Marty Stuart, Connie Smith Give Early Gift To Hall Of Fame

This appeared in the Bluegrass Journal - February 15, 2008

Country music icons Marty Stuart and Connie Smith held a “Gift of Love” ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Ford Theater on Wednesday February 13, 2008. The cause, a sweetheart gift to the museum of instruments, stage costumes, photographs and other artifacts from the couple’s famed career.

Other items included in the gift to the museum included items once owned by some of Country and Bluegrass music’s biggest stars including, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Roy Nichols. All culled from an extensive collection of Country Music artifacts and mementos Stuart has collected through out the years.

Among the gifts was Lester Flatt’s 1950 Martin D-28 “Lester” guitar.

Known as “the holy grail of bluegrass guitars,” this instrument was purchased by Flatt for $115 at a Charleston, West Virginia, pawnshop in 1956. Home to Flatt’s world renowned G-run for nearly 25 years, the Martin was used on most of Flatt & Scruggs’s classic recordings and live performances, including Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and their appearances on the national television show Beverly Hillbillies and the Martha White-sponsored Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry.

The pearl inlay and snowflake patterns on the fingerboard were not Martin factory issue. When the guitar was entrusted for repair to independent Chattanooga luthier Mike Longworth, the fledgling craftsman also added the pearl inlay and glued his business card into the guitar. It was Longworth’s fifth job and the “L-5? inlay stands for Longworth’s fifth, which made both him and the guitar famous.

In 1998, the Martin Company issued a Lester Flatt Limited Edition Signature guitar, which included a perfectly duplicated “L-5" inlay. A series of 50 were made and sold.

In 1972, Flatt loaned the long-retired iconic instrument to Stuart, the young bluegrass prodigy who had joined his band that year and who was also living in the Flatt home. Stuart fell in love with the guitar’s familiar “rich and full million-dollar sound” and adopted it for live performances and recordings until the early 1980s. After that, Stuart continued to use the instrument on some recordings, but did not take it on the road. “It’s possibly one of the greatest rhythm instruments ever made,” Stuart said.

When Flatt retired and disbanded his bluegrass band, Stuart sadly returned the instrument thinking he would never see it again. Some time after Flatt’s death in May 1979, Stuart purchased the instrument from Flatt’s daughter, Brenda. Flatt & Scruggs were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.

An extensive breakdown of Marty Stuart and Connie Smith’s generous gift to the community is below.

Connie Smith Life and Career
(All items donated by Connie Smith)

1. Three-piece black stage costume, including embroidered leather fitted jacket, a three-tiered floor-length skirt embellished with tiny jet beads, and a matching blouse with ruffled bodice. “This is referred to as the Mrs. Pilgrim outfit,” said Stuart.

2. Connie Smith’s 1968 Gibson “Dove” guitar with pearl inlay by Marty Lanham, Nashville Guitar Co. Rhinestone strap by Jaime Custom Tailor of North Hollywood, California.

In 1968, Gibson Guitars presented Smith with a new red sunburst “Dove.” Smith had a fully rhinestoned strap made to complement the new instrument. She was to make her first appearance with the instrument on the Grand Ole Opry. The guitar and strap were stolen from her Ryman dressing room before she had a chance to play it.

Stuart bought this guitar and had a new strap made to replace her stolen instrument.

3. Acetate from Smith’s first recording session, produced by Bob Ferguson, at RCA Victor Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 16, 1964.

Acetate includes “Once a Day,” which was the third song recorded that day. In September 1964, “Once a Day” became the first debut recording by a female country singer to become a #1 record. It remained at the top of the chart for eight weeks.

Since then, Smith’s policy for every recording session has been to record the song she most believes in third. It gives her a chance to warm up her voice, the musicians to settle in and everybody to get in the groove.

4. Beaded bag with butterfly motif, circa 1997. Crafted by Helen Two Feathers of Kyle, South Dakota. Beaded with porcupine quill, bells and Liberty cotton lining. A gift to Connie from Marty.

Marty Stuart Life and Career
(All items donated by Marty Stuart)

1. A circa 1973-1974 stage costume worn by Stuart as a teenaged member of Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass. Marty refers to this costume as “poetical polyester” or “heavenly houndstooth.” He says, “It is highly flammable, good for getting girls to notice you, scaring off mosquitoes at bluegrass festivals and holds a crease real good.”

2. Circa 1972 pink paisley Fender Telecaster with B-string bender used by Stuart in performances and recordings from 1990 to 1999. All Stuart’s guitars have a name. This one is the “Connie Smith.” Smith autographed it for him when they were dating. “I named it after her because it was pretty and had a twang to it,” he said.

The instrument was customized by Duane Marrs, formerly of Sho-Bud Steel Guitars, and Keith Gaddis, to accommodate Stuart’s B-string bender guitar style.

3. Fully rhinestoned, embroidered and cross-hatched stage costume custom-designed by Jaime Custom Tailor of North Hollywood, California. The black garment is known as “The Chandelier,” a reference to the yards of six- to nine-inch-long rhinestone fringe adorning the sleeves and yoke. Stuart wore the shirt for a performance with Travis Tritt on the 1992 Grammy Awards, The duo took home the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration for “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” Jaime is the legatee of costume couturiers Nudie the Rodeo Tailor and Manuel.

4. Circa 1995 beaded briefcase crafted by Marvin Helper of Red Shirt Table, South Dakota, and used by Stuart during the creation his 1999 concept album, The Pilgrim.

5. Elaborate three-piece Pilgrim costume with boots and hat, one of two designed and crafted by Manuel for the cover of The Pilgrim. Black leather pants are topped by an embroidered shirt with a stand-up collar and a floor-length cloak with a black velvet collar and velvet fabric repeated in appliqués of simple crosses.

6. Tote bag (ca. 1998) presented to Stuart by traditional Lakota Medicine Man Marvin Helper following a sweat lodge prayer ritual. As he presented the gift, Helper told Stuart that the bag “would not be empty very long. Be prepared,” Helper said, “because it is about to be filled with music that will help many people.”

Ten albums subsequently recorded and/or produced by Stuart now fill the bag. These include The Pilgrim, the film soundtrack All the Pretty Horses, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash, Souls' Chapel, Badlands, In the Moment, Live at the Ryman, Wagonmaster, Compadres and Coal.

7. Knife crafted by Terry Lankford of Franklin, Tennessee, with beaded sheath created by Alvin Jolly “Crow Nation” of the Battle of Little Big Horn community in Big Horn, Montana.

8. Nikon FE camera with Nikkor 50mm lens and black leather strap. According to Stuart, this camera traveled worldwide with him for more than 20 years. He used it to shoot the last photographs ever taken of Country Music Hall of Fame members Bill Monroe and Chet Atkins.

9. Presentation copy of Stuart’s 2007 publication Country Music: The Masters with hand-tooled leather slipcover designed by Stuart, leather tooling by Terry Lankford and embroidery by Manuel.

10. Collection of 17 16? X 20? black-and-white prints of images included in Country Music: The Masters. Collection includes Johnny Cash, “Final Portrait,” September 2003; Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, Cash Cabin, 2000; Merle Haggard, 2007; Loretta Lynn, Cash Cabin, September 2006; George Jones, 2007; Jimmy Dickens, 2007; Porter Wagoner, “Wagonmaster”; Dolly Parton, 2007; Connie Smith, 1997; Bill Monroe, “Last Winter,” 1995; Bill Monroe, “Chicken Reel,” 1995; Minnie Pearl’s Hat, 2002; Minnie Pearl’s Shoes, 2002; Willie Nelson; Jimmie Rodgers Monument, Meridian, MS, 2005; Jimmie Rodgers, Blue Yodel Guitar, 2005; and Kitty Wells, 2007.

Treasures from the Marty Stuart Collection
Marty Stuart has been a connoisseur and collector of country music memorabilia for almost 30 years. From his collection of more than 20,000 pieces, Stuart has given the Museum several priceless treasures representing the lives and careers of some of the most iconic figures in the history of the music. Most of these donated items, now in the public trust, have never been exhibited publicly.

Life and Career of Johnny Cash

1. Black gabardine two-piece “Bicentennial suit,” circa 1976, with brass military buttons and satin-stitched blue stars adorning the shirt collar, cuffs, front and back yoke, and striping the side seams of the trousers. Designed and crafted by Nudie Rodeo Tailors, a Hollywood cowboy couture palace rarely frequented by Cash.

2. Circa 1987 full-length black leather overcoat with yoke, shoulders and collar embellished with a variety of etched-silver motifs. Stuart said that Cash regarded the Manuel creation as a “weapon” because of the sharp and jagged edges of the sliver appliqués.

3. Circa 1983 brown leather 11? X 15? briefcase. As part and parcel of a running gag between them, Stuart and Cash swapped briefcases in the studio one day. Cash went home with Stuart’s handmade black shoulder bag, which “the man in black” had previously nicknamed “Hog.” Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Life and Career of Merle Haggard and Roy Nichols

Renowned guitarist Roy Nichols’ 1930 Dobro. Sideman to Maddox Brothers & Rose, Lefty Frizzell, and Wynn Stewart, and a charter member of Merle Haggard’s Strangers, Nichols played this low-tech dobro on “Mama Tried,” and created one of the most famous guitar parts in the history of country music. The instrument is held together with safety pins. Included in the feature film Killers Three, which starred Haggard, “Mama Tried” (1968) was this 1994 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee’s fifth chart-topper.

Life and Career of Hank Williams

1. Scuffed and battered brown leather suitcase with metal clasps and buckled straps. According to Stuart, the suitcase (ca. 1950) was in the car when Williams died. Years later, Stuart purchased the luggage from Williams’ sister, Irene.

2. Fragile and tattered -brown leather briefcase (ca. 1947-52), which Williams used to store and transport his song manuscripts. The 11? X 15? case has an Aztec design tooled on the back and a screaming eagle pattern on the front.

3. Khaki, single-breasted LusKoat brand overcoat, (ca. 1950s). Tailoring by Irving Lusk, Inc. of New York, New York.

4. Khaki-colored Charmadine gabardine two-piece suit with pearl snaps and western tailoring by Nudie Rodeo Tailors. According to Stuart, Williams called this outfit (ca. 1951-52) his “riding clothes.” The outfit arrived at the Museum with Williams’ brown leather belt still in the belt loops. The copper-colored buckle is engraved with Williams’ initials. The outfit typifies Williams’ understated cowboy couture. Hank Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 and in 1987 he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in recognition of his standing as a forefather of rock & roll.

Some of the Hank Williams artifacts in this donation will be exhibited in the Museum’s major exhibition Family Tradition: The Williams Legacy, Co-Presented by SunTrust and Ford Motor Company, opening March 28, 2008, for a near two-year run.

By Travis Tackett

Return To Articles Return To Home Page