Marty Stuart Talks Ghost Train, Traditional Country Music And How Hank Still Makes Him Cry

This appeared in The Canadian Press - September 1, 2010

There were two sounds that defined young Marty Stuart's life growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

There was the eclectic music programming on WHOC and the sound of the train that ran behind his house. He'd listen to country music, gospel and rock 'n' roll on the radio during the day and every night he'd hear the train whistle and revisit his fondest wish.

"Nashville's where I wanted to go," Stuart said.

Those sounds figure heavily in Stuart's latest album, Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions). Stuart made it to Nashville and by the age of 12 he was a player with Lester Flatt's band. He eventually strayed from the traditional country sound he grew up on, chasing hits. But he returned around the turn of the century.

Turns out he couldn't escape it even if he wanted to.

"I've got enough records that I made in the '90s in the used record bin out at The Great Escape to prove to me that anything you chase ain't worth keeping," Stuart said. "It's the thing that pounds in your heart that makes life worth living."

Stuart recently took time to talk about his love of traditional country music, the winding path of his career and the effect those train tracks have on him:

CT: You said growing up trains ran right by your house and you would investigate them when they stopped. Why do trains have such a draw for you?

Stuart: There was a guy on the caboose and he would give me stationary and flares and pencils, just stuff, but one day — this is the honest to God truth — there was this character, and he had crazy hair and a scarf ... he told me and my buddy big stories about going to big lands like Arkansas and Alabama. He captivated me. And when the train hooked back up and started back up, I said, "Man, what are you." And he said, "I'm a hobo, boy," and thumped his cigarette and I looked at my buddy and said, "I gotta go," and I went to my mama and said, "I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be a hobo."

CT: How did they influence your work on Ghost Train?

Stuart: I go down there (to Mississippi) to rest and recharge my batteries. I went down and it turned out to be the night Katrina was starting to hit on the coast. I drove by myself to the old train depot ... and I heard on the radio coming over there that a bad storm was coming through. So I got out there on the train tracks and started dancing and singing, and just acting like a fool. Lightning kept popping. All the sudden it was like one of those surreal moments out of a novel. I just started seeing all these images, it was like my entire life passed for me. It was a mystical journey of sorts, and when it was all done it was like a dream was over or something. And the thing I took away form it is, "Ooh, that made me feel like country music. I need to get to work."

CT: Ghost Train is another journey through the mostly forgotten sounds of traditional country. Why does it draw you so?

Stuart: It basically cost me a major record deal along the way. That didn't really deter me. It didn't bother me because at the end of the day its what my heart liked the most. Hank Williams still makes me cry. Merle Haggard still makes me pull over to the side of the road and just put my head in my hands and shake it in disbelief that he could say such things — "Mama's Hungry Eyes." ... Those are the best of the best songs.

CT: You have a travelling show called Sparkle and Twang based on your memorabilia collection and helped inspire the country music trail in Mississippi. What is it about the history of country that makes you so passionate?

Stuart: I found out at the end of the day it's the music I love more than anything else, and I don't see it any different than maybe where jazz was in the late '50s. There came a time when jazz had to weigh in as a culture. Folks this isn't going anywhere, it's truly culture. It's not just the hipsters on the edge of town after dark playing. We have to view jazz as a culture, and that's the way I see country music.

By Chris Talbott

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