Forty years ago this fall, Marty Stuart rode a Greyhound to Nashville from the streets of Philadelphia -- Mississippi. His intention was to visit with Roland White, the mandolin player for Lester Flatt. Stuart had no idea that he would be offered a job playing in the Nashville Grass. All these years later, that love affair with Music City is still burning as strong as ever.
Fast forward to 2012. Stuart is still in Nashville, making some of the finest music of his career. His latest Sugar Hill album, "Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down," will hit stores April 24. In an exclusive interview for Billboard, the singer says the disc continues down the traditional path that he has been on for the past five years.
"I've been in a traditional country mindset for the last few go-rounds," he says, adding that "It all started with Wagonmaster, the album I produced on Porter Wagoner back in 2007. I loved that record, and getting to make it with Porter. It really got me to thinking about and looking at things differently. After that we made Ghost Train, then Connie Smith's record, Long Line Of Heartaches, and we just kept it going. The result of that is this new record."
While Porter Wagoner passed away not too long after making the triumphant "Wagonmaster," a key part of that sound is represented on Stuart's new record. Buck Trent, who played in Wagoner's band for close to a decade, is featured on two cuts - the title cut, as well as a cover of Porter and Dolly's 'Holdin' On To Nothin.' Stuart stated he enjoyed getting to have Trent on the album.
"One of the things I've always loved is star musicians," he said. "I'm just kind of drawn to them. When I was growing up, Buck was such a star of Porter's show. He was such a flashy character, but he was also such a genius - kind of like Don Rich with Buck Owens or Luther Perkins with Johnny Cash. As time goes on, those people shouldn't be forgotten, because their gifts are timeless. The only reason I recorded 'Holdin' On To Nothin' was so I could hear Buck play the banjo, because they cut the record right a long time ago," he says fondly.
Nashville, Volume 1 contains some classic sounds -- as well as some classic themes, such as the churning "Truck Driver's Blues." Stuart says it all goes with keeping with tradition.
"On Ghost Train, the last record, we recorded it at Studio B. One of the things I took into the studio was the original blueprint of country music - by way of subject matter," he affirms. "I went back to what Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family sang about when they were coming up with what we call country music today. It was the working man, the jailhouse, hard times, good times, it was love, and all those things that people make fun of country music for these days. At the same time, they are very real. If you don't believe it, turn on the news or pick up the paper or go out on the road and you'll see the trucks on the highway. Those people in the trucks live real lives, and they're my fellow road dogs."
Stuart is joined on the disc by his incredible band, the Fabulous Superlatives - which many laud as one of the top bands in country music. They are prominently featured on the album, as well as on Stuart's highly-rated RFD-TV show. He says he has never enjoyed a musical partnership any more than his current band.
"Cousin' Kenny Vaughan, 'Handsome' Harry Stinson, and 'Apostle' Paul Martin are the band of a lifetime," Stuart says with admiration. "I've been in bands since I was nine years old, and never met anyone more versatile. But, beyond all their musical ability, they are great men."
One track where the band - as well as guest musician Gary Carter (who is the steel player for Stuart's wife, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Connie Smith) shines is the Bakersfield-esque "Going, Going, Gone." Stuart says the song was written last summer.
"That was one of those songs that just came out of nowhere. The more I wrote on it, it became autobiographical. It tells the story of my life," he confesses. After he finished the song, he says a California country legend came to mind. "I told the band 'I wouldn't be ashamed to play that one for Merle," he says with deep admiration and respect.