Marty Stuart Talks to News 12 About Preserving Country Music History

Johnny Cash Guitar Marty 3 Courtesy Bill Mitchell

Courtesy: Bill Mitchell

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (WDEF) — Country Music Hall of Famer Marty Stuart is out with a new album.

Altitude is his first with His Fabulous Superlatives in six years.

When Marty’s not performing or making music, he’s preserving country music history.

He spoke to News 12 about his latest efforts, and some of his collection.

While Stuart is a country music legend himself, he’s focused on making sure we don’t forget those legends before him.

Ones he’s played with side by side – like Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash.

“They were my professors,” Stuart said “They were the guys that gave me my start, and they were not the kind of guys to sit you down, and go, ‘All right, here’s how you do this.’ I learned by watching.”

Marty’s passion aside from music, is being a country music historian.

He’s collected more than 20,000 historical items since growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

“But as time went on, like in the early ’80s, I got really serious about it because I sort of started – The first thing I found in a junk shop in Nashville was Patsy Cline’s train case for $75,” he said. “That looked really wrong to me, and so that became a self-appointed mission to start it, and it turned into 20,000 items, and we’re building a cultural center around it in Philadelphia, Mississippi.”

It’s called Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music.

They’ve already completed phase one of the project – reopening the historic Ellis Theater downtown.

Artists from Marty, and fellow Philadelphia native HARDY, to Opry members Connie Smith, Ricky Skaggs, and Vince Gill have all played there since it reopened.

In addition to the performance venue, the 50,000-plus-square-foot campus will also include a community center, classrooms, and a museum.

“There’s so many cool pieces – Johnny Cash’s first black performance suit, Hank Williams’ guitar, Jimmie Rodgers’ guitar. But there’s something about the manuscripts I love to see,” Marty said. “Hank Williams’ handwriting of ‘I Saw the Light,’ or ‘Your Cold, Cold Heart,’ or Johnny Cash’s original writing to ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ those kinds of things.”

Not all of Marty’s collection will necessarily be featured at the museum – including one Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, which belonged to Cash.

“It’s at the Grand Ole Opry in their archives,” Stuart said. “I have no doubt in my mind that that was the first or second guitar that Johnny Cash ever used on the Sun recordings down in Memphis, Tennessee. And so it is at the Grand Ole Opry on display in their archives.”

Retired News 12 assignment manager Bill Mitchell sold the guitar to Marty about 10 years ago.

Bill got it from his dad in 1960, who bought it from Johnny’s guitar player, Luther Perkins.

“[Luther and I] talked about the guitar and he said, ‘Yeah, that was the one Johnny had when he recorded ‘I Walked the Line,”” Mitchell said.

Bill didn’t know it at the time, but he got more than just the guitar.

When Marty bought it more than 50 years later, he took the guitar to get it fixed, and found several pictures hidden in the old beat-up case it was in.

“There’s a picture of Johnny and Rosanne when she was a baby. There’s a sale, a bill of sale,” Bill said.

Along with pictures of Johnny and his first wife, Vivian Cash, and ones of him playing that guitar on stage.

“If you’re out there looking for costumes or guitars or artifacts, nothing takes the place of a picture,” Marty said. “That is proof, proof, proof positive. And so those pictures were kind of like, they showed up at just the right time for authenticity.”

While the guitar might not be going to the new museum in Mississippi, Bill’s still pleased it’s with the Opry.

“The guitar is a legendary piece. It’s a legendary instrument,” Bill said. “It was a classic. It had so much to do with back in the early days of country music as we know it now. It was part of that.”

And that’s why Marty is so passionate about all of these artifacts.

He hopes getting his Congress of Country Music built, will help keep country music’s rich legacy alive.

“As an industry, it’s almost 100 years old,” Marty said. “And there’s so many songs, so many characters, so many folk heroes that speak into our hearts that were either the great singers or songwriters or musicians that helped define ours as a people. And in those stories, the stories, the stories, the stories that country songs bring, we all relate to that.”

Marty says he hopes the entire Congress of Country Music will be open in two to three years.

Learn more about it here.

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