God And Country: Born-again Marty Stuart Kneels At Music's Altar

This appeared in The Boston Herald - July 18, 2007

Marty Stuart grew up adoring the fabled stars of classic country music. The guitar whiz kid, who joined bluegrass pioneer Lester Flatt’s band at age 13, has never been ashamed of his hero-worshiping ways.

But who would have predicted that Stuart, at age 48, would remain obsessed with all things classic country?

Consider his spate of current projects. Last month, Stuart - who plays a rare solo show at Johnny D’s in Somerville Wednesday - released Compadres, an anthology of his duets with such legends as his former boss Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Merle Haggard. The same day that Compadres hit the racks, Porter Wagoner’s Stuart-produced comeback album, Wagonmaster, was released on the oh-so-hip Anti label.

Stuart also has just published a second book of his photos of country stalwarts, Country Music: The Masters. And Stuart’s collection of country music artifacts is the basis of the Tennessee State Museum’s current exhibit, Sparkle and Twang.

“It’s the first public showing of my private collection of country music treasures,” Stuart said earlier this week from his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

His collection, originally housed in Stuart’s bedroom, has grown to 20,000 items, including costumes, manuscripts, instruments, recordings, photos and films.

“The old country stars were left unheralded,” Stuart said. “I felt I had enough time in my life and enough fire in my gut to take care that the old ones got their recognition.”

Some might say that Stuart is so enamored of classic country stars that he married one. In 1997, following the breakup of his marriage to Cash’s daughter Cindy, he wed Connie Smith, the 1960s hit-maker.

“The first photo I ever took in my life was of Connie Smith, when she came to sing in my town in Mississippi,” Stuart said. “I told my mama on the way home that I was going to marry her! I saw Connie perform and destiny just walked up to me and winked at me.”

Stuart feels his musical fate was also laid out for him by age 12.

“The first two records I ever owned were Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash,” he said, “and the only two (long-lasting) jobs I’ve ever had were with Lester and Johnny.

Stuart hasn’t had a trouble-free trip to country stardom. Along with six gold albums and four Grammys, he’s had two drunken-driving incidents, the most recent in 2004. Once known for hard-partying, Stuart is now a born-again Christian. But in conversation he is more likely to exalt the gods of country than Jesus.

“It’s almost a spiritual thing with me,” he said.

The multi-instrumentalist’s solo show at Johnny D’s Wednesday is one of only a handful of such outings he’s ever attempted.

“The idea is frightening, but that’s why I like it,” Stuart said.

By Daniel Gewertz

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