Talk on the recent RTH Zoom touched on the last band people saw before the pandemic shut things down. Mine was Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and the show was spectacular.
I knew his name for years and saw him occasionally on tv when he appeared on random all-star events, but I never knew much about him other than he was the guy with the fancy hair and the scarves who owned Clarence White’s telecaster with the original b-bender in it (not to get in the weeds here but for those who aren’t familiar, a b-bender is a device that can be installed on a guitar. It has a lever attached to the guitar strap that allows the player to pull down on the strap which causes the b string to go up in pitch and makes it simulate the sound of a pedal steel).
Marty appears frequently in Ken Burns Country documentary, which I highly recommend if you’ve not seen it yet. He’s a great storyteller with a deep understanding of American popular music. It turns out he’s also a phenomenal guitar player, a great singer, and a master showman.
I love country music but, like jazz and the blues, my interest drops off pretty sharply sometime on the early to mid 60’s. Someone past that time will occasionally catch my ear, like Dwight Yoakam or Lyle Lovett, but even those guys have been around for about 40 years now so I’m not really up to date on country, nor do I care to be. As a result, I’ve never given Marty Stuart, and probably a lot of others, their fair due. Based on the documentary, and after I started poking around on the internet, I’ve come to realize that Marty Stuart is one of those guys who, not unlike Tom Petty, got bit by the bug early, realized that nothing else would do, and single mindedly willed himself into a lifelong career that started when he was 14 years old. I like some of his originals but for me, the appeal of Marty Stuart is that his profound love of music really comes through in the performances by him and his razor-sharp band. Is there still some corny “aw shucks” shenanigans on stage? Sure. But even that comes off as genuine. Here’s a random sampling of the things like by Marty Stuart.
14 years old Marty with Lester Flatt. Fantastic playing, and while this isn’t my favorite of his, I include it because it shows a guy who is talented and self-possessed enough to work his way into Lester Flatt’s band at the ripe old age of 14. Seriously, what were you doing at 14?
Country Boy Rock and Roll on the Letterman Show – A cool song and a great showcase for a band that has an ease about it but can hit the gas when necessary. Stick with it for the dual leads between Marty and Kenny Vaughn.
Rosie Flores – Crying Over You – My judgement here may be clouded by the presence of national treasure Rosie Flores, but when playing with others, this band has an effortlessness and malleability while retaining its own personality. That feels like it would be tricky to pull off. Marty is content just to be strumming an acoustic and polite enough to wait for an invite to the microphone before singing along.
Here are a few from his TV show, which I didn’t even realize existed until fairly recently. The first two are with Roger McGuinn. Mod, I know your feelings about McGuinn, and I don’t think they are necessarily wrong, but try to put them aside, ignore the fedora, and just focus on the band and the presentation of the songs. Outstanding.
You Ain’t Going Nowhere
My Back Pages
Here’s Johnny Rivers doing the Poor Side of Town. A great, smooth rendition, and frankly, Johnny seems to be taking very good care of himself.
Finally, this isn’t the best clip but it ties a bunch of conversational threads from the other night together. Marty Stuart,Elvis Costello, Brian Setzer, and Ricky Skaggs doing Honey Don’t.
I’m hoping someone who is more knowledgeable (I’m thinking of someone with a deep appreciation of country/roots music like Big Steve) can weigh in one some other tracks worth checking out.