Marty Stuart Celebrates Two Sides of Country

Iconic artist and historian discusses the dualities of country music's traditions.

On Sept. 30, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives released Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, an ambitious exploration of the age-old Country Music drama between hardcore living and heartfelt apologia, between Saturday night sinning and Sunday morning spirituality, through 23 songs that blend Stuart originals, covers and new as well as traditional hymns.

“I’ve been living with and through this record for over eight years now,” Stuart said. “I’d get close and say, ‘That’s not it,’ and pull back. We’d try something else and go, ‘No, that’s not it.’ Three, four, five years went by, but it just wasn’t right. It wasn’t truly authentic.”

Authenticity is a word Stuart uses a lot when talking about Country Music. Not surprisingly, narrowing down the final song choices and arrangements wasn’t easy. “But it finally just clicked. One day, I just laid it all out, and it was like a string of pearls. I said, ‘There it is.’ It finally felt right.”

“Country Music and gospel music share such a unique relationship,” Stuart continued. “I’ve always loved them both since I was a kid growing up in Mississippi. It goes all the way back to Hank Williams, the biggest rounder, or Johnny (Cash) or Willie (Nelson) or Merle (Haggard) or myself, all of us standing out raising Cain. But then at some point, we say, ‘Friends, we’d like to do you a gospel song.’ The whole mood shifts. Country audiences love it, because it’s part of them.”

Stuart credits his band — bassist/steel guitarist Paul Martin, drummer Harry Stinson and guitarist Kenny Vaughan — with being the creative catalyst for Saturday Night & Sunday Morning. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this album if it weren’t for them,” he stated. “When I put the Superlatives together 12 years ago, the way we learned to sing and learn about each other was by way of black gospel and bluegrass gospel music. Everyone brought their favorite denomination of gospel music, and we’d sit in dressing rooms and drive up and down the road in buses, singing gospel songs. Then we started writing our own gospel songs. And when my television show came along (“The Marty Stuart Show,” aired Saturday nights on RFD-TV), we needed a gospel song for each show, so it just became a part of who we are musically.”

Stinson, the Superlative drummer and high harmony vocalist, ventured that the debauchery/devotion theme of Saturday Night & Sunday Morning reaches beyond Country audiences. “People have 9-to-5 jobs, go to work every week, come home on Friday and blow off steam Saturday night,” he noted. “On Sunday morning, they’re right back in church. You don’t have to listen to Country Music or be a fan to identify.”

The double album includes familiar favorites, including “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” (co-written by Bill Monroe and Hank Williams), “Old Old House” (Hal Bynum and George Jones) and Pops Staples’ “Uncloudy Day,” which features daughter Mavis Staples and Stuart playing her late father’s Fender Telecaster — a gift from the Staples family. But fully 16 of the tracks were written by Stuart. The closing track, “Heaven,” was penned by Stuart and his bandmates and recorded with all four Superlatives singing live around a single microphone. It’s not a process seen often these days, but it reflects Stuart’s belief that the past has a lot to offer.

“There was a moment when we were recording ‘Heaven,’” he summed up. “I looked at all of us around the microphone, and I remember thinking that in my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be singing this kind of music. It really stretched me. I think at the end of the day, that’s what I was looking for with this record. It speaks to who I am and how I’d like to be remembered.”

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© 2014 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc. Reprinted With Permission of the CMA.