As one of country music’s most venerable artists and ambassadors, Marty Stuart wasn’t about to stand idly by while witnessing what he saw as the integrity of its heritage being compromised.
“The roots of country music were being ignored and disregarded,” says Stuart, a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, “and it was slipping away. It seemed to me that the right thing to do was to play it.” That steadfast determination underscores his current album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, its title not only referring to the hallowed Nashville room in which it was made but also to the history it holds.
“So much of country music’s legacy has been forged there," he says of Studio B, where such classics as Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors,” Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” among hundreds upon hundreds of others, were recorded.
“And it was the first place I ever recorded as a kid with Lester Flatt,” Stuart adds, recalling when while barely a teenager in 1972 he landed his first job in music, playing mandolin in the bluegrass legend’s band. His tenure lasted until shortly before Flatt's death in 1979, after which he joined Johnny Cash’s band before ultimately setting out in the mid '80s to pursue a solo career.
Scoring hits like "Hillbilly Rock," "Burn Me Down," and "The Whiskey Ain't Working Anymore," the latter a duet with fellow maverick Travis Tritt, Stuart earned both commercial success and critical acclaim, including four GRAMMY Awards. Over time, however, his creative goals conflicted with those of an ever-changing country-music industry, forcing him to assess his purpose and relevance as an artist.
Where did you get the whole idea for Ghost Train, to stand your ground and say, “This is where I am now?"
In reality for me it started about ten years ago with a record I did called The Pilgrim, and I was kind of penalized for playing country music. I had one recording left on my contract with MCA Records at the time. I felt like The Pilgrim was probably going to do me in commercially for a moment, but I knew I had to take that walk because I had no choice in the matter in order to live with myself. So I made that record and it brought the curtain down on a decade-and-a-half commercial run, but it was time to do something different. You can only have so many radio songs. You can only have so many of the trinkets of hillbilly stardom. Then all of a sudden it becomes a hollow victory. That’s what it did for me. I wanted a deeper, more meaningful career for the back half of my life. So I started over.