Marty Stuart is an endlessly creative singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and record producer. Starting his career as a backup musician for other singers, including Johnny Cash, he is considered one of the world’s most talented guitarists and mandolin players.
Stuart launched his own successful singing career in the 1980s, merging traditional and contemporary country with bluegrass, rockabilly, rock, and gospel.
The gifted country musician with the flashy rhinestone suits and distinctive spiky pompadour has been honored with several Grammies and other awards. Extremely knowledgeable about the history of his profession, Stuart is also a great protector and preserver of the heritage of country music.
John Marty Stuart was born on September 30, 1958, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. His mother, a huge fan of country music, borrowed his middle name from Marty Robbins
He started playing guitar, mandolin, and other instruments as a very young child, around age five. He had a special love for bluegrass music, such as Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe. By the time he was 12, he was playing mandolin professionally with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass-gospel group that toured throughout the South.
When he was 13, he quit school to play mandolin with Lester Flatt and The Nashville Grass. After Flatt died in 1979, Stuart worked as a session musician, playing on the records of several country, pop, and rock acts.
A young Marty Stuart playing mandolin and singing with Lester Flatt and The Nashville Grass in the early 1970s.
Stuart got his first regular gig in mainstream country music later in 1979, when he joined Johnny Cash’s band as a guitarist. He married Cash’s daughter Cindy in 1983. Although the marriage ended in 1988, he remained good friends with the Cash family.
Stuart’s first notable solo recording was his 1982 bluegrass album Busy Bee Cafe. The positive reviews of the album helped encouraged him to leave Cash’s band to concentrate on his own recording and performing career. His 1986 rockabilly-flavored album Marty Stuart yielded his first chart hit with “Arlene,” though the album was not as commercially successful as Stuart had hoped. He obtained his first top-ten hit with “Hillbilly Rock,” off of 1989’s rootsy album of the same name. Three top-ten hits came off of 1991’s Tempted—the title cut, “Burn Me Down,” and “Little Things.” Stuart had become a recognized star.
Marty’s first top-ten hit, 1989’s “Hillbilly Rock.”
A collaboration with Travis Tritt began in the early 1990s when the two paired up on “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)”—which won, respectively, a Grammy and a Country Music Association award. Their successful recordings led them to perform together on the “No Hats Tour” of 1992. The title of the tour suggested their rebellion against the “hat acts” that had come to dominate country music.
Additional Grammy awards for collaborative and instrumental work would come Stuart’s way in 1993 (“Red Wing”), 1998 (“Same Old Train”), 2001 (“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”), and 2010 (“Hummingbyrd”).
Marty and Travis in the video of “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” in 1991.
In 1994, Stuart began his television career by hosting the first of a series of Marty Party specials. Other well-reviewed albums of the ‘90s included 1992’s stylistically eclectic This One’s Gonna Hurt You (which featured the duet with Tritt) and 1999’s The Pilgrim (an ambitious concept album about a man on a journey).
Also in the mid- to late ‘90s, he became a sought-after producer for other artists, such as Pam Tillis, George Ducas, and Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. And he began producing soundtracks for movies, including 2000’s All the Pretty Horses, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe.
In 1997, Stuart married legendary country singer Connie Smith. Smith, who was 17 years older than Stuart, had long been one of his musical idols. The two first met when Marty’s mother took him to a Smith concert in 1970, when he was only 12 years old.
He later remembered telling his mother that night that someday he would marry Smith. Marty created a DVD exclusively for the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum that includes he and Connie telling the great story of how they met and eventually married. It’s a great video and visitors really love it.
Stuart and Smith eventually fell in love as their paths crossed in the music business, and they dated about three years before marrying. Marty’s childhood prophesy indeed came true.
In 1998, Marty produced her album Connie Smith. The couple have since recorded and performed together many times.
Marty and Connie singing “I Run To You.”
Career in 2000s
Throughout the 2000s, Stuart has released highly acclaimed albums showcasing his musical versatility, creative energy, and profound understanding of country music’s heritage. These albums have featured Stuart’s proficient band of musicians known as the Fabulous Superlatives.
Souls’ Chapel, released in 2005, offered original blues, soul, R&B, and country takes on gospel. Badlands, also from 2005, was a unique folk, country, and rock tribute to Lakota Native Americans. In 2006, Stuart released Live at the Ryman, a bluegrass concert recorded live in 2003.
In 2010, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, highlighted his hardcore honkytonk stylings. Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down, from 2012, featured more honkytonk and rockabilly.
In 2014, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning was an unusual mix of traditional country, rockabilly, and gospel. Way Out West, in 2017, was inspired by California sounds ranging from Buck Owens to Marty Robbins to the Byrds.
From 2008 to 2014, Stuart hosted the popular music television show, The Marty Stuart Show.
Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives performing their Grammy-winning “Hummingbyrd.”
Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives jammin’ on “La Tingo Tango.”
Marty’s Fabulous Superlatives team up with Connie’s Sundowners on “Buckaroo.”
Keeper of country-music legacy
Stuart is much more than a superb musician. He is also an expert on the history, legacy, and cultural significance of country music. From 1996 to 2002, he served as president of the Country Music Foundation, which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
His personal collection of some 20,000 country-music artifacts is legendary, and some of it has been showcased in museum exhibits, including at the Tennessee State Museum in 2007. In 2016, the U.S. Library of Congress acquired hundreds of hours of audio-visual material from Stuart’s memorabilia collection.
In 1999, Rutledge Hill Press published Pilgrims: Sinners, Saints, and Prophets, a book of Stuart’s original photographs of country-music artists, as well as his written impressions. In 2007, another book of his country-music photos, titled Country Music: The Masters, was published by Superlatone Productions. In 2014, an exhibition of Stuart’s photos was shown at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.
In recognition of his accomplishments in roots music, the Americana Music Association honored Stuart with its Lifetime Achievement for Performance award in 2005, and Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives won the association’s Duo/Group of the Year award in 2017.
Some of Marty’s amazing collection of country-music treasures.
More about Marty Stuart
Marty’s official website
Biography, with links, on AllMusic.com
Marty Stuart: Keeper of country music’s cowboy couture. National Public Radio. October 1, 2014.
Michael Streissguth. Marty Stuart on country music’s long history of popping pills. Rolling Stone. July 14, 2017.
Calvin Gilbert. Marty Stuart’s Way Out West is a vivid trip. CMT. March 10, 2017.
Marty Stuart discography
In addition to Marty Stuart, the displays and exhibits you’ll see at the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum honor other country music legends including: