Marty Stuart Treasures History Of Country Music

This appeared in the Augusta Chronicle - March 13, 2008

Over the years, Marty Stuart pretty much has collected what could be considered the Holy Grail items of country music history, including personal possessions of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt.

Mr. Stuart -- who will perform Friday at the Imperial Theatre with his band The Fabulous Superlatives -- said that his country collectibles obsession began with two 33 rpm vinyl albums and an ashtray sold by The Lewis Family bluegrass gospel group, of Lincolnton, Georgia.

"The whole thing started with the first two records I ever owned, which were The Fabulous Johnny Cash and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' Greatest Hits ," Mr. Stuart said in a telephone interview. "And, as you well know, the only two steady jobs I ever had were with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash.

"I tell you what, man, The Lewis Family is a Southern treasure. I love The Lewis Family. They were the first national touring act I ever saw in my life ... at the courthouse in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The first time I saw them I bought Little Roy's banjo album and a Lewis Family ashtray. The ashtray got lost somewhere ... and last year Miggie (Lewis) sent me one through Jeff Easter. So I got my ash tray."

Recently, Mr. Stuart donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, many country treasures, including the Dobro played by Roy Nichols on the opening of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" ; a Manuel-designed jacket worn by Cash; the 1950 Martin D-28 guitar played by Flatt and the satchel used by Williams to carry his songs.

Mr. Stuart said Williams' sister, Irene Williams Smith, who was living in Dallas, heard Mr. Stuart's song "Me and Hank and Jumping Jack Flash" and got in touch with him.

"We happened to be playing in Dallas not long after that call, and I invited her to my concert," Mr. Stuart said. "After the concert, she took us over to her little house, and it was staggering all of the things (of her brother) she had. As time went on, I think she knew it was bigger than she was and more responsibility than she wanted, so she started selling me all of these items with some stipulations and understandings. Right after we made the deal and got everything settled, she passed away (March 23, 1995, at the age of 73)."

Mr. Stuart has loved country music history all of his life and treasures being taken to the Grand Ole Opry in Ryman Auditorium when he was only 13 by Flatt, who hired the teenager to play in his band and let him live in his home.

"That was huge," Mr. Stuart said. "I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams why he would want to take on a 13-year-old kid ... But after all of these years, I did figure it out. He saw something in me. He saw I had the goods -- the right stuff -- to pass the whole thing along to.

"And that's always important, that we keep passing it all along."

By Don Rhodes

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