Stuart in Tune with C&W Past

This appeared in the Winnipeg Sun - January 18, 2002

Marty Stuart isn't just the keeper of country music's flame -- he's holding on to more than a few of its treasures as well.

Like many a performer, Stuart is also a music lover and collector. And over the years, he's amassed a huge collection of memorabilia -- costumes, instruments, lyrics and effects -- from country music's heroes.

"It started off as a hobby," Stuart says. "There was a point in time, about 20 years ago, that nobody took old country stuff seriously. You could buy some old country singer's Nudie suit at a thrift shop. You could buy some other old singer's Martin guitar at a pawn shop.

"I didn't think that was right. The first time I ever was in a Hard Rock Cafe -- you know, they have all the rock stuff on the walls -- I got it immediately. And I thought, country has a heritage that should be preserved, too. So I just started buying stuff here and there. Then before I knew it, I had a warehouse full of stuff. Then I had a bigger warehouse."

He can't possibly pick one favourite item out of the thousands he's found, he says.

"It's all precious to me. Whether it was Patsy Cline's stage dress that her mom made for her so she could look like a star before she really was one, or Hank Williams' guitar, or his handwritten lyrics to 'I Saw the Light' with the four extra verses that he crossed out and never sang, it all has a spirit around it."

Stuart isn't hoarding the goodies for himself, either. Many of Williams' lyrics -- bought from Hank's sister, along with the late singer's letters -- were reprinted in a recent coffee-table book, Hank Williams: Snapshots From the Lost Highway. Another chunk of Stuart's collection is housed in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

Some might find it ironic that Stuart's collection made it to the hall of fame before he did, but he says there's still plenty of time.

"It's like a tree," he says. "You go in the woods and you see the mighty oak, and then you see the one that's gonna be a mighty oak. That one's me. I just have to keep growing. I'm not quite in legend-land yet. Maybe you could call me a legend-in-training."

Here's hoping he saves a Nudie suit for when the time comes.

By Darryl Sterdan

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