Grammy Winner Marty Stuart Plays Manship Theatre

This appeared in The Advocate - April 15, 2011

Country artist Marty Stuart calls his neighborhood Rockabilly Row. Stuart and his country singer-wife, Connie Smith, live in a house once owned by Roy Orbison. Johnny Cash lived next door.

Hendersonville, Tennessee has been Stuart’s home for years, beginning with his move to Nashville during his teens and extended stay at bluegrass singer-guitarist Lester Flatt’s house, which was just down the street from his current address. Stuart would be in the area again when he worked in Cash’s band during a six-year period in the 1980s.

In April 2007, fire destroyed the 14,000-square-foot home Cash shared with his wife, June Carter Cash, until their deaths in 2003.

“It looks like the ruins of a castle now,” Stuart said from Hendersonville. “I still scratch my head and go, ‘That’s really gone?’ But I just miss those guys, that’s the main thing. I miss them.”

A multiple Grammy winner whose ’90s hits include “Hillbilly Rock,” “Tempted” and “Burn Me Down,” Stuart learned a lot from the Man In Black.

“I was a sponge, I was a student,” he said. “I’m still a student, but as far as my beginning days in Nashville with Lester Flatt, walking into the Grand Ole Opry with him was like walking into the Vatican with the pope. That was a great starter course.

“And when I worked with John, he was a global star. Lester never concerned himself with being a global star. Everybody knew Lester and loved him, but wherever you went with John on planet Earth, he caused a commotion.”

Though Stuart was struck by Cash’s worldwide fame, Cash’s devotion to his music and ideals made an even greater impression.

“I think about what a fiercely creative soul he was,” Stuart reflected. “I think about how single-minded he was when something bubbled up over the edges of his heart. Even if it wouldn’t sell records or tickets, if he was committed to doing it, he did it and never backed up.”

Stuart’s latest record, the traditional country-inspired Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions), features “Hangman,” one of the few songs he co-wrote with Cash. Writing and recording helped the mourning country legend carry on after his wife’s death.

“We just kept him occupied, kept him busy,” Stuart said.

As special as “Hangman” is to Stuart, so, too, is the entire Ghost Train project. The album follows a decade of experimentation by Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, that included gospel and bluegrass albums.

“When the band really found its mark with traditional country music, my first love came back around,” Stuart said. “Of all the things that the country genre has to offer, traditional country probably is the most powerful.”

Stuart recorded Ghost Train in Nashville’s famous RCA Studio B, the same music-loving space that saw the production of classic recordings by Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, Smith, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and many more.

“There’s magic nobody can explain inside the walls of that room,” he said. “The best thing to do is just show up and make a record. It’s kind of like Preservation Hall down in New Orleans. It’s a place where people look and nod to what happened there, but I had a feeling that, once we got in there and started playing music, that the room would come to life, and it did.”

Most of the Ghost Train tracks aren’t remakes of classic country hits but original songs written or co-written by Stuart.

“The idea was to take Studio B, build on the history of the room and then turn around and create something new, which can only happen with new songs.”

Stuart credits his cable TV show, the most popular program on the RFD-TV network, with freeing him from the hit-chasing rat race.

“Having a TV show gives me a platform and an audience,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about the three-minute radio hit. We went after traditional country music, what we have been engaged in for the last four or five years.

“And the Ghost Train album is kind of the subtotal of all those efforts. It helps me get traditional country music to the 21st century. It’s not a retro record, it’s an attempt to write a new chapter for the genre.”

By John Wirt

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