This Ain't No Ghost Town: Four Decades Of Marty Stuart

This appeared on the Gospel Music Channel website - August 3, 2010

You’d think that someone who began his professional career at age 12 might start to slow down four decades later, but not Marty Stuart. On August 24, Sugar Hill Records will release Ghost Town (The Studio B Sessions), a new country album recorded in RCA’s legendary studio, where Stuart played mandolin on his first recording session when he was a 13-year-old member of Lester Flatt's band.

On the eve of Ghost Town’s release, Stuart is already working on a new gospel collection, which he plans to title Cathedral. A multi-talented singer/songwriter and noted country music historian, Stuart has been exceptionally busy in recent years. He launched Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey, a photography and memorabilia exhibit which chronicles the history of country music and has been featured in the Tennessee State Museum, the Statehouse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. and other locations. He also hosts The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV and has published Country Music: The Masters, a photography book earning rave reviews.

So how does Stuart approach each creative endeavor? “I pray and turn it over to God, and get up and go to work,” he tells

Faith and a solid work ethic have long been part of Stuart’s life. He began performing with gospel/bluegrass group The Sullivans when he was just 12. Not long after he was recruited to join Flatt’s band and left his home in Mississippi to become a full-time traveling musician. He later performed with Johnny Cash before embarking on a solo career. The Grammy-winning artist has scored country hits such as “Hillbilly Rock,” “Tempted,” and “Western Girls.” He and pal Travis Tritt recorded hit duets such as “This One’s Gonna Hurt You.”

Along the way, Stuart has flirted with Native American music on 2005’s Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota and celebrated his passion for bluegrass on Live at the Ryman in 2006. Souls' Chapel, released in 2005, was a critically acclaimed homage to Delta gospel.

On Ghost Train, Stuart returns to traditional country music. “They feel like old friends,” he says of the songs on the new record. “I had been writing on this record since 2003. I needed a place to record it, and Studio B seemed to be the place because it’s so much a part of country music’s legacy.”

Among the album’s standout tracks is “I Run to You,” written and performed with his wife, Grand Ole Opry star Connie Smith. The two married in 1997, but Stuart had marriage in mind from their first meeting – even though he was only 12 at the time.

“She was my mother’s favorite singer. We had a record of her at our house called Miss Smith Goes to Nashville. It had a beautiful photograph of her on the cover. I thought she was the prettiest girl in the world and so I had my mama take me to buy a yellow shirt so Connie would notice me that night,” Stuart says of going to see Smith perform. “After the concert me and my sister got our picture made with her and I got her autograph. On the way home I told my mama I was going to marry her. It took 25 years to figure it out, but it worked.”

Stuart wrote another new song on the album with his longtime friend Johnny Cash just four days before his death in 2003. Stuart took the idea for “Hangman” to Cash after he had been on tour in California and had the opportunity to visit Folsom Prison, where Cash had recorded his legendary 1968 live album At Folsom Prison.

“It was really a big experience,” Stuart says of getting an inside tour of the prison. “So I came back to Nashville and I went to talk to John about where I’d been and what I’d seen, and I said, ‘What a rotten job that would be to be a hangman.’ ”

Though he’s busy promoting Ghost Train, Stuart is equally excited about the potential of Cathedral. “We picked up where we left off on Souls' Chapel. The first thing you’ll hear is Mavis Staples singing ‘Uncloudy Day’ with us. We just kept writing songs that sounded like they belonged in a hymn book,” he says of his approach to the record. “There’s a little black church called Commerce Christian Church that’s the home of the Fabulous Superlatives [Stuart’s acclaimed band], pastored by Evelyn Hubbard in Tunica, Mississippi. We go there and play our new gospel songs and usually leave there [saying] ‘That one was a keeper!’

“We’ve also recorded two or three older pieces on Cathedral,” Stuart continues, “traditional songs like ‘Keep on the Firing Line’ and ‘Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” but for the most part, it’s new, original stuff just like Souls' Chapel.”

His faith has always played an important part in Stuart’s life. “It’s the first and foremost thing with me,” he tells “My relationship with God and being in God’s will, standing in the middle of His destiny for your life and seeking that destiny in obedience and that guidance every day – that comes before everything to me.”

Stuart credits his mother for teaching him at an early age to trust God. “The church was the central place in our life. After I’d been in Nashville a month my mom called and said friends of ours were coming to Nashville and she was sending me a gift. The security guard at the Opry said ‘There’s a lady here from your hometown with a gift from your mom’ and I told him I’d been expecting that. When I opened the gift, it was a Bible and it had one scripture underlined. It was Matthew 6:33: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’ That’s the only verse mom had underlined.”

Stuart admits that over the years, he’s made his share of mistakes, but these days knows the peace of living in God’s will. “If there was a pothole to step in, I did it. I completely splattered,” he admits, “but I always had the truth and I always knew where to go. There comes a point in your life when you have to make a decision – ‘Do I want to keep living this way and continually ruin my life? Or do I want to clean it up, stand up, get in line and move on peacefully?' That’s what I chose to do.”

By Deborah Evans Price

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