Vital Signs

Hillbilly Deluxe

"Hillbilly." The earliest recorded use of the word is from the New York Journal of April 23, 1900. As you might guess from that publication's city of origin, the term was not intended as a compliment. The journal defined a hillbilly as "a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him." Although this is not a completely accurate description of country singer-songwriter Marty Stuart, that has not stopped the Philadelphia, Mississippi, native from adopting the term with a vengeance. His 1989 MCA debut was called Hillbilly Rock. The title track from that recording, written by Stuart's occasional songwriting partner, Paul Kennedy, reveals the origins both of Stuart's sound and of his attitude: "It comes from Mississippi, and down in Alabam' / creepin' like a fever all across the land / from deep in the Delta on the Louisiana shore . . . "

Not surprisingly for an artist who willingly adopted the "hillbilly" title at the close of the most homogenizing and centralizing of centuries, Stuart has great respect for musical tradition. He spent much of his youth learning from the masters. He joined Lester Flatt's band in 1972, at the age of 13, and played with him until Flatt retired in 1978. Stuart...

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