My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: George Ducas

Spotlight Artist: Marty Stuart

John Martin “Marty” Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1958.  His childhood was steeped in country and bluegrass music.  Not only a child prodigy, but a self-taught one, he started playing guitar at the age of two and was an accomplished mandolin player by the time he reached his teens.  At just 13 and already a member of gospel group the Sullivan Family, he joined the band of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. After Flatt’s death he joined Johnny Cash’s road band, a move which was to bring him romantic as well as professional success, as in 1983 Marty married Cash’s daughter Cindy. That marriage ended in divorce after five years, but Marty remained on excellent professional terms with his former father in law.

His first two solo albums, the obscure 1979 release With A Little Help From My Friends, and 1982’s Busy Bee Cafe, were bluegrass records, and both were really side projects while his main focus was on his sidesman duties with Flatt and Cash respectively.  In 1983 he left the Cash band in order to seriously pursue a solo country career, and soon signed a deal with Columbia Records.  He enjoyed only modest success with Columbia, and reportedly left the label at least partly in protest when his mentor Cash was controversially dropped.  The apparent collapse of his career before it had really taken off was in the end just a blip, as in 1989 Stuart signed with MCA and soon hit the top 10 of the country charts with hist first big hit, ‘Hillbilly Rock’.

The MCA years were to be the most commercially successful of Marty’s career, with a string of mainly rocking country hits, many of them self-penned.  Collaborations with Travis Tritt on record, and their successful “No Hats” tour of the early 90s, helped mark Marty out from the pack of “Hat Acts” who dfominated country radio at this period, and sustained Marty’s career trrough the 90s.  One of several duets with Tritt, ‘The Whiskey Ain’t Working’ won CMA and Grammy awards. In 1992 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, a fitting tribute for an artist with a deep love and knowledge of the genre’s heritage, and one who has made it a point over the years to collect memorabilia and photographs, which have been put on public display.  He was elected President of the Country Music Foundation in 1996, a post he served until 2001.  His appreciation of country music heritage saw a new venture in recent years when he started presenting  The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, which enabled many older and more traditional artists to find a platform, and he presents an eclectic radio show on Sirius XM, Marty Stuart’s American Odyssey.

Radio play and sales of Marty’s music began to tail off in the mid to late 90s.  Moving away from the mainstream, his last record for MCA was 1999’s ambitious story/concept album The Pilgrim.  This received good reviews but failed to garner radio play or much in the way of sales, and Marty left MCA. He briefly returned to Columbia for one last major label release, which failed to reignite his commercial spark.  But it was moving away from mainstream success that led to Marty really making his mark artistically.

In 2005, Marty formed his own label, Superlatone, with distribution by Universal South, and released a trio of specialist albums, respectively gospel, a Native American concept album, and a live set.  He also used Superlatone to publish his collection of country music photographs in his book Country Music – The Masters.  A multimedia digital version of the book is also available.  He later signed to bluegrass and acoustic specialists Sugar Hill for the stunning and much-lauded Ghost Train.

Marty has also developed a very accomplished sideline working with other artists.  He had produced a gospel album for his then boss and father in law Johnny Cash back in 1983, and music for former employers Jerry and Tammy Sullivan in the 1990s.  He also produced singer-songwriter George Ducas’s debut album.  His marriage, in 1997, to his childhood crush, country legend Connie Smith, led him into a more prominent second career producing  – initially Connie herself, who he tempted back into the recording studio for the first time in years, and then another 60s legend, Porter Wagoner, on his final album, The Wagonmaster.  He also produced Kathy Mattea’s equally critically acclaimed Coal (released on Superlatone).

We will be showcasing Marty and his music over the month of May.

Concert review: International Festival of Country Music, Wembley Arena, London – 26 February 2012

For over twenty years (1969-1991) the premier country music event in the United Kingdom, and perhaps in Europe, was the annual International Festival of Country Music held at Wembley Arena in London, which for many years gained country music a wider audience thanks to TV coverage and provided a springboard for the international careers of many country artists. After a hiatus of another two decades, the original promoter, Mervyn Conn, decided to revive the festival this year. The event was reduced to a single day on Sunday 26 February (at its peak it was held over a three-day weekend), with the majority of the lineup moving on to branded festivals in Belfast, Northern Ireland (29 February), Zurich, Switzerland (2 March) and Mannheim in Germany (4 March).

I felt I couldn’t miss the return of this iconic event, but sales overall seem to have been disappointing. Even with ticket prices substantially discounted close to the event, the arena was far from full, so it is not clear whether there will be a repetition, but those who attended clearly enjoyed the experience, offering generous applause throughout the afternoon and evening. The lineup offered a wide range of acts from various aspects of the broad church that is country music these days, and ranging from veterans to newcomers. Presentation was slick early on, courtesy of the genial Essex based country DJ and occasional singer Steve Cherelle, who did an excellent job. Later on, compering was divided between him, veteran DJ David Allan, who did the job at the original festival, but is now rather obviously frail, and the even older George Hamilton IV. They reminisced about the original festival’s glory days, and it was good to have the event’s heritage acknowledged, but it did get a bit rambling and unfocussed at times. Read more of this post

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Used Heart For Sale’

Country music enjoyed a huge renaissance with the New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but by the mid-90s, it had begun to backslide and the lines between country and pop once again became more blurred. Gary Allan’s 1996 debut for Decca Records was a notable exception to the rule. Produced by Mark Wright and Byron Hill, Used Heart For Sale is a throwback to the Bakersfield sound, reflecting Gary’s traditionalist leanings and the experience he gained while paying his dues in southern California’s honkytonks.

Things got off to a strong start with the lead single “Her Man.” Previously recorded by Waylon Jennings but not released as a single, Gary’s version of the Kent Robbins tune reached #7 on the Billboard country singles chart. Unfortunately, none of the subsequent singles — “Living In A House Full of Love”, “From Where I’m Sitting” and “Forever And A Day” — fared as well on the charts. None of them managed to crack the Top 40, probably due in part to Gary’s newcomer status; he was not yet an “automatic add” at country radio. Another obstacle was that country radio had begun to resist playing traditional-based music, a trend that continues to the present day. However, it is safe to assume that “From Where I’m Sitting” would have been a monster hit had it been released by one its co-writers, Garth Brooks. It’s one of the less traditional songs — and one of the weakest — on the album, but Garth’s star power would likely have carried it to the top of the charts. In the hands of a newcomer like Gary Allan, however, it faltered and stalled at #43. It’s a rather forgettable ballad, most likely chosen as a single based on the Brooks connection.

Used Heart For Sale boasts a strong roster of songwriters: George Ducas, Jim Lauderdale, John Levanthal (aka Mr. Rosanne Cash), Faron Young, Billy Sherrill, and Glenn Sutton all made contributions, as did producers Byron Hill and Mark Wright. Gary himself shared songwriting credits with Jake Kelly on the title track, which is one of my favorites from the album. Sherrill and Sutton wrote “Living In A House Full Of Love,” which had been a Top 5 hit for David Houston in 1965. Gary’s version of the Faron Young classic “Wine Me Up” is another highlight of the album. Tanya Tucker included it on her recent covers album, which got me to thinking that she’d be an ideal duet partner for Gary.

The bluesy “Wake Up Screaming” closes the album. It’s the least traditional-sounding song in this collection, foreshadowing a style that Gary would use more frequently in subsequent albums. This one would have fit perfectly on 1999’s Smoke Rings In The Dark, perhaps more comfortably than it fits on this album.

Despite producing only one bonafide hit, Used Heart For Sale sold respectably, earning gold certification from the RIAA. Not as well known as Gary’s later albums, it is an overlooked gem in his discography. Decca Nashville folded in 1998, but Gary was transferred to the roster of Decca’s parent label, MCA which re-released Used Heart For Sale. It is still in print and is available both digitally and in CD form from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: A-