter what stripes they wear, walks out of a Marty Stuart show shrugging their shoulder with a “meh” attitude, they don’t deserve the right to have an opinion.

Two guns way up!

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A song Marty Stuart recently co-wrote with the now deceased Ralph Mooney:

31 Comments to “Marty Stuart Is Saving Country Music (live review)”

  • “He is saving country music the right way. He’s not spouting fire and brimstone anti-Nashville rhetoric”

    I find it hilarious that you said that, considering the only thing you do is find new ways to shit talk about my city.

    But yes, Marty is great.

  • Really great review. I hope I get the chance to see him soon. For now I will just put on Ghost Train again.

  • I think Dwight is known for the tightest pants

    • Yep, I’ll agree with that

  • Nice.
    Tons of respect for Marty Stuart. He’s the real deal. Always has been.

  • I saw him in Tulsa, OK, a few weeks ago and it was a great show. Real country music from beginning to end. Then after the show he stayed and talked to everyone, can’t beat that.

  • Good to see Marty getting some love. His last album was straight up true country music.

  • Another video I shot from the night “Working on a Building”. Have to watch till about 2/3’rds of the way through. The drummer holds a note for a ridiculous amount of time.

  • Dang it! Sorry I missed it. I was out at the Old Settlers Fest in Driftwood, where I saw Marty last year. Wow, if Marty and band had dropped in at Jim Lauderdale’s set earlier in the day on 4/16 — that would have been awesome. Jim had local faves backing him up — Tommy Dettamore on pedal steel and David Carroll on bass — and if the two bands had gotten together the resulting jam would have been amazing to hear.

  • It’s more I think that I had him typecast from his early 90′s “No Hats” days with Travis Tritt, knowing him most for having the tightest pants in country music.

    That’s probably what most folks knew him for back then, and it’s a real shame. This One’s Gonna Hurt You was a fantastic album.

  • Great article Trig. Hopefully he heads to Wisconsin sooner or later.

  • Not only is Marty one of the best pickers(what tele TONE!) and singers around,he’s one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. He let me play Clarence’s tele,and I’ll never forget it. He’s the real deal. Kindness and talent. Great article Trig!

    • He let you PLAY it? I kept looking for him to bust it out all night, and unfortunately he never did, even during Hummingbyrd.

      • He did indeed Trig. There’s a pic on my facebook page. It meant a helluva a lot to me. It didn’t hurt that at the time I had a gig with somebody Marty likes. He’s a good man.

        • Just saw the pic. I’m an idiot, he WAS playing that guitar. For some reason, I thought it was white!

          Very cool!

  • Good article.

    Seems that it is helpful when a live show is attended and some research is done on an artist before an opinion is formed and blogged.

    Just as you had Stuart pegged a certain way due to a small portion of his career, and that contributed to over looking him for the complete body of work, you might consider that when “type casting” other artists.

    And folks might consider how long Stuart has been around to get to the point he is at. You can’t write someone off to quickly saying everything they are doing you don’t agree with is for money money money. Just as Stuart said, he did a lot of different things early in his career cause he could. Didn’t mean that was all he was ever going to be or do.

    Good article.

  • I would love to see Marty’s show. Great blog Trigerman.

  • I’d love to see Marty Stuart live. The “Ghost Train” album in phenomenal!

  • Excellent article. Been meaning to pick up the Studio B Sessions album.

    I’d say another artist who had some mainstream country success and has lately been an outlaw by Marty’s standards is Ricky Skaggs, with his return to bluegrass/old time country/white gospel. Thoroughly enjoyed his “Songs My Dad Loved” and several of his bluegrass offerings.

  • Always been a fan of his and have been preachin about him for a while now.. His show is unbelievable.. Him and Cousin Kenny are two of the finest pickers out there and theyre in the same darn band. This past week I watched Marty pick the mando in a way I haven’t seen many people do and I am always blown away bythe amazing talent him and his band have. This clip is from when Dailey & Vincent were on the show.. Talk about harmony son!!! http://youtu.be/KZVpUlcR1v0

  • Back in the 80’s Marty and Travis Tritt along w/some other true country artists were lumped into the “New country” movement. I was greatfull that Old country was considerd new I still love all those guys, Marty Travis Dwight Randy Kieth(RIP) etc..
    I think it’s awsome a whole new generation is discovering that the old new is the new old.Havn’t missed an episode of his show yet, true family entertainment.

  • Saw him a couple of years ago for the first time, and it really was excellent.

    He’s becoming something of an elder stateseman of country, I think, and it seems like it’s a role he understands and appreciates. If you’re going to take on that role (or have it thrust on you, either way) you’ve got to understand that you’ve become a living link to the music’s past and traditions and the younger generations look (or ought to be looking) to you for guidance.

  • Great Read!! Marty and the band are some damn fine pickers thats for sure.

  • Great Article!!! Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are without a doubt one of the most incredibly talented bands out there. My wife and I have tickets to see them on June 8th at the Ryman in Nashville…can’t wait!

    • It was a great article Scott! I’m hoping to see Marty too, just not at the Ryman. I have never been inside it physically, but the fact that they ousted Hank Williams and still capitalize off of him doesn’t sit well with me.

  • I understand your feelings Denise but the Ryman is “The Mother Church of Country Music”…It will always be a sacred building. Too many legends of the music that we love so much have stood on that stage and played. It’s not about what the Opry did to Hank. Many country music greats played there before and after Hank, not to mention the fact that the Opry left the Ryman in 1974. It’s not the Rymans fault that Hank was let go from the Opry. Blame the people not the building. If you have never seen a country music show in the Ryman you are missing somethng incredible that every true country music fan should experience just once.

  • I played with Marty a few times. Glad he’s getting back to traditional country, and not the poppy crap he was so happy to do back in the days. I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with the recent popularity of the outlaw country genre, and the decline of his (and others) pop country career.

    That being said Marty is an excellent musician, and spiffy dresser (I like that neck hanky especially) He’s got some really nice vintage gear, and a holy grail collection. Unfortunately I cant get over all of the 90’s “No Hat” stuff that he complied with. But thats just me.

    I’ve been doing this kinda music since the late 90’s with no help from the mainstream, and grew up listening to it, and it pisses me off to see yesterday’s pop country icons cashing in on something they turned their backs on not long ago. The new cash crop of “outlaws” like Jamey Johnson, Shooter Jennings, and the rest piss me off too. Jamey is more country than Shooter, but neither of them are Outlaw Country. Chances are if they are playing you on corporate radio you aint “Outlaw”

    Real country music is saving itself, and will continue to do so because it is real. It don’t need a has been pop country star, or acid rock band to show it the way.

    Oh yeah anyone else think that last video of the song Marty & Moon wrote sounded like Waylons “Rainy Day Woman” when he kicked it off?

    Don’t yall think this outlaw bit’s done got out of hand?

    Just my two cents.

    -Peewee Moore

    • Look Peewee, I’m not going to sit here and defend Marty’s whole career, or the way he dresses. I find it a little hard to label what he has done in the past “pop country”, even though it was a little too mainstream for me at the time. What I will say is that I enjoy his current music, and I took special notice that he went out of his way to NOT call himself an Outlaw from the stage that night. Meanwhile you have Justin Moore putting out an album on the same label as Taylor Swift called “Outlaws Like Me.” Marty Stuart may not be your speed, but he’s not the problem. He also played in Cash’s band for a while when coming up the ranks, so let’s make sure we give him credit of ALL the stuff he did in the past.

      Listen, if I were standing in your shoes, I would be PISSED right at what is going on, as the term “Outlaw” has been hijacked by pop country folks and used as a marketing term. I pissed about it anyway, and have come out against it numerous times. But I find it very hard to blame this on Marty.

      And as for the intro to “Little Heartbreaker” and “Rainy Day Woman” being very similar, if anybody is at fault for this, it is Ralph Mooney, who helped write and perform both songs. I brought this up myself in the review I did for Ghost Train:


      “Ralph Mooney is all over this album like a bad rash, adding a thick, countrified feel to many of the compositions. He co-wrote two of the songs, including one of the standouts, “Little Heartbreaker,” which when I first heard it, sounded so much like Waylon’s “Rainy Day Woman” my rip-off alert started to sound. But of course, that’s because Mooney played on that song as well in 1974″

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