Marty Stuart, Classically Inspired

This appeared on - August 30, 2010

When Marty Stuart set out to record his latest album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, at a historic Nashville studio, he was the perfect guy to do it.

RCA Studio B was the breeding ground for a ton of country hits by the likes of Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Jim Reeves. It’s currently owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and serves more as a tourist attraction these days than a working studio, but it was a great location for Marty, who has an avowed appreciation for country’s past.

The RCA studio had a personal connection, because it was the site of Marty’s very first recording session, when he worked as a sideman for Country Music Hall of Fame member Lester Flatt. Since then, Marty’s gone on to have some important final moments with several other Hall of Famers. He was the producer of Porter Wagoner’s very last album, Wagonmaster. And Marty co-wrote the last song that Johnny Cash authored. Both Porter and Johnny are recalled on Ghost Train — Marty wrote a recitation called “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” and he recorded the song that he and Johnny wrote together, “Hangman.”

“He was my next-door neighbor, and I went over there and had that song started, and it didn’t take 10 minutes to finish it,” Marty told American Songwriter. “As I left, I said, ‘Well I’ve got to go to Washington, and I’ll see you in about four days.’ I said, ‘You feeling good?’ And he said, ‘I’m feeling good.’ And I said, ‘How’s your spirit?’ ‘It’s good.’ ‘You got plenty of rope left?’ And he said, ‘Yup.’ And I said, ‘I’ll see you when I get home.’”

Of course, he did not see Johnny. The Man in Black died while Marty was out of town in September 2003. Marty is working to keep the the spirit of classic country alive, and it becomes tougher every day as contemporary country sounds overtake the old stuff. Many members of the country-music community — and some fans — are frustrated or angry about that development. But Marty has no ill will about it.

“I absolutely encourage modern country music, trust me,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people out there that think the way I do about some things, but we need modern country music as much as we need traditional country music. It’s a balance, and we need bluegrass, and folk music. We need all those divisions of country music, firing on all cylinders. That’s what makes country music so cool to me.”

By Tom Roland

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