Marty Stuart's Unapologetic Country

This appeared in the San Antonio Express-News - April 14, 2011

Marty Stuart's latest album, Ghost Train, features hard-hitting country and at least three songs that have a special meaning to him.

“Hummingbyrd,” which earned him his fifth Grammy award this year for country instrumental, is a tribute to Clarence White, the Byrds guitarist who died in 1973. Stuart played White's guitar on the song.

“Porter Wagoner's Grave” is an homage to his old friend, complete with Wagoner's trademark country recitation, in which a guy with a lot of problems finds redemption. Stuart wrote “Hangman,” about a haunting job, with Johnny Cash four days before Cash's death in 2003.

“It is a profound song,” Stuart said. “Knowing we got to collaborate on it so close to the time he passed away means a lot to me.”

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives will play songs from Ghost Train — along with hits from his career, such as “Hillbilly Rock,” “Burn Me Down” and “This One's Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)” — at 9 p.m. Saturday at Gruene Hall. Young fiddler Ruby Jane will open, and she will return again to the hall at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“This might be the first time I ever played Gruene Hall that it's not 10,000 degrees,” Stuart said.

Stuart, known for moving effortlessly among country, country rock, bluegrass and honky-tonk, credits his upbringing in Philadelphia, Mississippi for his eclectic mix.

“Being from Mississippi is kind of like being from Texas,” he said. “It's a big cultural stew when it comes to music. So many roots royalty figures came from Mississippi.

“Rock 'n' roll made me dance, and I love rock 'n' roll, and soul music made me want to dance.”

But there was something about the honesty of country when he listened to the words of Hank Williams and Merle Haggard that touched his heart. So he returned to his country roots for Ghost Train.

“That was the idea,” he said. “It was time to make a hard-core, hard-hitting unapologetic country record. That's the music I love the most.”

That love spreads to TV, too.

The Marty Stuart Show, which began its third season in January with guests this year such as Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Loretta Lynn and Randy Travis, is the highest-rated show on the cable network RFD. It airs at 7 p.m. Saturdays.

“Traditional country is what we're all about there,” Stuart said. “A lot of people thought that kind of music would never be seen or heard again. But we get to put on cowboy clothes that twinkle and sing the songs that we love and play the kind of music we really believe in.”

He has also been working on a new album with an artist he believes in, country singer Connie Smith — his wife.

Due out in the summer, it'll be her first CD of new material in 13 years.

“If you like Connie Smith's music, this is the one you want because it sounds like she picks up where she left off,” he said. “She's as good as ever.”

Stuart, a country-music renaissance man, historian and photographer, also has one of the largest private collections of country memorabilia in the world.

“According to the insurance man, there's about 20,000 pieces,” he said. “It's crazy.”

Among them are items with meaning as special as those songs on Ghost Train — including White's guitar and Cash's suit, in black, of course.

By John Goodspeed

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