This is Marty Stuart

... I didn't do Summerfest tonight, but Marty Stuart -- who I got a chance to interview last week -- is there. Truth is, when I took the assignment, I didn't have a clue who he was. My research proved I would be in for a treat when I talked to him ...

Here's the piece I wrote for last Sunday's Kenosha News ...

It’s not hard to see that country music runs in Marty Stuart’s blood.

Obsessively, the guy has been listening to country music since he was a child and performing since he was a teenager. He’s played along side just about every big name musician from B.B. King to Eric Clapton to Emmylou Harris.

What’s more, he developed his trade under the wings of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Lester Flatt.

“There’s always one more song to sing, one more town to play, one more cause to fight,” he said during a phone interview last week, his low, barreled, smoky-sounding voice even reminiscent of the greats he’s played with. “It’s just a burning passion ... Mearle looked at me one day and said, ‘You’re a lifer.’ I said, ‘It probably takes one one to know one.’ ”

Immediately, Stuart, who will turn 50 in September, is chatty, talking about his career, the things he’s learned and the things he’s accomplished. He’s consistently recognized by music critics and he’s been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association. He owns quite a collection of mementos, too, that includes one of Cash’s suits and Merle Haggard-scribbled lyrics.

He also weaves his hugely successful XM radio show “Marty Stuart’s American Odyssey” into the conversation, professing his love for Milwaukee, including the city’s Harley-Davidson lore and Usinger’s sausage.

“Do you know one of my favorites songs was Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys? They’re from Milwaukee,” he said. The song, Stuart added, is “You tried To Ruin My Name.”

“One of the cities we profiled was Milwaukee,” Stuart continued about his radio show. “I learned a lot of great, great music comes from there. Milwaukee’s a great town, I had no idea.”

It’s nice that he thinks that, considering Stuart appeared at one of the first Summerfests. Now playing with his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart is returning to the Big Gig, performing at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Summefest’s Potowatomi Bingo Casino.

“We’re goinna hit it with both barrels and turn it loose in Milwaukee and put a big dose of hillbilly on the town,” Stuart said.

Stuart’s journey began in Philadelphia, Miss., where, despite his father working long hours at a local factory, he and his pop spent Saturday afternoons watching syndicated country-music shows on the family’s small, black and white television set. Stuart’s mom played a little piano at the local church, and his grandfather was an old-time fiddle player.

Seeing and hearing the music being played, he knew that was his destiny. It was what he had to do.

“I think it was the truths that the stories told and back then I was a kid falling in love with it,” he said, adding the first records he owned were from Flatt & Scruggs and Johnny Cash. “There were guys like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. They were characters and their stories went along with what they looked like and what they were like. I related to what they were singing and playing about.”

He got his first guitar at age 2, and discovered Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys at age 5. He started his first band at age 10, and by 13, he had joined Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass. He was living his dream and playing on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

“It was like being a kid playing baseball and getting signed to a major league team,” he said.

Stuart’s run with Flatt included a landmark concert at Michigan State University with Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and the Eagles. But when Flatt’s health hit a decline in 1978 and the band had to tour without him, Stuart was ready to start a new chapter. Then in the wake of Flatt’s death the next year, Stuart met his other idol Johnny Cash.

While Cash would later become his father-in-law — Stuart was married to Cash’s daughter Cindy between 1983 and 1988 — and one of his closest friends, the men toured together for six years.

Stuart has an archive of stories so vast he passes on telling just one. But the lessons he learned from them are easy.

“The thing that I remember from Lester is he taught me that — and as time passed, I found these words to be very true — he sat me down and said it’s really not about coming to Nashville and making money,” Stuart said. “... It’s about being welcome every January 1 and showing up year after year and being steady with it.”

From Johnny Cash, Stuart said, “At the end of the day, more then anything, he was so creatively fearless. If he believed in something and had a passion to do something, he absolutely stood by it, whether anyone came or whether it sold.”

In 1986, Stuart decided it was time to apply the lessons he’d learned and released his major label debut, “Marty Stuart,” for which he received a Best Male Vocalist nomination from the Academy of Country Music. He formed his own band and toured extensively, while his first single, “Arlene,” broke the Top 20, and “All Because of You,” found the Top 40.

A string of hits, critically-acclaimed albums and major collaborations followed. His 1992 album, “This One’s Gonna Hurt You,” produced the hit title track, a duet with newfound friend Travis Tritt, and three more Top 40 singles in “Now That’s Country,” “High on a Mountain Top,” and “Hey Baby.”

Throughout the decade he collaborated with The Jordanaires, The Staple Singers, Willie Nelson and B.B King. In 1997, Stuart married legendary country music singer Connie Smith. He closed out the ’90s with his critically-acclaimed concept album titled “The Pilgrim,” though radio stations largely ignored it.

Still recovering from the commercial let-down of “Pilgrim,” Stuart formed the Superlatives in 2002 with Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Brian Glenn. While the band’s 2003 debut, “Country Music,” offered a package of every sub-genre under the country-music umbrella, three ensuing releases centered on gospel music, American Indian songs and bluegrass.

He’s tried all the brands — rockabilly, honky tonk, story-telling, contemporary folk, country pop, Western swing, traditional country music. Looking back, Stuart does have regrets. Then he remembers Lester Flatt’s words and the reasons he fell in love with country music as a little boy.

“Country music is a big umbrella,” he says. “It was designed to be a big umbrella ... But I feel like the music right now is straight on target. I love where it’s at right now and it feels heartfelt.”

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