Marty Stuart: Country Music's Star Collector

This article appeared in Autograph Collector Magazine - September 1996

This not-so-traditional country music star plays on both sides of the fence when it comes to the world of autograph collecting. He not only signs thousands of them for his own fans, but is also a collector himself.

Marty Stuart, well-known for his commitment to the Grand Ole Opry and the heritage of country music, keeps that heritage close by with his collection of country music autographs. "It was something I was always interested in," Stuart says. "My first autograph I got was Minnie Pearl."

Stuart has what is considered one of the largest and finest collections of country music autographs and memorabilia. He can't even guess how many pieces he has. "It got so ridiculous that at one time I had Ernest Tubb's old tour bus," Stuart laughs. "If it was personal effects or it was the real deal, I had to have it."

Don't let him fool you; he's still a little like that. Stuart recently bought 350 items from the personal effects of Hank Williams Sr. from Williams' sister. The collection includes the original manuscripts to I Saw The Light and Your Cheatin' Heart. Stuart, true to form, chose not to store these treasures in his home or in a warehouse. Instead, he loaned them to the Country Music Hall of Fame for an exhibition that opened June 17. "It's great because there hasn't been anything new with Hank Williams in so long," he says. "I bought these things from his sister and they are very personal items. It's kind of nice that people will be able to see them."

Despite his generosity, Stuart still has the heart of a collector, and he loves it when he finds that little something extra. Stuart found a small envelope at the bottom of one of Williams' boxes. "Hank Williams' signatures go for around $1,000 or more apiece, Stuart said. "That envelope was an old bank statement and there in the back was 47 canceled checks! I thought, 'I'm doing pretty good!' "

Stuart recalls fondly the way he came across A.P. Carter's signature. A.P. was the head of the original Carter Family who wrote the country classics Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Wabash Cannonball. Stuart, who had all of the other Carter Family autographs, one day felt a need to have A.P.'s signature. "So I jumped on the tour bus and went to Porterland, Virginia where he's from and put out the word for weeks," he said. "The mountain magic was with me. Just before a concert I was going to do at A.P.'s store, a family member said they had A.P.'s signature on a deed and, if I would come to their house, they would give it to me. I love it when you go on a treasure hunt for years even. It's worth the wait."

One of Stuart's favorite--and rarest--autographs is that of Jimmie Rodgers, whose signature is considered to be even more rare than that of Hank Williams Sr. Stuart obtained it through a Rodgers fan in Mississippi. But he's not just interested in country music. He recently acquired a Billie Holiday 78 rpm record signed by the legendary jazz singer. "I would love to have a good Muddy Waters autograph," he said.

What's Stuart's view on his own autograph? He really doesn't have one other than he likes to give it out. "Country folks are country folks," he says. "It's really not a lot to ask. I remember being a kid and getting Johnny Cash's autograph. It would have broken my heart if he had said 'Kid, get out of my way.' They (the fans) are honest and loyal and, if all it takes is a signature, then no problem."

Stuart says he can't remember ever turning down an autograph request. He has asked if he could do it later, like when he was in an airport bathroom or has a "mouth full of mashed potatoes." But he tries to make sure everything is signed, even his mail. If you ask him how much fan mail, he says he gets "Gobs. Put it this way...I go through a lot of Sharpies." Stuart signs everything personally because, he says, he knows how disappointing it is not to get the original. As a boy, he once wrote to John Wayne and got a signed photo. He framed it and was so proud of it until he saw a real John Wayne signature. "I had framed a fraud," he said.

Stuart also collects country music memorabilia. His collection includes over 400 Nudie suits. "Me and (Autograph Collector publisher) Bill Miller were the first ones to see there really wasn't a market at the time," Stuart said. "And we scratched the surface of a new market." A successful country music artist in his own right, Stuart sees his collection in a more personal way than other collectors. "I think (country music has made) a valid contribution to the world," he says proudly. "A lot of these people have contributed to the fabric of America and the world, and somebody has to take care of it." He is waiting for the Country Music Hall of Fame to expand and he may donate some of his Nudie suit collection to it. "It would be fun to roll up my sleeves and help them design a wing," he says. "The Hall of Fame would be a logical place for them to go."

But until that time, Marty Stuart will keep turning out the hits and keeping an eye out for autographs.

Article written by Russell V. Gerbman

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