Artist Interview: Marty Stuart on the preservation of country music

Marty Stuart – Photo by James Minchin
Tonight, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives will be spending Valentine’s Day here in Kentucky. He is not a stranger to Kentucky, having performed here multiple times over the years. His band also uses locally owned guitars produced by RS Guitarworks. Below is our conversation about those guitars, as well as preservation country music history and the popularity of his television show on RFD-TV.

How did you get in touch with RS Guitarworks from Winchester for your guitars?
Paul Martin, our bass player, is from Winchester. So he’s a hometown boy and he knew Roy and those guys. He came and talked to me about this wonderful guitar company that was a hometown guitar company. I’ve heard that a million times from folks and went ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ So, somehow a RS guitar made it into the hands of Kenny Vaughn, our guitar player. The first time he played it, I stopped singing and turned around at sound check. I said “what’s that?” and he said, “RS Guitars.”

I told him, “if you’re not going to buy it, I’m going to buy it and give it to you because it makes me sing different. It was just a perfect guitar. So, for the first time in my life, I stepped up outside of Fender and Martin guitar and switched to an independent guitar maker. I will support this project.

One of my childhood friends, Monti Weaver, works there and was the one who told me about you using their guitars. He also mentioned about helping to build one for Ben Haggard, Merle’s son, that was used recently on the Grammy awards.
You know, we turned Benny onto their guitars when he came with Merle to play on our TV show. Benny is a good man to play that guitar because look who he gets to play with every night and that’s wonderful. That says a lot about the guitar.

You seem to be the king of preservationist of country music through stories, photography, and the collection. What triggered that enthusiasm to grab hold to that tradition?
I’ve always been traditional minded. There’s a lot of things that surprised me as I got a little bit older. I thought I was a cowboy, but I turned out to be an Indian. (laughing) I thought I was a rock star, but I turned out to be a traditional country music purist. I don’t know where all that came from. I simply followed my heart, doing what I love the most. After years of exploring and innovating, or trying to innovate different denominations of country music, it appeared to me one day that the one thing that moves me and makes me cry is when I hear those real country songs. The one thing that moves me is when I write or perform one. Coming to a sense of terms, the culture was simply slipping away. I didn’t see much of standards much out there. Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill were doing it. They had their own places that they were doing it in. When the Superlatives got together, I really thought we could go out there, fly solo, and blend with the 20th century culture that loved traditional country music. Restage it and represent it and get it in the wave of the 20th century with the message to young people that this is alive and well. Since you love this and you love doing it, there is a heartbeat on this and can be further. It’s not for the graveyard and to make sure that a lot of the old timers got a lot of dignity in them.

That is so true. You are also known for your huge country music memorabilia collection. How many items are in that collection now?
I really don’t know, but my insurance man says in the neighborhood of over 20,000.

What is the largest item?
Oh man, I don’t know. Some of the most poignant items might be Johnny Cash’s first black performance suit, the boots that Patsy Cline was wearing when she lost her life, handwritten manuscripts of Hank Williams songs, and that kind of stuff.

I remember you having several items on display at the Tennessee State Museum years ago. Ironically I gotten the phone call of Porter Waggoner passing away just as I was standing in front of the portrait that you did of Porter. Do you plan on having anymore exhibits of your items?
Oh wow. There are a few items on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Gene Autry Museum. There are things that are on loan right now to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry Museum, and a few other museums as well that are on loan. We are working on a permanent place for them right now.

What do you think country music fans should do to help preserve the memories and memorabilia?
I think that whether it is us, or Florida Georgia Line, or whatever is there that appeals to you by the way of country music, support it, especially live bands and new artists. A lot of the fans that come to my shows have been coming to my shows since 1987 when I was barely trying to start. It is so important to keep new artists supported; especially the ones that have a shot at longevity and not, in other words, throw away pop stars. Get in there and support live music. Support your band that you love – that helps.

The very first thing people said to me when I mentioned I was interviewing you was that they love the Marty Stuart Show. It has appealed both young and old over the last few years. Why do you feel that your TV show has become so popular?
I think it is one of those things that we took our cases to the people. We didn’t worry about demographics. We didn’t worry about who was popular this week. I thought it entertains or it doesn’t. It is either meaningful, or it’s not. I think that people respond to the authenticity of it and it’s not a flash in the pan kind of show. I think it’s the kind of show that will be rerun in 20 years from now. It has been a journey of trust. I’ve put some people that others may not have heard of, or forgot about. In the long run, they went, ‘oh that was good.’ I hope people learn that we are trying to do a good, trustworthy thing.

I know that you’ve had Hank 3 on there several times. Where audience members surprised to see him in both the three piece suit and then normal stage wear attire?
Naw, not at all. They look at me every week, so that pretty much desensitizes everybody. (laughing) He brought his band and they did a great job. He did a couple of songs from his latest project that have a true country heart to them. For goodness sake, it’s Hank III. That’s Hank’s boy, and Hank, Sr.’s grandson, and he’s Shelton. He’s earned his place out there. He approached it with a lot of love and respect and people responded with a like mind.

After seeing him live in concert myself, as well as the new album to his music collection, he’s doing well for himself and I’m a fan.
I think so too. I agree and I think his grandpa would be proud of him.

You always had an authentic sense of style from your hair down to your boots. Everyone has asked me to ask you – how have you been able to maintain your great hairstyle?
(laughing) I see it as a totally different perspective of that. I don’t see it as a wonderful hairstyle. I see it more as a mess. Hang it out the window and let ‘er fly.

With Valentine’s Day, how would you describe the perfect date with your wife Connie?
I haven’t yet. We usually have to put it off a few days. One of the things that have been on my list for a long time is to go see Tony Bennett. We are playing in New York City next Wednesday and the day after we get home, Tony Bennett is playing in Nashville. So Constance and I are going to go see Tony Bennett and have a date night. Let him sing love songs to us.

Each year you both come up to Renfro Valley. What keeps you coming back to play there?
I love the place. It’s one of those places that if we don’t support it, it will go away. There have been a lot of shows that were like Renfro Valley that have disappeared and died within the past 15 or 20 years. Their legacies probably ran as deep as Renfro Valley. Times changed, they tried, and it didn’t work and they’re gone. And the thing about it is, Renfro Valley is kind of one of those American treasures out there and if we don’t support it will simply disappear.

And I feel the same about the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. It’s a great museum. It is a great place and I feel like a lot of people from Nashville have never been to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I feel like a lot of people from Kentucky have never been to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

You asked me what people could do to support it. Start at the local level and that’s a great way to do it.

When it is all said and done, how do you want to be remembered by?
Oh wow. It would be that he died following his heart.

Be sure to check out Marty Stuart’s website for tour dates and the latest updates at www.martystuart.net.