Marty Stuart has a surprising answer when the subject comes up that traditional country music not having a presence on commercial country radio.
"Isn't that great?" says Stuart with a chuckle. "You know what? I don't know if it matters in my case. We had so much radio success in the '90s and then it was just like a switch went off and I felt like everything I was doing was pointless and worthless. Then it dawned on me that when I went to work with Lester Flatt they hadn't had a hit in a long time. When I went to work for Johnny Cash they hadn't had a hit in a long time. But it didn't matter. For some acts it just doesn't matter."
That may be the case for Stuart. Although he had a string of hits (beginning with "Hillbilly Rock" in 1990), Stuart settled comfortably in the Americana market, which includes many traditional country artists.
"I think traditional country music is kind of like Western wear. It's not always the most popular thing on the block, but it's always there. I think you just have to stand your ground and play what's in your heart. For me, that's traditional country music. Somewhere along the way it'll come back around."
Stuart grew up in Philadelphia, Miss., and was so enamored with music — and such a good mandolinist and guitarist — that he was invited to become part of Flatt's backing band The Nashville Grass when he was only 12. After Flatt's death in 1979, Stuart performed with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson before becoming part of Johnny Cash's backing band.
Although he had released two solo albums earlier, it was 1986's self-titled album on Columbia Records that got him a little attention.
"I haven't heard it probably from the day I made it," says Stuart. "The job at hand really was to make it loud and bold and try to attract young listeners with it. But I will never forget the first time I heard the single off that record, 'Arlene.' I was on the L.A. freeway and I was by myself in a rental car and I liked that I heard myself on the radio, but it didn't move me the way Merle Haggard's records did or Hank Williams' records did, and I knew that I had a lot of work to do."
Stuart sees his new album, "Tear the Woodpile Down," as a natural part of his traditional path. He produced Porter Wagoner's acclaimed final album, "Wagonmaster," and produced a similarly acclaimed comeback album for Connie Smith (Stuart's wife since 1997).
"I've got two good decisions in my life," says Stuart, "getting sober and marrying Connie Smith."
He says his new album is different from his earlier efforts because so many of the songs were worked out on his RFD-TV program "The Marty Stuart Show," which began airing in 2008.
"I wrote (the song) 'Tear the Woodpile Down' in one night, taught it to the band the next morning, and the next afternoon we were playing it on the TV show. And that's the way a lot of these songs on this record came about."
Stuart says he's ready to give advice to the stars of country music today:
"I can tell all the people on the ACM awards show how it's gonna work out for them! You're all gonna end up with a bunch of 8 X 10 color glossies and a bunch of cut-out records in the record bins before it's over with, so you better be making the music that means the most to you right now. That's the only thing you're going to be proud of later on."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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