They don’t make musicians like Marty Stuart anymore. Perhaps that’s because there are no stories like his anymore – no more 12-year-old guitar players who were so bored at school that their parents finally gave in and sent them on a tour with a gospel band. According to a 2014 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, young Marty told his teacher he wanted to make history, not learn about it.
Half a century later, Stuart, now 62, is still touring and coming to the Sunset Center on Thursday, Sept. 30, to play a sold out show. He’ll be joined on stage by the Fabulous Superlatives, the band he formed in 2002 that includes guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and, as its newest member, bassist Chris Scruggs.
The most endearing thing about Marty Stuart is that even though he’s a country music institution himself, he remains a huge country fan, and a historian of the genre. The collection of country music memorabilia that he started circa 1972 in Nashville, when people were throwing things out, now has about 20,000 pieces and is the biggest collection of its kind in the world.
This love and respect for country music and its heritage is palpable in everything Stuart does, from the earnestness of his lyrics to his choices of romantic partners. His first wife was Johnny Cash’s daughter, Cindy. His second (and current) is his longtime love, country singer Connie Smith. The story goes that he first saw her when he was a child and decided to marry her one day.
Born in “the other Philadelphia” in Mississippi, Stuart played with people like Lester Flatt, Johnny Cash and bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs. He fell in love with the road, and with the spotlight. The peak of his fame was the early 1990s when he signed with MCA Records in Nashville and recorded hits such as “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” (1991) and “Hillbilly Rock” (written in 1989). These songs will likely be performed at the upcoming concert, next to Stuart’s other breakthrough classics such as “Tempted” and the band’s own productions like “Old Mexico.”
Listening to the Fabulous Superlatives, one can fully appreciate the craftsmanship that exists within the genre, even if this aspect of country music is rarely shared with the mainstream public. Stuart’s mastery of the mandolin deserves a separate mention. And while enjoying country classics, let’s not forget that some of Stuart’s most interesting work came later, reflected on albums such as Pilgrim (1999) or Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (2014), both heavy with Southern gospel influence and spiritual content.
Stuart speaks eagerly about the natural connection between country and gospel, and sounds as incredible as ever performing “Amazing Grace” or “Uncloudy Day” with rhythm and blues and gospel singer Mavis Staples.
Country music fan or not, a listener of Stuart’s songs quickly learns that, for this Mississippi-born artist, playing music is a religious experience.
MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES perform at 8 pm, Thursday, Sept. 30 at the Sunset Center, San Carlos St. at Ninth Ave., Carmel. 620-2048, www.sunsetcenter.org. The show is sold out.