“It’s another year. I woke up and I was here again,” he chuckled. “It’s another year. I woke up and I was here again,” he chuckled.
It wasn’t just any year. Stuart’s three albums covered three genres, with not a throwaway among them. The gospel masterpiece “Soul’s Chapel,” the bluegrass stomper “Live at the Ryman” and the concept storybook “Badlands” about the lives of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota were all named best in their genres by critics.
“They all appeal to me, and that’s another thing about this point in my life,” Stuart said. “If it really doesn’t come from the heart, I don’t do it. I do it because my heart moves me to do it.”
He doesn’t have to. All three of those albums were released on his new label Superlatone Records, which was established in 2005 to issue overlooked Southern gospel and roots music recordings. Don’t call it a vanity label. There’s little vain about Stuart, who spends most of his time praising his band mates — “It’s the best band in the world. Absolutely the band of a lifetime.” — and the musicians who have influenced his life. For someone who has played professionally since the age of 12, that’s a lot of history.
History has been kind to Stuart, writing his name on a long list of award victories and a longer list of nominations. He has six top 10 hits, one platinum album, five gold ones and four Grammy Awards. Yet he doesn’t dwell much on his own story.
“I don’t look at my awards very much. I keep my Grammys out. I like my Grammys. But it’s easy to look at what I did. Sometimes it’s better to forget about what I did so that keeps me doing what I need to do or what I’m going to do.”
He talks mostly about his upcoming projects. He gives a sense of perpetual motion, like he has a hard time turning his brain off at night. Running his own label did nothing to drag him down in finances and bureaucracy. In fact, Stuart said that it helped when the bottom line depended on him.
“It inspired me,” he said. Producing was a duty, but also a freedom for the first time. No one else dictated what the label would put out. “I felt like the sky was the limit. The only thing that limits the output is my lack of creativity, my lack of focus or my lack of commitment.”
Right now, Stuart is enjoying the life on the road that can be so grueling for the uninitiated, but after more than three decades, Stuart has it down to a science. He’s still got that bottom line to worry about meeting,and the projects he has lined up show he’s just fanning the flames from last year’s detonation.
“This year’s just about as bad,” he said with a laugh.
“The Pilgrim,” his landmark 1999 album, is being re-released as part of a five-disc set, along with the three CDs from last year and another entitled “Compadres” on June 6. He’s produced a new CD by Porter Wagoner called “Wagonmaster” that will release on the same date. But that’s not enough. Country music’s Renaissance man — he has scored films and written books, among other nontraditional projects for popular music icons — will in that same week release another book of photography from his years of touring. He’d previously published “Pilgrims: Sinners, Saints and Prophets.”
“I’ve carried my camera with me on the road all these years,” he said, and has gathered a wealth of photos of country, bluegrass and gospel luminaries. Again in that same week, an exhibit of his photography, “Sparkle and Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Odyssey,” opens at the Tennessee State Museum.
At nearly 50, when most musicians are slouching, hat in hand, toward the sunset, his muse is still shouting in his ear. He has more books in the works, albums in the pipeline and artists with whom he wants to play. His creativity, he says, is at an all-time high, no matter the medium his chooses.
“I don’t try to separate them, First and foremost I know that I’m a country music musician and that’s home base. But creativity runs the gamut. My perspective on it is that I look to the creator. God created a lot of stuff and I figure that I’ll stick close to him.”
Stuart knows that his current success wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t trudged down the wagon track that life cut in front of him: on the road with The Sullivans at the impossibly early age of 12, picked up by Lester Flatt for six years, five years in Johnny Cash’s band, a marriage and then divorce from Cash’s daughter, Cindy, and the hits-and-misses that his many albums have had. His commercial success has never matched his critical success, but his experiences and the advice he’s gathered along the way have kept him humbled.
When he was a kid, Flatt told him that in the music business, it’s not about coming to a new town and selling out an arena. It’s about being welcomed back every year.
“That’s a lesson to everybody,” he said.
The Imperial Theatre
Saturday, March 24
Admission is $12.50 – $35.