RE-PAYING CASH

Marty Stuart ropes in big stars for a tip of the hat to his mentor, Johnny Cash

Some of Marty Stuart's best moments happen in his kitchen. Like the mornings he walks in and hears his wife, Connie Smith, singing as she puts dishes away.

"It's awesome to hear her shuffling around and singing," says Marty. "Our house is wood and the sound just carries. Her voice! Sometimes I just stop. I still get butterflies."

Marty first met Connie in 1970. She was an established Opry star, and 12-year-old Marty had his picture taken with her after her show at a fair in his hometown of Philadelphia, Miss. Twenty-seven years later, they got married. "I'm still in awe of her," says Marty.

But Connie is not the only awe-inspiring presence in Marty's kitchen. This summer he sat down in that room with Johnny Cash to play - for the first time - the new album Marty produced, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute To The Songs Of Johnny Cash.

"I just finished the record," remembers Marty. "We were having a cup of coffee and a piece of my mama's applesauce cake. Then I started playing the songs."

Understandably, Marty was nervous. Johnny's reaction meant more to him than record sales or critics' reviews.

"There was silence, smiles ... and tears!" exclaims Marty. "When I knew in my heart he had signed off on it, I realized no matter what else happens, my results are in."

Marty and Johnny go way back. Marty played in Johnny's band from 1979 to 1985 and even became Johnny's son-in-law when he married Johnny's daughter, Cindy, in 1979. Though the couple divorced in 1986, Marty and Johnny remained close. "He's one of my best friends," confides Marty. "He's truly somebody I admire on multiple levels of life."

As Johnny's 70th birthday approached last February 26, talk of projects honoring the legend began.

"At first I thought a tribute album wasn't the most original thing I'd ever heard," laughs Marty. "But when we decided to celebrate Johnny Cash the songwriter, I thought we were on to something."

Marty gathered an impressive list of stars - including Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan - to sing Johnny's songs.

"He's a great American songwriter who has influenced not only country music, but every genre of music imaginable," exclaims Marty. "His songs have truly influenced our lives."

Now that Marty's labor of love is complete, he has decided to hang up his producer's cap for a while. "This phase of my life is done," he declares.

Marty is also glad to be done with a major personal crisis. In April, the star was arrested for driving under the influence. Though he was recently acquitted of the charge, he was found guilty of violating Tennessee's implied consent law for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test. The court ruled Marty can drive only with a restricted license for one year and ordered him to attend alcohol and drug safety school.

Marty's only comment about the incident: "I'm moving on."

Now Marty is focusing on his own music."I woke up one morning," he says, "and said, 'It's time to call the band, go to Manuel's, get a new cowboy suit made and get back to work!' "

With the new record due this winter, Marty is already planning a big, star-studded summer tour. He smiles a big smile. "I'm ready to play some good, solid country music!"

-- M.B. Roberts

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