MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A new CD of gospel music from Mississippi native Marty Stuart takes on new meaning after Hurricane Katrina.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. MARTY STUART: (Singing) When clouds of doubt all around you form, there's a rainbow at the end of every storm.
BLOCK: Marty Stuart and his band the Fabulous Superlatives came by our studios last month to sing some gospel tunes. This was before Katrina hit. Marty Stuart, originally from Philadelphia, Mississippi. He's been playing music on the road since he was 12 years old, starting as a mandolin player with a bluegrass gospel group. At 13, he was traveling in Lester Flatt's bluegrass band. Later, he'd play with Doc and Merle Watson and Johnny Cash before launching his solo career in country music. And now he's taken a musical turn back to where he started.
Mr. STUART: I've always loved gospel music. Being raised in Mississippi, it was kind of part of the atmosphere down there. And when we first got this band together, we put the Superlatives together, we listened to everybody. We listened to country music, rock 'n' roll, jazz, blues, and got around to gospel music. The songs started appealing to us, and we learned to sing with each other by sitting around backstage, going up and down the highway, whatever. And it was a spirit-led thing, too, 'cause it felt like it was time to do it.
BLOCK: What was it you were learning about singing together that you were learning through gospel in particular?
Mr. STUART: Well, harmonies. It's all about being harmonious and becoming one person, several personalities inside of one thought. So we listened to a lot of Flatt & Scruggs. We listened to the Statesman Quartet, old Southern gospel singers. The Rambos were a great singing family out of Nashville. And The Staple Singers kind of touched our hearts the deepest, I think.
BLOCK: You're going to be doing a song by Pop Staples, Roebuck Staples...
Mr. STUART: Yeah.
BLOCK: ...in a second here, "Somebody Saved Me." When did you first hear this song? What's the story behind that?
Mr. STUART: I bought a Staple Singers record probably 10 years ago. But I don't know why this song touched me so deeply. It just spoke into my heart. And Pop Staples was one of my dearest friends. I thought it was an old hymn-book song. When I found out that he wrote it, it actually meant more to me. I never--it was one of those songs, until I had sung it, I used to stand in front of the song and it looked like Mt. Everest. It looked like it was the unattainable song, no way to sing the song. You know, you can try to explain harmony all day long, but there's something about family harmony. And the four of them were--I used the term--they were like ghosts singing in a cotton field. There's a mystique around the Staples. There is just something that comes up that's so special out of them. And I never thought we could get anywhere close to that.
BLOCK: Let's take a listen. This is "Somebody Saved Me," a Pop Staples song, by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives.
(Soundbite of "Somebody Saved Me")
Mr. STUART and the FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES: (Singing in unison) Some--somebody saw me when--when I was wandering out in the desert, oh, laden with sin. Some--somebody saw me and--and, with compassion, called to me gently, saying--saying, `Come in.' Some--somebody saved me when--when I was sinking. Some--somebody rescued my soul from the grave, hey, hey, hey. Some--(somebody, somebody)--somebody pulled me close--close to his bosom. Oh, it was Jesus, mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty king Jesus.
BLOCK: That's "Somebody Saved Me," a song by Pop Staples, performed here in our studios by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives.
I've got to ask you, it's just spine-tingling when you're going from these close harmonies up to a note in unison. How tricky is that to do, and how did you figure that out? Marty.
Mr. STUART: Well, it's an old style. It's an old country style. Where I first heard it was with The Carter Family. And the Monroe Brothers, Bill and Charlie Monroe, in the '30s used to do this a lot.
You remember that old song "Lost All My Money"? Sing it that way.
(Soundbite of "Lost All My Money")
Mr. STUART and the FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES: (Singing in unison) Lost all my money but a 2-dollar bill, 2-dollar bill, boys, 2-dollar bill. Lost all my money but a 2-dollar bill. I'm on my long journey home.
Mr. STUART: They just--I don't know why they would do it, but it was a brother thing. They just hit it in one place. And another version of that was the Louvin Brothers had a great harmony.
You can explain this better than I can.
Mr. HARRY STINSON (The Fabulous Superlatives): Well...
BLOCK: This is Harry Stinson.
Mr. STUART: Harry.
Mr. STINSON: ...a lot of times you got the melody and you have a third above that, and then you've got the fifth. Well, with two guys, you've got more room to move around between the parts. So the Louvin Brothers had a whole style of singing the melody and then the fifth, which is--this one thing that they did, "Satan Is Real," let me do a little bit of that.
Mr. STUART: Yeah. I'll try.
(Soundbite of "Satan Is Real")
Mr. STUART and Mr. STINSON: (Singing in unison) Satan is real, working in power. He will tempt you and lead you astray.
Mr. STUART: And back to The Staple Singers, what made them so special, they based everything off of a bluesy seventh kind of chord. And as a family harmony, especially in gospel music, I had never heard anybody, and never heard anybody since, that approached harmony the way that they did. That's the beauty of black gospel music from Mississippi, especially. There were no rules. Where you're singing out in the Mississippi delta, oh, my God, listen to me, there are no rules. And it was about crying out.
BLOCK: Now, Marty, you're playing guitar here, Fender. What do you got? What are you playing?
Mr. STUART: You want to talk about this guitar? This is Pop Staples' guitar. I have a big guitar collection, but this one especially, it feels like an instrument of might. It's a staff. It rallies hope, it rallies encouragement and it rallies inspiration every time I put it around my neck, so there's a responsibility to walking around with Pop Staples' guitar around your neck.
BLOCK: Marty, this album, "Souls' Chapel," all gospel songs, some that you wrote and some classic gospel songs, this came at a pretty low point for you.
Mr. STUART: It did. It's an embarrassing thing to talk about, but it's the--gospel music is about the truth, and we're people. Leaving home at 12 years old, I developed every rock 'n' roll habit there was to develop, one of them being drinking. I got tired of drinking, decided to get help to quit, and it worked for about a year and a half, and then I touched it again and it blew up again. So there was two very public DUI arrests. And you can imagine after the second one, I just felt worthless, powerless, low, right in the middle of creating this gospel record, trying to live out something that I believe in, and it wasn't working out very good. So I felt totally worthless.
Got out of jail in Sumner County, Tennessee, and we played in Chicago the next night. And Mavis and Yvonne Staples came to the concert and, unbeknownst what had gone on with me the day before, they brought and gave me this guitar, just bequeathed it to me.
BLOCK: This was their father's guitar.
Mr. STUART: Yeah, and said, `Pops would want you to have this.' And they will never know--it was like being thrown a life preserver. And I knew God had his hand on me, but I needed a little earthly confirmation, and that was a wonderful piece of confirmation that I really needed at that time.
BLOCK: When you sing a Pop Staples song for, say, Pop Staples' daughters, Mavis and Yvonne...
Mr. STUART: Yeah.
BLOCK: ...and you'd sing them "Somebody Saved Me," what did they tell you? What is it like for them?
Mr. STUART: I really--right before we pulled the trigger on this record to do it, when Mavis and Yvonne came to Chicago the night--I spread all the songs out on the floor, the lyrics, and I said, `Mavis, tell me if we got it right,' and she and Yvonne would sit over there, and I could tell by looking at their faces what we needed to work on and what got them. When Mavis' hand was up in the air going, `Marty, Marty, Marty,' and a tear in her eye, and then Yvonne was saying, `That's a bad song,' I knew we were on to something. And that's the confirmation I needed before I really walked into this record. And I think we got it.
BLOCK: Can you take us out with a song, another gospel song?
Mr. STUART: Oh, what can--yeah.
BLOCK: Tell us what we're going to hear here.
Mr. STUART: We were watching, going down the roads of America, a PBS show that Bill Moyers did on the song "Amazing Grace." And at the very--toward the end of the show, they carried the cameras into a little black church in Alabama, and there was a fellow named Brother Dewey...
Unidentified Band Member: Dewey somebody. I can't...
Mr. STUART: ...that had fallen in love with this song called "Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time."
A-one, two, three.
(Soundbite of "Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time")
Mr. STUART: (Singing) I'm busy every day as I travel on my way to that city far beyond the sky. And there is not a doubt that time is running out as harvest time is drawing nigh. Lord, I need a little time to gather in the grain before I leave this world behind.
Mr. STUART and the FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES: (Singing in unison) I'm ready when you call me, but give me just a little more time. Lord, give me just a little more time. Give me just a little more time.
Mr. STUART: (Singing) So many precious souls are lost in sin.
Mr. STUART and the FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES: (Singing in unison) So many may be left behind. I got a lot of things that I need to do before I leave this world behind. I'm ready when you call me, but give me just a little more time.
BLOCK: Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Brian Glenn, thanks to you, all of you, for coming in and singing today.
Unidentified Band Member: Thanks, Melissa.
Unidentified Band Member: Thank you.
Unidentified Band Member: Good to be with you.
Unidentified Band Member: Thank you.
BLOCK: Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. You can hear more music from the new CD, titled "Souls' Chapel," at our Web site, npr.org.
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