Prior to becoming a superstar in American bluegrass and country music, John Marty Stuart began his humble beginnings as a 1958 Philadelphia born and raised son that already knew how to play the guitar and mandolin by the time he was twelve years old. At that age, he joined a gospel group called The Sullivans that led him to become a regular member of Lester Flatt’s backing band as of 1972. He continued to tour until Flatt retired in 1978.
That same year, Stuart recorded an independent album, With a Little Help from My Friends, before joining with Johnny Cash and his band in 1980. Through the label of Sugar Hill Records, Stuart released his second album in 1982, Busy Bee Cafe. That album was a composition of a jam session he shared with Johnny Cash, as well as Doc Watson, and Earl Scruggs. In 1985, Stuart joined Johnny Cash to play Class of ’55‘s album, which also featured the musical works of Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. When the jam session was over, Carl Perkins handed Marty Stuart his guitar. Later in the year, Marty Stuart embarked on a solo career, signing a short-lived contract with Columbia Records.
The reason for Stuart’s departure from the label was the failure of his second studio recording with them, Let There Be Country, to be released due to the underperformance of two singles, Mirrors Don’t Lie” and “Matches” that came from it. His self-titled debut album, however, was a different story as it produced a total of four singles that appeared on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. In 1992, Columbia Records finally released Let There Be Country.
In 1989, Marty Stuart joined up with The Sullivans again and signed up MCA Records. This was the year Hillbilly Rock was released as Marty Stuart’s third studio album through a major label. The commercial success of this album marked the first time he earned a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), as well as from Music Canada. For marty Stuart, this was the big breakthrough he needed for the country music industry to sit up and take notice. Tempted was the second studio album Marty Stuart released with the MCA label, which was released in 1991. Four out of the five singles released from it became top ten hits, which contributed to this album also receiving gold certifications from RIAA and Music Canada.
Overall, he is best known for his combination of bluegrass, country rock, and rockabilly influences, as well as his frequent collaborations with many recording artists. In addition to his music style, Marty Stuart has established for himself an easily recognizable identity with his stage dress.
In a 1992 article presented by Kate Meyere of Entertainment Weekly, she cited Marty Stuart as a stylist more than a singer, as well as commenting he seemed more interested in how he looked compared to how he sounded. Aside from the distinct hairstyle choices and rhinestone-studded suit jackets, Marty Stuart’s standout style wasn’t just limited to his physical appearance. This was also evident in his music. As his career progressed, he eventually started up his own record label, Superlatone Records, as a means to boost the awareness and popularity of Southern Gospel and Roots music recordings. Upon doing so, Stuart released three critically acclaimed albums, namely Souls’ Chapel, Badlands, and Live at the Ryman. He later released in 2005 a tribute album to the Sioux Indian culture, Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota. k label Epitaph Records.
Marty Stuart’s discography is just as extensive and stylish as his wardrobe. Throughout his career, he has recorded and released eighteen studio albums, seven compilation albums, two live albums, a soundtrack, and thirty-three singles. He also has twenty-eight music videos to his credit.
Top 10 Marty Stuart Songs
#10 – Arlene
“Arlene” was the first hit single for Marty Stuart that appeared on the music charts in 1985. From his self-titled debut album, it peaked as high as number nineteen on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at number fifty-three on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. The unconventional style Marty Stuart was starting to become more prominent at this time, which served as a big welcome among most of his music fans, seeing there was a style he strove to develop all his own.
#9 – Burn Me Down
Released in 1992, “Burn Me Down” was the fourth single from Marty Stuart’s album, Tempted. It reached as high as number seven on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at number twelve on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. This smoldering number delivered a song that seemed to blaze out of control, which illustrated the talent range this unconventional country artist became trademarked for.
#8 – Tempted
On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1991, “Tempted” peaked as high as number five. On the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart, it climbed as high as number four. It was the third single and title track from the album, Tempted. Marty Stuart’s lyrical performance, combined with his guitar riffs, illustrated how genius his musical style is. Marty Stuart’s brand of rockabilly performances, especially with “Tempted,” made him an urban country favorite among fans who appreciated his unconventional approach to country music that none of the other artists seemed to have dabble into yet.
#7 – Little Things
“Little Things” was a song released in 1991 as the first single from Marty Stuart’s album, Tempted. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart it peaked at number eight, and it was a number three hit on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. In this fast-paced single, the mix of contemporary country and rockabilly showed off the multi-talented Marty Stuart at his best as he pointed out the little things is what makes everything feel alright.
#6 – Hummingbyrd
In 2011, Marty Stuart won a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for “Hummingbyrd,” a song that was released from his album, Ghost Train. The entire album, as well as this song, illustrated beautifully the musical talent of Marty Stuart as he established himself as something more than just a vocal artist.
#5 – Foggy Mountain Breakdown (featuring Earl Scruggs)
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was an instrumental song recorded and released by Marty Stuart in 2000. In 2001, it won Best Country Instrumental Performance at the 2001 Grammy Awards. This quick-paced playout of banjo, guitar, and violin charging as if it were an out of control train speeding down the track, does exactly what instrumental country music should do. Fans with imaginations with this in mind can easily get swept up in the moment. It also makes a good folly piece of bumbling bandits and cowboys in a comedic, sped up performance. This wong was written by Earl Scruggs and collaborated with Marty Stuart to turn this into an easy country music favorite.
#4 – Same Old Train (featuring various artists)
“Same Old Train” won Vocal Event of the Year in 1998 with the Academy of Country Music Awards, thanks to the combined contributions of some of country music’s brightest stars. This version of the song was released from the 1998 album, Tribute to Tradition. That roster includes Clint Black, Joe Diffie, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakam. In 1999, with the Country Music Association, “Same Old Train” also won its Vocal Event of the Year. This song was written by Marty Stuart for this historical event.
#3 – Hillbilly Rock
When the album, Hillbilly Rock, was released in 1989, the first two singles that were released failed to chart. However, when it’s title track was released, this was a different story. It became his first top ten hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart as it peaked as high as number eight. On the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart, “Hillbilly Rock” peaked as high as number six.
This single was originally composed for The Judds but that changed as soon as the songwriter, Paul Kennerley, was paired up with Marty Stuart. The album itself earned a gold certification with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a feat that has been credited to its most successful single. Proudly singing an anthem-like presentation of rockabilly, both the song and the music video featured Marty Stuart at his finest as a solo artist.
#2 – The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ (featuring Travis Tritt)
In a 1991 duet performance with Travis Tritt, “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'” has become Marty Stuart’s greatest hit as it peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at number four on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. It also earned a Grammy Award win for Stuart and Tritt for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1992. This single came from Travis Tritt’s second studio album, It’s All About to Change. The narrative behind the song revolved around two men sharing tales as they’re drowning their sorrows in an exchange of “been there, done that” scenarios. After the release of this single, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart embarked on a No Hats tour as neither artist sported a cowboy hat, which separated them from the rest of the contemporary country artists at the time.
#1 – This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time) (featuring Travis Tritt)
The album, This One’s Gonna Hurt You, was the sixth studio release for Marty Stuart as of July 7, 1992. The collaborated single, “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time),” was instrumentally responsible for the album to earn certified gold with the RIAA, as well as platinum with Music Canada. With the Country Music Association Awards, “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” won Vocal Event of the Year in 1994, which became the second time he and his collaborator, Travis Tritt, won an award in the country music industry.
On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, this ballad peaked at number seven and it was a number six hit on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. Both men lyrically plead with their love interest to not end a relationship they’re convinced will hurt her for a long, long time.
Feature Photo: cp_thornton from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Marty Stuart Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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