It began when a neighbour gave him an old cowboy guitar.
By third grade country music icon Marty Stuart was practising signing autographs and devising a plan to start his own band.
His first band didn’t have a name, but he was only nine.
Sponsored by insurance company, Woodmen of the World, Stuart’s second band formed when he was 11 and was called The Musical Rangers.
“I can never remember a time when I wasn’t moved by music,” says the singer/songwriter/guitarist and mandolin player, his drawl flavoured by the Deep South. “Grandpa Stuart was an old-time Mississippi fiddle player, my dad loved gospel, bluegrass and string band and my mother loved southern gospel and contemporary country of the ‘60s.”
Born in Louisiana, Stuart describes the local radio station of the day as “1,000 watts of pure pleasure,” with farm reports and country music in the morning, an hour of gospel at noon, followed by rock ‘n’ roll and top 40. Late afternoon was soul before ending the day with easy listening.
He calls the blend a reflection of how Mississippi is and while traditional country captured his soul, all other genres are relevant to him.
The easy marriage between country and gospel is something he attributes to the fact most country singers start their public singing and playing in church.
As well, he says both genres reflect the values of the South of old, with gospel and traditional country attracting the same audience.
Stuart was 12 when he began performing with a bluegrass group called The Sullivan Family and just 14 when a member of Lester Flatt’s band invited him to play in a Labour Day gig.
Stuart became a permanent member of the band, remaining with it for six years until Flatt broke it up in 1978 due to failing health.
He remembers with deep affection the days of playing at festivals that were primarily bluegrass. It was a time, he says, when Woodstock type festivals had garnered a bad name and serious music lovers turned to bluegrass.
“We played lots of festivals and I loved it; you never knew who were gonna see, who you were gonna play with,” he says recalling the easy camaraderie and fellowship. “When people got off the stage, they became parking lot pickers and I learned a lot. It was almost a masters thesis class.”
Stuart has toured with Johnny Cash and played with other legends such as Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
The five-time Grammy-winner faced his share of career challenges but persevered with dogged determination.
“I have a deep belief this is what I am supposed to be doing and I would think, ‘no we don’t have it now, but we will,’” he says, referring to the Nashville saying that ‘it all begins with a song.’ “The written word is a powerful thing and it keeps me going back to the well.”
By the late 1980s, Stuart was a fast-rising star, playing to full houses, producing platinum recordings and winning Grammys.
But for Stuart, the magic was gone, notes his official biography. So he vowed to “get back to the music I’ve always loved the most, and let my heart be the chart.”
Stuart’s heart took him to the recording of The Pilgrim, despite a caution from Johnny Cash that he was “stepping up for rejection.”
The album won critical acclaim and gave Stuart back a large piece of his heart.
Ready to share the new musical road with others, Stuart recruited Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Paul Martin and began performing as Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives.
“They’re the best band going – they live up to the name,” says Stuart, who is considered to be a keeper of country music’s cowboy couture. “They are truly masterful musicians, but they’re masterful human beings too.”
Along with his deep music creds, Stuart is a photographer and historian, who sees magic everywhere – from books, music, photography, architecture – all things that preserve culture.
“I feel like a kid who’s been given a great big box of crayons,” he says
Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives close the Roots and Blues Main Stage Saturday night.
The festival plays out Aug. 14 to 16. Tickets are available at www.rootsandblues.ca, by calling 250-833-4096 or visit the office at 490 Fifth Ave. SW.