Marty Stuart’s show last week (Feb. 19) at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall’s Allen Room was bound to be extra special, special in that he was with his band the Fabulous Superlatives (an understatement if there ever was one), and extra special in that he was with his Country Music Hall of Fame wife Connie Smith.
Part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, the evening naturally focused on choice songs by the choicest songwriters, including Paul Kennerley, whose “Hillbilly Rock” reached No. 8 on the country charts for Stuart in 1990, and was the set’s opener. Stuart quickly brought out his better half, who noted that when they were putting the show together, she realized that she had listed three of Dallas Frazier’s songs in a row—“Where Is My Castle,” “Ain’t Had No Lovin’” and “Run Away Little Tears”--three of the 71 she’s recorded.
The great Bill Anderson was also well represented, as he wrote her signature hit “Once A Day” and “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”—both of which she sang as well.
Simply put, Smith proved once again that if she isn’t the greatest female country singer alive, there’s certainly none better. And Stuart is way up there among the males, as he demonstrated on “Tempted,” his 1991 No. 5 hit that he wrote with Kennerley, during which Smith sat on a stool and mouthed the lyrics.
Great stone face Kenny Vaughan was fabulously superlative and more on "Tempted" with a guitar part right out of Buddy Holly, and also scored high vocally on his own “Walk Like That,” the rest of the band backing him up on the title line—essentially the song’s only line—by deftly leaning low into their instrument microphones. Except for Smith’s pedal steel guitarist Gary Carter, who took a splendid solo turn on Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” it was all acoustic, with Stuart dazzling on his mandolin showpiece “Mando Rip.” Drummer Harry Stinson, who mostly brushed a harnessed snare drum, and bassist Paul Martin, who played upright, also teamed perfectly on backup vocals for both Stuart and Smith.
As Stuart is a renowned country music memorabilia collector, he brought along a few choice artifacts, including a Hank Williams stage shirt, Clarence White and Johnny Cash guitars, and Jimmie Rodgers railroad lamp and briefcase, the latter having transported the tapes of the Father of Country Music’s final sessions in New York, where he died at the Taft Hotel in 1933 at 35.
And Stuart had plenty of his own stories to relate, including how he met Ervin T. Rouse, who wrote “Orange Blossom Special,” when the aged songwriter was little more than a ghost, at a bluegrass festival when Stuart was in Lester Flatt’s band. As for Flatt, Stuart recalled that the first records he “fell in love with” at age five were by Flatt and Johnny Cash—who would later become his only two employers.
Stuart played “Orange Blossom Special,” which Cash famously performed, and “Dark Bird,” his tribute to his late friend and mentor. He explained how he had observed the noisy title crow alight on a fruit tree that Cash had planted on the land where Roy Orbison’s house had burned down (tragically killing his two eldest sons) in turning it into a living sanctuary.
“I dearly love crows,” he said, “Because they’re really weird birds and dress like Johnny Cash.”
But the most amazing story was the one behind Stuart’s “I Met My Baby at the Choctaw Fair,” which is where Stuart, then a youngster in Philadelphia, Miss., first saw Smith, then told his mother he would marry her.
“It took me 25 years to convince her!” said Stuart. Together the couple sang “Farmer’s Blues,” which they co-wrote in their kitchen. Smith delivered a majestic “How Great Thou Art,” and Stuart closed with Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
It was only fitting that they had shared the stage with Hank Williams’ shirt.
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