Mar 012021

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.


  17 Responses to “Making Amends for My Under-appreciation of Marty Stuart”

  1. BigSteve

    I didn’t realize that Harry Stinson was the drummer in Stuart’s band. What a great player! He really shines on that Letterman clip.

    I also didn’t realize that McGuinn still played that Rickenbacker that has some sort of light fixtures inside that flash when he plays. When I was in grad school in Baton Rouge in 1977 I rode my bike through the darkness to a distant part of town I’d never been to before so I could see McGuinn play with his Thunderbyrd band, and he played that guitar. He was still riding the post-Rolling Thunder hype at the time, and it was a memorable show. (As was the Ry Cooder and Flaco Jimenez show at the same club a few months later. I’m just glad my bike was still there when I got out of the club.)

  2. He’s great on the backup vocals too. I envy you both of those shows.

  3. trigmogigmo

    I dig the Letterman clip especially. That’s some tip-top twangy twin telecaster talent there. Good stuff!

  4. Excellent playing. So strange to see a country boy with such an affinity for thick New England scarfs and a Liza Minelli haircut.

  5. Which is why I steered clear from the guy for so long. As always, good call, Chickenfrank. And do me one quick favor. Watch the clip one more time, focusing specifically at 1:12-1:14 and 1:50-1:59. Am I seeing things, or is there definitely something going on between Setzer and Costello? Setzer looks none too happy that he’s been asked to stand next to Costello. In a very subtle way, Setzer appears to be letting Costello know that he has no business whatsoever sharing the stage with Setzer’s other kindred spirits.

  6. That stuff was pretty awesome, cdm, and you know how much I struggle with country music. Just about everything you posted had a really nice flow to it – thosd bands didn’t best anything into the ground. And that guy can play. Even the McGuinn clips worked. If helped that it was my two favorite Dylan covers that The Byrds tackled.

  7. Marty got a new bass player a while back, Chris Scruggs and all of these clips pre-date him. He’s the grandson of Earl Scruggs and the the maternal side of his lineage. He’s comparatively young, 38, and plays guitar and, in the Stuart lineup, occasionally switches to pedal steel. I fist saw him on upright in one of Robbie Fulks’ bluegrass lineups. Oh, and he is also a monster player just like the rest of them.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    That Letterman clip is hotter than a fox. The harmony guitar duet thing reminded me of the amazing stuff Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant used to do back in the 50s. Here in Texas, when you dig for records, more often than not, you end up with a whole lot of country in the pile. Which can be cool if the stuff you find is from the golden age of honky-tonk/truck stop country. Every so often, I’ll find a record with Jimmy Bryant or Speedy on it as session players, which is fun. Never credited, but unmistakable.

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    Here are Speedy and Jimmy cheesin’ it up with Tennessee Ernie Ford. They come in around 1:35.

  10. hrrundivbakshi

    Whoops, sorry, that’s them doing the duo thing. Even better.

  11. Sidebar: I was all set to hit you with the fact that Speedy West played the opening swoop on the Bugs Bunny. Out of an abundance caution, I went to verify that. Turns out I’ve been wrong all these years. It was actually a guy named Freddy Tavardes. Feddy was also on the design team for the Stratocaster and the Bassman amp. Not a bad legacy.

  12. trigmogigmo

    HVB: If memory serves that you were the source, I still have random tunes from your mix tape “I Can’t Hold Myself In Line: Classic Country 1965-1975” pop up in my car when I’m listening on shuffle everything mode. Always worth a listen even if that ain’t my wheelhouse.

    Trivia: Tennessee Ernie Ford retired to my little Bay Area hometown after his heyday and lived there when I was growing up. That was and is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of him beyond Wikipedia.

  13. hrrundivbakshi

    Trig, I wish I could take credit for that, but I don’t think it was me.

  14. It was provided by a user appropriately named “Hank Fan.” It is really good and included artwork featuring a young Merle Haggard and band.

  15. Hank Fan! I forgot about him. He was a solid Townsperson, one of the many I didn’t know personally but who projected a strong personality with us.

  16. Just throwing this on the underappreciation thread: I watched the Suzi Quatro documentary last night named Suzi Q. It was really enjoyable. I knew practically nothing about her beyond knowing I wanted nothing to do with Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days. Glad I know more now. Her career didn’t follow the same path every rock doc seems to lay out, and it was fun hearing those glam songs I wasn’t so aware of.

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