Marty Stuart likes to work hard: He records and tours with his band The Fabulous Superlatives, hosts an RFD TV show, goes out on the road backing his wife (Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith), and is now setting up a museum to exhibit his collection of country music memorabilia.
"The absolute truth is I get up every day and go to work at the fun factory," he swears. "It's still hard work, but I love every aspect of it."
Let's start with The Fabulous Superlatives. Formed by Stuart in 2002, the band is guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer and backing vocalist Harry Stinson, and bassist Paul Martin. All are in-demand Nashville session musicians, and with good reason.
"From the first rehearsal I knew it was a special band, bigger than chasing hits up and down Music Row," says Stuart, who plays guitar and mandolin and sings. "Authenticity is the word. This isn't just for me. It applies to all four of us."
That's more than evident on The Fabulous Superlatives' Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, an acclaimed 2005 concept album that details the struggles of the Lakota Sioux. Then there's the gospel half of last year's Saturday Night/Sunday Morning.
In fact, the "pure," "real" "traditional" country to which Stuart has devoted his career is gradually making a resurgence — via artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson — after nearly being swamped by pop/rock/rap-filled "bro country."
"It's about time," says the former Country Music Foundation president. "Start in 1927 with 'The Bristol Sessions,' which were the first recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family; that's the downbeat of commercial country music. [But] country has acted the same way for 100 years: It starts out roots, it gets pop, and it gets almost unrecognizable. And then the roots reappear."
Stuart, now 57, can trace his own roots all the way back to a formative experience at the age of 13.
"I'd been in Nashville about two weeks, and Lester Flatt invited me to play at the Grand Ole Opry with him and his band," recalls the Denver native. "We walked onstage and the curtain was down. When the curtain came up, I was sitting on top of the world. I've worked my way to the bottom several times since then."
Stuart played with Flatt through 1977, when the group was disbanded. He worked for a while with fiddler Vassar Clements before joining Johnny Cash's band in 1980. After five years with Cash, he left the band to go solo.
In 1990, Stuart had a hit with "Hillbilly Rock," the title cut of his first MCA Records album, followed by "Tempted," another title track that hit the Top 5 the next year, and the Travis Tritt collaboration "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."
But he often doesn't play those songs in his shows.
"I don't go chasing old hits very much," Stuart says. "There's so much more."