BY MARY HOULIHAN | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Marty Stuart’s new two-disc album, “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning,” salutes the convergence of country music and gospel. No one understands this crossroads better than Stuart who has been performing since he was 9 years old and is a walking font of knowledge about the roots of country music.
The genesis of the album began around nine years ago when Stuart recorded a version of “Uncloudy Day” with Mavis Staples. A year or so earlier before he went on stage for a show at FitzGerald’s, Mavis and her sister Yvonne presented Pops Staples’ guitar to Stuart, a close family and musical friend. He played the guitar on the recording, and he also began to realize something.
“I found that gospel music figured into the very foundation of my band,” Stuart said in a phone conversation during a busy day in Nashville. “The music of the Swan Silvertones, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Staple Singers — and on the other side Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers — was the foundation of our harmony structure.”
Stuart’s band, the Fabulous Superlatives, is one of the best in Nashville. It can’t get much better when you’re backed by Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and Paul Martin (bass). “I knew from our first rehearsal that I was in the presence of my legacy band,” Stuart says.
It took some years to find the right balance of songs for the two-disc album. Stuart gathered 11 songs for a rowdy Saturday honkytonk night redeemed by a dozen songs of rebirth ready for Sunday morning churchgoing.
MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 4 WHERE: Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln TICKETS: $28-$30 INFO: (773) 728-6000; oldtownschool.org
Gospel has long shared a unique relationship with country music, Stuart says: “My predecessors — Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash — would be fallin’ off the stage hootin’ and hollerin’ but at some point in a show they stood up straight and did a gospel song.”
Stuart kicks “Saturday Night & Sunday Morning” off with the revved-up rockabilly tunes “Jailhouse” and “Geraldine,” which lead into honkytonkers like Warner Mack’s “Talking to the Wall” and soulful versions of Charlie Rich’s “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs” and George Jones’ “Old Old House.”
The sublime “Uncloudy Day” leads off the gospel side with the Fabulous Superlatives’ harmony singing front and center on “That Gospel Music,” “Angels Rock Me to Sleep” and “Mercy #1.” The hand-clapping church revival gets underway with “Keep on the Firing Line” and “Good News.”
“These are all songs in my opinion that are in danger of getting lost to the ages if they don’t get reintroduced along the way,” Stuart says. “I see this as a bit of a rescue mission.”
ARTIFACTS & ARTS: Stuart also is the keeper of a stunning 20,000-piece collection of country artifacts that is the largest of its kind in the world. “I have the insurance bill to prove it,” he says laughing. Plans are to find a permanent home in a museum he hopes to establish in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Stuart also is an accomplished photographer. He’s been taking photos for decades of country music greats and the world around them. His touching portrait of Johnny Cash was taken shortly before the iconic artist’s death.
A collection of Stuart’s most resonant photos is on display through Nov. 2 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. Visit fristcenter.org/calendar-exhibitions/detail/marty-stuart.
A second exhibit, The Art of Country Music, runs through Jan. 3 at the Sheldon Gallery in St. Louis. the exhibit includes artifacts from Stuart’s collection, photographs and folk art pieces, including some by Chicagoan Jon Langford. Visit thesheldon.org/current-exhibits.php.
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.