Marty Stuart Finds His Faith

This appeared in the Grand Prairie Daily Herald Tribune - August 4, 2006

His body was frail, his voice growing weaker, but Marty Stuart still remembers what it was like watching his long-time friend Johnny Cash sing about faith and God.

From Stuart's own living room, Cash sat and rocked back and forth singing as he recorded part of his last album American V. Cash's cover of Gordon Lightfoot's classic "If You Could Read My Mind." It was recorded in Stuart's house with the host on guitar. The recording was made just three days after June Carter Cash had died and Cash, who would die six months later, was on his last legs yet still wanted to record.

"He was swinging with everything he had, which was wasn't much because he was so frail... (but) his faith was that of a lion. It was down to the wire, between a man and his maker," says Stuart, his own voice growing quieter as he speaks about the memory.

That album, American V, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts last month, Cash's first number one album since the last 1960s. Stuart says he has trouble listening to the album now because it reminds him of how frail his friend was before death. For the well-known country singer and long-time Cash friend, the experience did help Stuart prepare himself for recording his first gospel music record, Souls' Chapel, which was released in August 2005 to critical and fan acclaim.

Stuart's own message of faith and salvation will be the headlining part of the upcoming Peace Country Gospel Jamboree, happening August 5 and 6 at the South Peace Centennial Museum near Beaverlodge.

Stuart is the top act at the show, showcasing more than three-decades of musical talent and experience. But even after decades in the music business, Stuart isn't slowing down. He released three albums last year, is working on more photography books for which he's also known, and recording two new albums for next year. He'll also be the main force behind a new exhibit called Sparkle and Twang in the Tennessee State Museum next year.

Still, it's the success of Souls' Chapel and the making of that album which has had such an impact on Stuart's life.

Stuart grew up Mississippi with the collective sounds of singers such as Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters and the gospel Staples' Singers, fronted by Pop Staples. Knowing that so many musical genres are rooted in his home state, Stuart says he felt he had the licence to try and branch out from his country music roots. Gospel music seemed to call to him as the church plays such a dominate role in southern U.S. culture and many famous singers have first performed in church halls, including Stuart, who says he sang his first ever public song in a church.

"It was the genesis to a lot of music freedom," he says of being in Mississippi. "The church is where country, blues, rock singers... it's where they got their start."

But making the record wasn't as easy it first sounds. Halfway through the recording, Stuart hit a low point in his life when he was arrested for drunk-driving. For a man who was trying to sing about salvation, God and faith, Stuart realized he wasn't walking the line himself and had a problem.

After the arrest, Stuart was visited by old friends Mavis and Yvonne Staples, daughters of Pop Staples. Stuart is a known collector of country music memorabilia with more than 20,000 items in his collection and the sisters brought him a gift, one of their father's original telecaster guitars. Having a guitar from one of gospel music's greats and a man he played with when he was younger, was a very special, says Stuart.

"Pop Staples as much as anyone was an inspiration to me."

Stuart reached out to his faith to help clean-up his life a little and says he's stuck with that effort ever since. Stuart says even Jesus and the disciples weren't perfect men and that knowledge has helped him.

"We're all flawed people... I go back and read about Jesus and Disciples and they all had problems too."

Stuart finished Souls' Chapel and the record was met with numerous positive reviews, calling it an uplifting performance with songs that focus on inspirational side of religion.

Making sure his songs were authentic and not overly preachy was important to him, Stuart says.

"(Making Souls' Chapel) It was a joy, it was pure joy. I like gospel music that inspires and doesn't point fingers or condemn. I was forced to look around at the face of gospel music and there is a difference between people who are called to do it and music that's just product."

Since its release, Souls' Chapel has also receive two nominations for the American Music Awards - Album of the Year and Artist of the Year. Those awards will be presented in September.

Stuart's two new upcoming albums will again be a departure from his country music reputation. The first album to be released will be an album of duets, called Compadres and will feature Stuart with other singers including Travis Tritt, Merle Haggard, The Staple Singers, Mavis Staples, Steve Earle, B.B. King, Del McCoury, Earl Scruggs and others. The other new album will be a second gospel release called Cathedral.

By Darrell Winwood

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