Marty Stuart was just described in Rolling Stone as “one of the last remaining links to traditional country, roots music and the generation of greats like George Jones and Hank Williams.” Stuart is a songwriter, singer, guitarist and mandolin player who has had gold and platinum records and won five Grammys, but then moved away from commercial country to get back to his and the music’s roots.
He first went on the road when he was 13, as a member of Lester Flatt’s band, then became a member of Johnny Cash’s back up band. He went solo in the late 80s. Stuart has a huge collection of country music artifacts and memorabilia. Through his own photography, he’s documented country performers and their fans. He currently has an exhibit of his photos at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.
In today’s interview he talks about the last photo he ever took of his neighbor, Johnny Cash:
“I was over at his house and I … had just been to Folsom, California. I had been given a gate pass to go to the prison to see where he made his Folsom Prison album, and at that point I was just looking for anything to talk to him about—we recorded, we talked, just anything to keep him entertained because June had recently passed away. So I went next door to have a cup of coffee and just share with him my impressions of Folsom Prison. …
I started a song and I took it next door to John, and we actually wrote this song called Hangman that we did on a record called Ghost Train, and it was the last song that he ever wrote. We just finished this song together. And he was sitting there in his chair looking so pretty in the light, the late afternoon light was coming in from behind and I said, “JR, let me take your picture.” I knew he didn’t want to, but he let me. There were three frames. In the first two he just kinda looked tired and weary, but on the third frame I said, “JR!” and he sat up straight and pulled on that black collar and he became Johnny Cash. … Four days later he was gone.
Photo: Courtesy of Marty Stuart, from his photography book, American Ballads.