For Way Out West, Marty Stuart's recently released album that pays tribute to the Golden State's rich country, surf rock and spaghetti-Western soundtrack traditions, the singer enlisted Mike Campbell, guitarist and musical maestro in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, to handle production duties.
All signs point to Campbell's influence proving a lasting one: earlier this month, at a show at Minneapolis's Fine Line, Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives trotted out an equal parts whimsical and rollicking cover of Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream," off 1989's Full Moon Fever. Stuart takes what's typically a straightforward rock riot, and with his three bandmates encircling him, transforms it into a three-part-harmony-anchored stomp. The highlight? Stuart ripping through a fiery mandolin solo at the song's crescendo.
Stuart and Campbell's musical kinship stretches back more than two decades: the two met in 1995 during early sessions for what became Johnny Cash's Unchained LP. "Before I ever shook hands with him," Stuart remembers, "I knew Mike was a band guy. I guess it takes one to know one. He was obviously a lifer in the Heartbreakers. Tom gives that band songs that are so good – off-the-chart good – and Campbell is one of those who absolutely knows what to do with those songs. When I met him, he was a quiet guy, but every time he spoke, it mattered. And every time he picked up his guitar, it mattered, too."
Stuart and the Superlatives are currently on tour in support of Way Out West. They'll play Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City this week, and on June 7th, Stuart will host his annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.