Wagoner Returns To Country On Anti- Debut

This appeared in Billboard - May 10, 2007

Country legend Porter Wagoner calls the approaching release of Wagonmaster "a wonderful feeling for me. It's like the start of your career again." In a way it is -- even if Wagoner is 79 and has 55 years of recording behind him, with more than 80 charting country singles.

The Marty Stuart-produced Wagonmaster, due June 5 on Anti-, is Wagoner's first country album in seven years, following several gospel releases. It also comes after a near-fatal aortic aneurysm he suffered in July 2006, shortly after he and Stuart began to work on the album.

But even though that episode "really knocked a lot out of me," Wagoner tells Billboard.com his brush with mortality made Wagonmaster that much more important to him.

"I just want the record to be the best one I've ever done," he says, "because it could be the last one I'll ever do. If it is, I want it to be the best one I've done. I feel like you should get better all the time at the craft of what you do. I love gospel music, but it's great to get back and do this, too. This is really my forte, country music."

The new album's first single is "Committed to Parkview," which Johnny Cash designated for Wagoner in the early '80s because both had spent time in the famous Nashville asylum -- Wagoner in the mid-'60s for exhaustion. Cash had given it to Stuart while the two were touring Europe together in 1981, and Stuart misplaced it for nearly 25 years.

"It stayed lost for quite a few years," says Wagoner, who's filmed a video for the song. "Marty said, 'I'll do my best to find it,' and I said, 'You better find it, or you're in deep trouble.' His secretary told me he turned the office completely upside down two or three times, and he finally found it."

On May 19, Wagoner will celebrate his 50th anniversary at the Grand Ole Opry, joined by former protege/partner Dolly Parton and Patty Loveless. Stuart will host a one-hour segment of the show that will be broadcast at 8 p.m. EDT on Great American Country. Wagoner and Stuart are also discussing plans to play shows this summer to support Wagonmaster.

By Gary Graff

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