Marty Stuart's Country Collection Too Big For Just One Town

This appeared in Country Weekly - July 29, 1997

When it comes to life, Marty Stuart has a simple philosophy. "MY idea of success is owning a Fender Telecaster, a cool cowboy coat, some roach-killer boots with Roy Rogers heels, a worn-out Cadillac with a hit song playing on the radio, and a hundred dollar bill in my pocket on Monday morning to get me and my Cadillac through the week."

You don't need a Cadillac--mush less $100--to see plenty of guitars, coats and boots from Marty and dozens of your other favorite stars, thanks to a rolling exhibit of country music collectibles that he's coordinated. Tennessee Treasures, part of the Fruit of the Loom Country Experience, features Roy Rogers' boots, Bill Monroe's hat, Elvis Presley's sweater, Patsy Cline's travel case, Johnny Cash's tour jacket, Hank Williams' show costume, Jim Reeves' guitar and much, much more.

"I have some cool friends with some really great stuff," says Marty as he shows Country Weekly the mobile showcase packed inside three 48-foot semi-trailer trucks that travel with the 1997 Fruit of the Loom Country Tour. "Think of the garage sale I could have," marvels Marty when viewing the priceless collection of country music artifacts.

Most are wearable, including a hat he tries on that came compliments of Willie Nelson. "Me and my band traveled 1,100 miles and played 11 minutes for Willie at Farm Aid in Ames, Iowa," Marty explains. "Only for Willie would we do that. After the show, he sent for me to come to his bus so he could pay me. So he gave me a shot of tequila and this hat. After I wore the hat, I see why Willie gave it away."

Marty started his collection as a kid in Mississippi, holding onto copies of songbooks and Country Song Roundup magazines. "After I got to Nashville and got a job with Lester Flatt 25 years ago, I think my original paycheck was $90 a week."

He knew exactly where he wanted to spend it. "It was a religious experience to go to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and start collecting stuff." Displaying some vintage rhinestone-studded suits, Marty notes, "This is pure Americana--these suits are wearable art. Back then it was a badge of honor to be an individualist in country music, but now it's like a curse."

Also on display is a worn leather briefcase used by "The Singing Brakeman," Jimmie Rodgers, to carry the classic songs he wrote and recorded. Marty's friend, Johnny Cash, loaned it to him for the exhibit.

Nearby, Bill Monroe's suit, tie and hat have special significance for Marty, who idolized the founder of bluegrass music. "He was the first country music star I ever saw in person and I always admired the way he carried himself. Back when they were throwing the term 'hillbilly' as a derogatory comment toward people, he would fight them over the term. When I was 12, my daddy took me to see him at the National Guard Armory in Jackson, Alabama. That night Bill Monroe gave me his mandolin pick and I carried it with me like it was Kryptonite in my pocket because it gave me power and made me feel special."

One section displays items of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Gene Autry and draws praise from Marty, who loves the history of his music so much, he serves as president of the Country Music Foundation. "These are people who have really made a difference in people's lives and who have made a difference in the shape of America's sound and America's past, present and future."

Artifacts from all of country's historic periods are on display including the Elvis sweater. "My favorite version of Elvis is the very early hillbilly cat--the rockabilly days. I looked all over the world and a friend of mine in Memphis found me a picture of Elvis wearing this sweater."

Of course, memorabilia from Marty's own career are also featured. "I've always discounted my own stuff because I was more interested in collecting other people's things. When it was time to put my own exhibit together, I had to dig deep to find my awards and other things--they were in a box in a corner of the warehouse."

Some of his favorite treasures are the elaborate and beautiful stage costumes. "Some people sold them to me, and some people like Carl Smith loaned them to me. One of Porter Wagoner's band members would sell me suits for bout $200 a piece and now if you can find one for $3,500, you'd be fortunate.

Gazing at Hank Williams' stage outfit, Marty comments, "That boy was skinny. He had this suit and matching blue one made--the blue one is the one in which he died in the back seat of the car."

Johnny Cash's imposing stage outfit prompts Marty to observe, "He's one of the stars that you could recognize with just his shadow on the wall." Porter's boots are studded with rhinestones in the heels. "It was great to watch Porter's show come on every Saturday afternoon because, back in those days, the camera was down real low and caught his rhinestone boot heals walking from his dressing room to the studio. I love those boots."

Another high point is Marty's autograph collection that runs from Minnie Pearl to Garth Brooks. "I'm one of the biggest fans that country music has," the handsome singer tells Country Weekly. "Every time a song comes on the radio by somebody, I hope I like it so I can be their fan.

The autograph from Minnie Pearl I got when I was 5 years old. She came through my home town on a whistle-stop tour promoting a candidate for governor. To get some change, she came across from the courthouse to a little bank where my mom worked. My mom knew that I loved country music and got me that autograph."

From Buck Owens' famed red, white and blue guitar to a Ray price stage costume and colorful artifacts from such stars as Dwight Yoakam, Connie Smith, Bob Wills and Emmylou Harris. Marty's treasures are a mother lode of fascinating and historical items. There's even Lefty Frizzell's right boot. And a George Jones suit that Marty landed in a trade with Johnny Rodriguez for a pair of Hank Williams' gloves.

"I ran into Johnny late one night at a bar years ago and he told me that George Jones had given him a bunch of suits but every time he wore this one, he'd have bad luck. The car wouldn't start or he'd have a fight with his girlfriend or something crazy like that," Marty said. "I told him I had a pair of Hank Williams gloves and every time I put them on, something bad happened to me. So we swapped--and that's how I got this suit and Johnny got the gloves."

Marty says of his traveling show: "I wanted a Smithsonian-level exhibit that we can pull into any point on Planet Earth and anybody from any walk of life could walk in and find this appealing. The natural home for my stuff is in the Country Music Hall of Fame at some point. But now, it's nice to get it out of the warehouse, air it out, and let everybody see it."

By Gerry Wood

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