Between his run as a solo artist to his collaborations with Lester Flatt, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to his signature puff of gray speckled hair, Marty Stuart is one of the most recognized and revered country artists of the past quarter century. While he remains a warrior on the road, the singer/songwriter has proved very prolific in the studio, turning in a string of recent releases, such as the critically lauded Souls' Chapel (Superlatone Records/ Universal South).
Aside from those obvious creative ventures, Stuart is also an avid country music memorabila collector and just so happens to have some very close connections to The Man In Black. Here's more from a chat with Livewire's Andy Argyrakis:
Livewire: Country music went huge in the '90s with so much commercialization, but you've always remained true to your heart. What's your opinion of that trend?
Stuart: It makes me sad that not just country music, but in all styles it's become so homogenized. I've always believed that you don't have to force roots and traditions just to get to where you're headed, but that the future is so much richer when you carry traditions with you. When I first started traveling, you could go in a store with a dirt floor and every town had character. Now our nation has become homogenized and we have all the same stores everywhere. I believe in taking character along, and it serves me well.
Livewire: I've heard you have over 20,000 pieces of country music memorabila. How did you get into that?
Stuart: I wanted to preserve American culture by the way of county music. No one seemed to care about Hank Williams' suits or Johnny Cash's guitar, and in doing that, they were throwing away an important slice of American culture. That motivated me to start collecting it and keeping it from vanishing. I still play Hank's guitar. Also, I'm working on an exhibit for the Tennessee State Museum for the fall of 2008. It's a friendly exhibit I loan out to the Tennessee State Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you go online at MartyStuart.net, one of the chapters on the website profiles the exhibit, and every month there's a different artifact we feature - who it belongs to, what it's about. It's pretty interesting.
Livewire: Are you ever worried in transporting these items and playing the instruments that they will become damaged?
Stuart: They're treated with a lot of care and dignity. They are historical items and they're museum pieces, but they're also guitars - and guitars love to be played. So I try and play along one way or another, whether it's by way of recording sessions, television appearances making videos with them or even on the road.
Livewire: Is it ever hard to find new items?
Stuart: Well I used to really get out and treasure hunt a lot and then I kind of got everything I was going for. And nowadays I hear about things, but it's getting harder and a whole lot pricier now that everybody knows what I'm up to. I have to wade carefully.
Livewire: What inspired you to craft Souls' Chapel?
Stuart: It's something I've been wanting to do for 15 years. Like so many other performers, the first place I ever sang was church. I was raised there and it was my natural habitat throughout the week. My first job was in a Pentecostal bluegrass band. When I got a record deal, the natural thing in my mind was to do a gospel record, but mainstream country had changed drastically. They wanted me to cut radio hits and nothing else, so I had to write gospel music for others. But when I was creatively pardoned [by starting his own label], I was able to do exactly what I wanted. I was at a point in my career where I was wondering what to do creatively...
Livewire: What was it like working with Mavis Staples in the studio for "Move Along Train?"
Stuart: Mavis is like one of the bedrock sounds in my soul. Her voice is so powerful and as a presence she's so powerful. It's like having mother earth in the studio.
Livewire: Aside from Souls' Chapel, what other albums are on your radar right now?
Stuart: Live at the Ryman is a bluegrass record made at the mother church of country in Nashville. It was a one-night concert when we became a bluegrass band by adding a banjo and a fiddle, and it was one of those magic nights. Badlands is inspired by the first time I went to the Badlands in 1983 as part of Johnny Cash's band for a benefit concert. I learned that Custer County, South Dakota [home of the Lakota Sioux American Indians], is the poorest county in the United States. I've never seen people in America so beautiful, even though they had been shoved out to this godforsaken land to die by the government. They've sustained their dignity, integrity and power, and I just fell in love with the people. I'm never going to quit going, and I've tried to spread the word now that nobody's telling their story anymore.
Livewire: In what ways did Johnny Cash inspire you?
Stuart: He was my main inspiration for music since I was five years old, and he's been my lifelong friend who wound up being my next-door neighbor. He taught me to be fearless when it comes to creativity. He was also a man after God!
Livewire: What is your take on the movie "Walk the Line?"
Stuart: I haven't seen it. I don't have any desire to see it. I was in the real movie!
Marty Stuart & Mavis Staples
By Andy Argyrakis
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