Behind the Song: Marty Stuart, “Time Don’t Wait”

Videos by American Songwriter

A native southerner who has played the stages of the world and is an honorary member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, Marty Stuart grew up playing in the worlds of Gospel music with the Sullivan Family, and bluegrass with Lester Flatt, when he was barely out of grade school. He then helped keep classic country and rockabilly alive in Johnny Cash’s band, and had his own strong commercial country presence in the 1980s and ‘90s. So his writing and playing has always been influenced and informed by the work of some of America’s best.

On last year’s album with his band the Fabulous Superlatives, Way Out West, Stuart paid tribute to music influenced by the western United States, calling the album a “love letter to the American West and the sound of California music in all genres.” One of the songs from that album that has become especially popular both acoustically and electrically in live performances is “Time Don’t Wait.” A song about how nothing can stop the movement of time in our lives, the subject obviously isn’t anything new, but it decidedly has a different twist coming from Stuart.

“I wrote the song as a part of the Way Out West concept,” Stuart said via e-mail, a few hours before taking the stage for a show in Idaho. “I placed myself in the middle of the Mojave, say, at midnight. Mysterious things occur in the spirit world in the dead of night in the desert.”

“Time Don’t Wait” was produced in Los Angeles by new Fleetwood Mac guitarist Mike Campbell, with Superlatives guitarist Kenny Vaughan using a 12-string that Campbell played on albums with his old boss, Tom Petty. Stuart said that the song was inspired by the geography and topography of places that don’t seem to be affected by time, but obviously are of course, as the passing of time affects everything.

“The Mojave Desert, the Mississippi Delta, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the Little Big Horn Battlefield are four places I’ve recently been that share the same thing in common. It seems as if nothing is there, however, everything is there. Lots of history in those places, when you’re there it seems as though time stands still, those places probably look the same as they did one hundred years ago. But that’s an illusion. Time is always moving. Like the song says, ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’ If you love somebody, tell them, don’t wait.”

The visual third verse of the four-verse song can be interpreted by the listener in a number of ways, but Stuart said it’s just something that came out of his pen when he was working on material for Way Out West.

“’A thousand angels dropped matches that lit up the desert sky. A pillar of fire from east to west came slowly drifting by. A voice from a cloud like thunder said, start looking for a ride, to where yesterday meets tomorrow, that’ll get you to the other side. That looked interesting on paper. I thought, ‘Just another day at the office in the land of many spirits.’”

Read the lyrics.

Behind the Song: Allen Toussaint, “Freedom For The Stallion”

Behind the Song: Robbie Robertson, “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”