Marty Stuart Proves You CAN Go Home Again
|This appeared in Country Weekly - December 1994|
In Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart is known as the son of John and Hilda, a well-mannered school boy and, oh yes, a country star. "The people here--a lot of them--know what I do for a living, but they couldn't care less. They want to know how my mom and daddy's doing," the country music veteran says.
On a break from his hectic touring schedule, Marty took Country Weekly on a tour of Philadelphia, sharing memories and stories of his childhood as he greeted family and old friends. "This is home. It's where I come to recharge my batteries. It's nice to come home to Nashville and regroup but down here I revive, put my feet back on the ground and get some dirt in my blood."
The tour starts at Hamill's Drug Store, Marty's favorite old haunt. The clerks can't wait to share stories and memories of the dark-headed boy, who, more times than not, entered the store with a guitar slung over his shoulder. "We raised Marty," longtime store employee Kat Brantley says. "He'd come in and see us every day."
Marty remembers the drugstore as a comfortable place with a hometown attitude. "The same folks have been working there over 30 years, since I was a kid. And it's like, no big deal. I walk in and they say 'Hi, Marty,' like it was yesterday.
"The thing that really means the most to me about Hamill's," says Marty, leaning against the old soda counter, "is that it's raised so many generations of kids in this town. It's where we would go when we got through with school to sit around and talk and get into the Southern way of life. Also, it was the only place that had Country Song Roundup magazine. I could never afford to buy one, so I'd just sit there and copy down all the words to the songs."
It was also the place he'd go to buy gifts for special occasions. "On Valentine's Day, me and my sister Jennifer would bring our piggy bank in here. And we'd dump all this change out on the counter and I'd say, 'Kathleen, how much money is here? What can I buy with this for my momma?' "
Although Marty left Philadelphia before high school graduation, he spent a few years as a student at Philadelphia High School. L. P. Bassett, the band leader and music teacher, remembers the future star pupil. "Marty always had a pleasant attitude. He worked hard and knew where he was going from day one. I remember him telling me when he was in the seventh grade that he was going to Nashville. And sure enough, he did, straightaway. We're all so proud of him, I can tell you," says Bassett.
Marty pulls his car into a driveway, jumps out and exchanges greetings with the man who brought Marty into the world. "How's your momma and daddy?" says Dr. J. M. Blount. Marty recalls the doctor's bedside manner. "He wrote me a letter one time that said, 'Remember, I was the first person that spanked you and I always will be able to do that, so stay in line.' He's one of my best friends in the world. Coming home ain't right until I go and touch base with him."
Other bases follow. At Peggy's restaurant, a local lunch spot where you pay the tab by placing cash in the basket at the front door, owner Peggy Webb recalls a memory from long ago. "I remember that, even when he was real, real young, he was one of the most polite, nicest boys I'd ever seen. He was a person you'd be proud to know."
"This is a great little town," Marty says. "What's so cool about Philadelphia is there are two or three houses where the same chairs have been on the same front porch since I was a little kid. A couple of people are still driving the same vehicles. Time stands still down here. It's comforting to know that some things remain the same."
With a little effort, time even goes backward in Philadelphia. Marty begins the journey by driving to a long-abandoned, very special place--his grandfather Stuart's old house. "My grandpa never had a telephone and didn't have running water for years. I remember when I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was walk to the well with my grandmother and bring back water in buckets. The challenge was not to spill any of it, of course. I loved them. He killed his own hogs for meat and raised his own vegetables. She made her own butter and sewed her own clothes. They were truly the tail end of the pioneer-era. I probably spent more time here than I did anywhere else. Grandpa taught me how to fish and whittle and trap birds and play fiddle."
Standing on the old porch, Marty reminisced. "This was my dream place. I could stand on Grandpa's front porch and dream about going to Nashville and New York City and California. I played a lot of concerts off of that porch." Marty learned well. By the time he became a teenager, Marty was a prodigy touring with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass.
Marty's other grandpa, Grandpa Johnson, had a best friend named Alton Adcock, who let young Marty ride his tractor. We stopped by the old house for Marty's annual ride. "Alton Adcock was Grandpa Johnson's best friend. He informed me that he went and bought this tractor in 1953 and, to this day, has not done any work on it. He just keeps the oil changed, and his pride and joy is the fact that it will crank just like a car. I've been riding on this tractor since I was a kid. There have been many a joyride on this thing," says Marty as the machine begins to purr. "When I'm in the middle of anywhere, the one thing I can count on is Alton Adcock's tractor cranking up."
Later that evening, we gathered on Marty's property with about 200 family members and friends to share a meal and participate in a video shoot for a gospel song titled "Let Me Be A Witness." Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, Marty's longtime friends, join him on the song. "I like singing gospel music that uplifts and inspires. It goes beyond denomination or race or creed. It goes to people's hearts and souls and that's the kind of music Jerry and I try to write.
As the very last note fade, the rain that politely held off most of the day begins lightly, slowly and majestically. "There's just something about coming home and putting your feet in this dirt again, breathing in this air and hearing the pine trees whistle. It puts something back in you. A touch of home is what it is," he says, casting a glance up to the night sky.
By Shannon Parks
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