Country Legends Are Focus Of New Sparkle & Twang Exhibit At Rock Hall

This appeared on - October 31, 2008


Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey
What: A new exhibition showcases mementos from country-music greats and other musicians.
Where: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, 1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio.
When: The exhibit runs through Sunday, March 1, 2009. The Rock Hall is open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily except Wednesdays, when it stays open until 9 p.m.
Admission: $22; $17, ages 60 and over; $13, children 9-12; free, children 8 and under.

When he was growing up in Mississippi, long before he became a famous country singer-guitarist in his own right, Marty Stuart spent many a Saturday afternoon glued to his family's black-and-white television set, transfixed by his favorite country performers.

It wasn't just the music that fired his imagination.

"Just watching those suits twinkle, they said something to me," Stuart said.

Nonetheless, TV didn't prepare him for the epiphany he experienced when he went to a fair and saw Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours in the flesh.

"When they stepped off the bus wearing those matching pink cowboy suits with pink cowboy hats and white boots and white belts, and Ernest Tubb walked off the bus in that pinstripe suit with red piping, it was like that scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' where it goes from black-and-white to color," Stuart recalled Wednesday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

He was there to unveil a new exhibit, Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey.

It features 300 artifacts from his private collection, including outfits, cowboy boots, guitars, lyric manuscripts and other mementos from country icons such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, as well as from Stuart himself.

Various Johnny Cash items, including the Gibson acoustic guitar seen on the cover of his 1959 album The Fabulous Johnny Cash, are part of the exhibit.

"There's a lot of country in rock 'n' roll," said Rock Hall curator Howard Kramer. "To have an incredible collection like this . . . gives us a great opportunity to explore a portion of the musical spectrum where, on our own, we aren't necessarily that strong."

Stuart, 50, backed Lester Flatt in the '70s and Cash in the '80s, before launching a Grammy-winning solo career. Along the way, Stuart began stowing away pieces of musical history.

"After I went to work with Lester Flatt, things like those ties over there, they would get too much make-up on them and throw them away," he said, motioning toward a display case of salvaged Western-style neckwear.

Stuart used to be married to Cash's daughter Cindy; they divorced in 1988. Nine years later, Stuart married Grand Ole Opry singer Connie Smith.

On tour 25 years ago with Cash, Stuart visited the Hard Rock Cafe in London.

"It had all these treasures from the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and all those guys, on the walls," he said.

"All the way home to America, I couldn't' sleep on the airplane for thinking about what I was seeing around Nashville, where stuff from country artists was turning up in thrift shops.

"All this stuff was being disregarded in the name of 'Urban Cowboy.' The country-music industry was chasing a new demographic, new stars. But I'd been raised by the old masters."

Determined to preserve their culture, Stuart embarked on -- in his words -- "a crazy mission." At last count, there were 200,000 items in his collection, enough to fill several warehouses.

"To me, that was better than buying stocks and bonds," Stuart said.

Among the artifacts on view at the Rock Hall are:

• Williams' handwritten lyrics to "I Saw the Light," "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Your Cheatin' Heart";

• Cash's first black suit, the Gibson acoustic guitar seen on the cover of his 1959 album "The Fabulous Johnny Cash" (one of the first records Stuart owned) and Cash's handwritten lyrics to "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Man in Black";

• Flashy clothes once worn by Williams, Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow and others, tailor-made by clothiers-to-the-stars Nudie and Manuel. (This may be the single greatest concentration of rhinestones ever seen around here.)

Spread over the top two floors of the museum, the exhibit runs through Sunday, March 1, 2009.

Despite its country accent, the installation isn't out of place at the Rock Hall, Stuart said.

"If you go down to the roots level -- Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs -- they fed into the lifestream of rock 'n' roll in its earliest form," he said. "It's the roots that make it fit."

By John Soeder

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