If you are a traditionalist lamenting
the state of country music, you can rest easy—Marty Stuart has your back. His two record set,
Saturday Night & Sunday Morning [Superlatone]
offers a double shot of stripped-down, twang-alicious
tunes sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum
from the pop-rock that currently possesses
the genre. With his band, the aptly-named Fabulous
Superlatives, Stuart puts the roll back in rock
on “Geraldine,” offers up a shuffle to do Ray Price
proud on “I’m Blue and Lonesome” (featuring some
blistering B-bending on the late Clarence White’s
Parsons-equipped Telecaster), and enough dual Tele
action (with “Cousin” Kenny Vaughn) to please the
most rabid fans of Leo Fender’s classic invention.
Stuart is more than a triple-threat singer/writer/
picker like Brad Paisley or Vince Gill. At this writing,
his photography of country legends and fans
hangs in Nashville’s Frist Museum, and his collection
of historic instruments and memorabilia
would make a curator weep. The joy Stuart takes
in the honky-tonk music out of Nashville and
Bakersfield, and the gospel roots that form part of
its DNA, was obvious when he spoke to GP from
the road. It made it easy to see why Marty Stuart
is considered by many to be a one-man repository
of country music’s legacy.
Did you start as a guitarist or a mandolinist?
I started as a guitar player. First, I had a Kraftsman
hollowbody, and then a Teisco. My first Fender
guitar was a Mustang. Later, my mom and dad
took me to a music store full of every Fender you
could imagine. They said, “You can have any one
you want. You just have to help pay for it by cutting
yards.” I chose a Fender Jaguar because it had
more knobs [laughs]. One day, I bought a 78 rpm
record of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys at a
junk store in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The song
was “The Wicked Path of Sin,” and I fell in love
with the mandolin. I set my guitar under the bed
for a season until I could figure out the mandolin.
Other than the lyrics, what do you see as the
difference between Saturday night and Sunday
Not much [laughs]. At the end of the Sunday
Morning record, you can hear me holler out to
Pastor Evelyn Hubbard. If you go past Pastor Evelyn’s
church in Robinsonville, Mississippi, it’s in
the shadow of all those casinos down there. I’m
telling you there is no difference other than, as
you said, the lyrical content.
Is there anything unique about gospel-style
My favorite gospel guitar player has always been Pops Staples. Pops was the ultimate gospel
guitarist, because he never got in the way
of the story—it was about supporting the
song. He brought such an earthiness, and,
at the same time, divinity to his playing. It
was otherworldly—helped by the tremolo.
There was magic to his playing.
As long as we are on the subject, aren’t
you now the curator of Pops’ guitar?
Mavis and Yvonne gave me the rosewood
Tele. If you watch him in The Last
Waltz with the Band, that is the guitar the
family bequeathed to me. It was like being
handed Excalibur. It is an instrument of light
and truth, and there is a responsibility that
falls around my neck when I put that guitar
on. I left it tuned down to Eb, the way Pops
played it. The big old front pickup—that is
the sound right there.
Do you know which pickup it is?
[Asks co-guitarist Kenny Vaughn] Kenny says
at some point after The Last Waltz, he replaced
the neck pickup with a Fender Wide Range Humbucker, and replaced the bridge with
one that had six-way brass saddles.
Is it one of the chambered or solid rosewood
It is real heavy—one of the solid ones. I
have tried to play country and rock on that
guitar, and it won’t come out. But, as soon
as I play gospel, it comes to life. Pops was
coming to Nashville once and called me.
He said, “Marty, I need two things. I need a
Fender ’65 with a shake on it and a stretchout
car.” I said, “No problem,” and then I
called Mavis Staples’ daughter, and asked,
“What is a Fender ’65 with shake on it and
a stretch-out car?” She said, “Oh Marty,
that’s a Fender amp with tremolo and a limousine.”
You performed many of these songs on
your cable show. Was that before or after
That was before. It was the staging ground
where we learned them. For some of these
songs, I would write them, we would rehearse them, take them straight to the floor, and
then to the studio.
How did you and Kenny Vaughn decide
who played which parts?
I’ve never played with anyone as easy to
play with as Kenny. We never discuss it. If
we do, it might be three words. It falls into
place like a tapestry. That is the beauty of
this whole band. There is so little said—it
just happens. It was that way from the first
rehearsal this band ever had. If I happen to
step on Kenny onstage, or he steps on me—and that seldom happens—we giggle, and it
never happens again.
In the studio, or live, do you do anything
to help distinguish the guitar tones from
Sometimes, when doing the TV show
or a record, I will have my engineer, Mick
Conley, push the faders up, and something
different is always happening on each of our
tracks—without even trying. The two instruments
complement each other every time. That Clarence White guitar is such a distinctive
instrument. You could put a thousand
Teles in a row, and Clarence would have a
voice all its own. Kenny used a Tele made
by RS Guitar in Winchester, Kentucky. It is
also one of those magical guitars that has a
sound of its own—just like Clarence.
What amps were you using?
I use a silverface Fender Deluxe Reverb
with an orange box on top that is a bit of a
power boost. Kenny uses a silverface Fender
Princeton. We are both tone freaks, and we
seek out the purest tone we can possibly
squeeze out of things without too many effects.
Are the amps in the same room?
It depends on where we record. We have
recorded with our amps side by side, and the
leakage was more creative than a hindrance.
You have a new bass player since the
last studio album.
It got real when Paul Martin joined on bass.
Everybody is a star, but Paul is ridiculously talented.
He plays steel guitar, vibes, bass, drums, and piano. He can also engineer, arrange harmonies—whatever you need him to do.
You feature him and other band members
on vocals. Isn’t that unusual for an
artist with his name above the title?
When I was in Lester Flatt’s or Johnny
Cash’s band, they made it a point to feature
everybody on stage. It makes for a better evening,
or a better record. That was the way
I was trained, and the wisdom afforded to
me. With guys like Kenny, Harry, and Paul,
all you have to do is throw them the ball.
Are you still collecting instruments?
I try not to. When someone tells me they
have something, I will put my hands over
my ears and go, “La, la, la, la, la.” But, every
now and then, one comes along. This year, I
bought an early ’80s Martin D-45 at Gruhn
Guitars that belonged to George Jones. It
was one Jones had played a lot, so I needed
it to fill that slot in my collection. After
Johnny Cash passed away, there was an auction
offering a Johnny Cash model Grammer guitar that I remembered seeing him play
on his television show. A lady bought it for
something like $110,000. I met that lady
in South Dakota a few weeks back, and she
just gave me that guitar. Those are the two
I added this year.
Do you ever display the collection
Absolutely. It has been around the country
several times. There are some pieces on
loan to the Country Music Hall of Fame for
the Bakersfield exhibit, and I recently loaned
them some for the Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan
exhibit coming up. There are also some pieces
on display at the Ryman Theater in Nashville.
Do you feel any connection bet`ween your
photography and your music?
Without question. Whether I am writing
songs, taking pictures, playing guitar or mandolin,
hosting a TV show, or making up a set
list, it is all the same world to me. It is all
creative architecture, and I love every aspect
of it. I love this job. It is a wonderful life.
MARTY & KENNY ’S ORANGE BOXES & OTHER GEAR
In addition to being a key part of the Fabulous
Superlatives’ sound, Kenny Vaughn has
lent his picking prowess to records and/or
shows with Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey,
Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams, and a host of
others. He explains the mysterious “orange
box” mentioned by Stuart, as well as describing
the dynamic duo’s acoustic setup.
“Marty and I each play through an orange
Radial BigShot PB1 impedance matching/
booster device,” he says. “They seem to help
out our antiquated pickups. Other than that,
the only effects we used were the reverb and
tremolo on the old Deluxe and Princeton.
“For acoustic, Marty plays his Martin Marty
Stuart signature model from the ’90s on
the road. He plays his ’39 D-45, previously
owned by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash,
on TV and in the studio. I play a D-18 from
1992 and an HD-28 from the late ’90s. We
use the Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre with Fishman’s
piezo pickups under the saddle when
we have to plug in. When we tape our TV
spots, we use small microphones attached
by the soundhole.” —MR