When Marty Stuart met Johnny Cash for the first time, he said he thought he heard thunder. Cash asked him, “Where you been?” “Getting ready,” Stuart replied and it was the beginning of a friendship that would last the rest of Cash’s life.
On the season six ender of The Marty Stuart Show this past weekend, Stuart reflected on what Cash meant to him and his music in a special hour-long episode of the show.
photo by David McClister
Stuart had gotten his start playing mandolin at age 13 for another hero of his, bluegrass pioneer Lester Flatt. When Flatt died in May 1979, Stuart was a bit adrift, though the band, The Nashville Grass, continued under the leadership of Curly Seckler. Soon the band was back in the studio to cut a new album and they invited Cash in to guest on two songs (“What’s Good For You (Should Be Alright For Me)” and “Mother Maybelle”). But without Flatt, the band didn’t stay together long and Stuart was looking for another gig.
In 1980 Marshall Grant was fired from the band, but drummer WS “Fluke” Holland and guitarist Bob Wootton of the Tennessee Three remained. Cash wanted to change his sound slightly, so he expanded the band from three to eight, adding a piano and a couple of other guitarists, dubbing them the Great Eighties Eight. One of those guitarists was Stuart, though he also played fiddle and mandolin as well.
After two years in the band, Stuart had his sights set on being his own artist. Signing a deal with Sugar Hill Records, he went about recording his first album, Busy Bee Cafe. While his bluegrass background was evident, the Cash influence was also there. “Hey Porter,” one of Cash’s earliest songs was included, as was the Bob Nolan penned “One More Ride,” both of which Cash guested on. Combining the power of both heroes, Stuart recorded Lester Flatt’s “Get In Line, Brother” with Cash also on vocals. Though a fine effort, the album never gained traction and Stuart continued in the Great Eighties Eight.
photo by James Minchin III
A year later, Stuart fell in love with Cash’s daughter Cindy, who was touring with the show. The two were married in 1983. In 1986 Stuart got a record deal with Columbia that produced two albums of rockabilly-edged country. Marty Stuart reached #34 on the Country Albums chart. The second album, Let There Be Country, wouldn’t be released until 1992, several years after his Columbia contract had ended.
As the 1980s ended things were bittersweet for Stuart as his marriage to Cindy ended in 1988, but he got a new deal with MCA. Hillbilly Rock made it to #19 on the Country Albums chart in 1989 and the first single, the Cash tune “Cry, Cry, Cry” made it to #32. The albums third single, “Hillbilly Rock,” made it to #8 and set Stuart on a successful tear up the charts for the next several years.
The friendship of Cash and Stuart grew stronger through those years, though they didn’t see each other as often. But in 1997, after he married Connie Smith, Stuart bought a house near Cash, who was just coming off the road for good after fighting some health problems.
This episode of The Marty Stuart Show was a truly special one. It features Stuart, one on one, expounding upon all of the events I’ve just mentioned, and several more. His love and admiration for Cash is clearly evident. It is not only a great look into their friendship, but a great overview of Stuart’s career.
It wouldn’t be The Marty Stuart Show without the music, performed by Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. In this episode, aside from a few clips of Stuart playing with Cash, we get renditions of “Hey Porter,” “Country Boy,” “Luther Played The Boogie,” and “Give My Love To Rose.”Stuart ends the show with his tribute to Cash, “Dark Bird,” which he performed alone on the stage.
In all a great episode that is a treat for fans of both Cash and Stuart.