Work Title: Country Music: The Masters
Work Author(s): Marty Stuart
Color and b/w photos, 384 pages, Hardcover w/CD $49.99
Reviewer: Edward Morris
At bottom, country music is about the abiding joys of home---both real and imagined. Take away the songs that express in one way or another a longing to return to the comforting place of one's childhood, and there would be precious little of this music left. The armature of home life is, of course, the family; and it is the familial nature of the performers who created modern country music that Marty Stuart illuminates in this collection of snapshots and formal portraits. Stuart took most of these photos while he was playing in or leading various country bands. There is significantly more to this book, though, than just a procession of famous and semi-famous faces. Stuart also offers photos of ornate stage costumes, show posters, stars' tombstones, first drafts of classic songs, fabled guitars, mandolins and fiddles, ancient cabins and farm buildings, honky tonks, country churches, and the scenes of Patsy Cline's plane crash and Stringbean's murder. (Those who've never heard of Stringbean will find less to savor in this book than those familiar enough with country music to remember him as the lanky, banjo-playing comedian from Hee Haw. This is very much an insider's book, not a fact- and date-laden introduction to the subject.) No one else in country music today is as well suited to convey the music's essence as the Mississippi-born Stuart. A prodigy on the mandolin, he began performing professionally when he was twelve years old, and at thirteen he joined the legendary Lester Flatt's band. Later, he toured for several years with Johnny Cash (and married his daughter, Cindy) before venturing out on his own. He went on to win four Grammy awards and become a revered member the Grand Ole Opry. Besides his instrumental skills, Stuart brings to this work an encyclopedic knowledge of country music and a curator's zeal for collecting, cataloging, and annotating its artifacts. He has amassed one of the largest collections of country music memorabilia in private hands---some 20,000 items. Very early in his career, Stuart saw in a Greenwich Village bookstore a series of behind-the-scenes photos of jazz stars taken by jazz bassist Milt Hinton, who, as it turned out, carried a camera with him to all his gigs. Realizing that he, too, had a rare degree of access to famous...