Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”

“The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”

Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart

Written by Ronnie Scaife and Marty Stuart

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 31, 1992

A honky-tonk duet gives a Country Music Hall of Famer his only No. 1 hit.

The Road to No. 1

Marty Stuart joined Travis Tritt on their legendary “No Hats” Tour, and they collaborated many times over the years, beginning with “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” While Tritt had become a fixture on the top of the charts with his debut major label album, Stuart had been toiling away in the music industry for years, joining Lester Flatt’s road band while he was still a teenager.   He played with Flatt until his retirement in 1978, then recorded an independent album before going on the road with Johnny Cash.

Drawing on his bluegrass routes – and connections – he released Busy Bee Cafe on Sugar Hill Records in 1982.  Stuart was still active as a side musician throughout the eighties, but also landed a major label deal with Columbia.  His first album produced the top twenty debut single “Arlene,” but that was his biggest success with them.  His second album, Let There Be Country, wouldn’t be released by the label until after his MCA breakthrough.

When Stuart signed with MCA, he finally broke through to the top ten with “Hillbilly Rock,” which was enough to power the album of the same name to gold status.  He followed it with Tempted in 1991, which included three top ten hits. The title track went to No. 5 and ended up his highest charting solo single ever.

The No. 1

Stuart co-wrote “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” and it played well off of the well-balanced personalities of Stuart and Tritt, which made them seem like a duo out of a buddy action comedy.

Their high energy approaches came from different perspectives – Tritt’s southern rock and Stuart’s rockabilly – but they melded together perfectly.  It isn’t always the case with star pairings, but these two together were more than the sum of their individual strengths, which were already formidable.

For those keeping track at home, this would be the third straight classic single in a row from Tritt, and he was doing so well at the time, he was able to bring his buddy along for the ride to the top.

The Road From No. 1

Tritt still has some more No. 1 singles on the way, but Stuart’s time at radio slowed down pretty quickly. He paired with Tritt on the lead single and title track of This One’s Gonna Hurt You in 1992, and although it went gold, their duet was Stuart’s final top ten appearance.

He continued to record for MCA, ending his run their with the critically acclaimed The Pilgrim, and went on to a successful career on independent labels which netted him multiple industry awards.  He also is a renowned country music historian, being a key figure in the well-received PBS Country Music documentary.   Tritt is still waiting for the call, but Stuart was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2020.

“The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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7 Comments

  1. They sound like they are actually having fun singing together! So many high-profile duets feel forced and contrived, or a matter of corporate convenience. Tritt and Stuart’s camaraderie sparks this song’s fire. It still sounds hot and great today.

    I love this song.

    I did forget how little chart success Marty Stuart had despite his commanding influence and legacy.

  2. I also forgot how little chart success Marty Stuart had, since he’s kind of a country legend in my mind, which probably somewhat has to do with his extensive knowledge of country music history . With that said, this is a great fun song and I agree that they sound like they’re really enjoying themselves.

  3. Another one of the most fun songs that came out in the late 1991-early 1992 Fall/Winter period! It’s such a joy to listen to from start to finish, and you can definitely tell the two had the time of their lives singing it together and why they became fast friends soon after. Always loved the high energy honky tonk sound of this record, as well. One thing I’ve loved about this period currently being covered is how you had fun honky tonkers like this, “A Jukebox With A Country Song,” and “My Next Broken Heart” on the radio along with the many subdued ballads that were also climbing the charts at the same time. It made for a great variety, and the fun numbers sound just as good during the cold months as the ballads do.

    This is one I remember always enjoying on the radio in early 1992 after we had moved into my dad’s house. Some time before I had actually seen the entire music video, I remember seeing a little clip of both Travis and Marty on TV where they were being locked in a jail cell. I’m guessing it was some sort of behind the scenes of the video they were about to show, but I didn’t know that then. Anyway, after I saw that tiny clip of them being locked behind bars, I remember thinking and worrying “Oh no, why are they going to jail?! What did they do wrong?! I love their song!,” lol. Of course still being 6-7, I didn’t know better then, and afterwards when I actually got to see the whole video, I realized they were fine after all, lol. Anyway, this is another song that always takes me back to when we were all living together in Fredericksburg in the first half of 1992. :)

    I’m also quite surprised to learn that this was Marty’s only number one, given how popular he seemed to be in the early 90’s. “Tempted” and “Burn Me Down” are also favorites of mine that bring back a lot of good memories from this time period, and I remember them both getting a lot of airplay at the time. Also love “Til I Found You,” “Little Things,” “This One’s Gonna Hurt You,” and “Hey Baby”. I enjoy all of his MCA albums, as well, and always really liked his rockabilly and honky tonk style, along with his unique voice (not to mention his cool outfits). Also he and Travis always had such great chemistry, that I’m a bit surprised they never did a duet album together yet.

  4. I love this song!

    I, too, am surprised that this is Marty Stuart’s only #1 song. I would have thought “Tempted” or “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” would have topped the charts as well.

  5. I love this song. Marty & Travis sounded great together. I wish they’d done a whole album together.

    While we’re on Marty Stuart, This One’s Gonna Hurt You was one of the greatest, most underrated albums of the 1990s. The title track, “Me & Hank & Jumpin’ Jack Flash, ” The King of Dixie…good stuff, Maynard. Oh, and the covers of Charley Pride’s “Just Between You and Me” and Johnny Cash’s “Doin My Time,” the latter with Cash himself taking the second verse? Solid gold, y’all.

  6. @pistolero – agreed on both points! “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” is a great album, which is part of why I’m surprised Marty had only one #1.

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