Two For The Show

This appeared in the Charlottesville Daily Progress - November 13, 2008

The haunting black-and-white image has the timeless quality of a Mathew Brady photograph of an elder statesman from the 19th century. But this elder statesman is from our own time, and instead of championing a political movement or leading a government, he was one of the most recognizable voices in country music.

Johnny Cash radiates both the strength and the thoughtful, reflective quality that made his songs resonate with listeners of every stripe. Marty Stuart, Cash’s friend and neighbor, captured the image just four days before Cash’s death in 2003, and he reached for the striking memento when it was time to assemble a different kind of album.

It’s on the cover of Stuart’s new book, Country Music: The Masters.’

“I’ve always considered country music a family,’’ Stuart said. “That’s the tribe that raised me. I was just taking family pictures.’’

Stuart will be signing copies of the hefty collection this afternoon at New Dominion Bookshop. This evening, he will take the stage with friend and fellow country star Travis Tritt at the Paramount Theater.

Stuart’s book is filled with his candid photographs of the stars he worked with, learned from and felt honored to call his friends. Leaf through the pages and you’ll see a lot of familiar faces — Lester Flatt, Willie Nelson, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner — as well as memorabilia ranging from Minnie Pearl’s well-worn hat and shoes to Hank Williams’ manuscript of “Your Cold, Cold Heart.’’

The coffee-table book seemed to be just the right way to capture the history and energy of the founders of a treasured American art form, and to “put a bow around this, because they were a special people,’’ Stuart said.

The book is accompanied by a CD that includes a recording of “Dark Bird.’’ Stuart, who was 19 when he joined Cash’s band, was inspired to write the poignant tribute just after Cash’s death when he saw a brilliant black crow and immediately thought of the Man in Black.

“I was trying to write a song to make myself feel better,’’ Stuart said. He performed the song at Cash’s funeral, but it hasn’t been released until now.

“The best songs are the ones that are lived through,’’ Stuart said. “That’s what it’s about — being real.”

Inspiration for the four-time Grammy Award winner’s songwriting comes from many sources and can show up at any moment, so he resists the temptation to get too clever and tinker too much. The more organic the sentiment, the more universal and timeless the resulting song will be.

“My goal is to do the best I can to just stay out of the way,’’ Stuart said. “It amazes me. When I’m not writing, I usually find that I’m always on the intake.

“I just drink in life. I wake up one morning and the words just come out on paper.’’

Tonight’s show with Tritt will capture another of Stuart’s many moments of serendipity — a solid brotherhood of a friendship that began almost in an instant. The men had teamed up to record “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,’’ and the first time Stuart joined Tritt on stage at Fan Fair to perform, the audience “went ballistic,’’ Stuart said.

“It’s like we grew up down the street from each other,’’ Stuart said.

Stuart said the Paramount setting seems to suit tonight’s acoustic show. “That totally fits us because that’s just the two of us on stools,’’ he said.

If you enjoyed the duo’s “No Hats’’ tour in the early 1990s, you’re in for a treat indeed.

Stuart also has a new television show. The Marty Stuart Show made its debut November 1 on RFD-TV and airs at 8 p.m. (ET) Saturdays. There’s traditional country music each week, performed by Stuart, his Fabulous Superlatives band and country star wife, Connie Smith, plus musical guests. Radio personality Eddie Stubbs is Stuart’s sidekick.

Perhaps that should be first mate.

“It’s so fun. It’s the pirate ship of country music,’’ Stuart said.

The show is unapologetically old school, down to the hay bales, he said.

By Jane Norris

Return To Articles Return To Home Page