(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Academy of Country Music Awards will be handed out this weekend. And today on StoryCorps, we'll hear from an industry legend. He's famous not for how he made country music sound but for how he made it look.
Manuel Cuevas made iconic outfits for Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. He turned Johnny Cash into the Man in Black. Manuel moved to the U.S. from Mexico in the late 1950s to become a tailor. And as he told his daughter, Morelia, at StoryCorps in Nashville, he started sewing when he was just 7 years old.
MANUEL CUEVAS: The guys at school were more about playing ball and the slingshots. That never interested me. I was really an outcast. I'd go to bed, and I'd dream about fabrics and leathers and about the things that I'm going to make the next day.
MORELIA CUEVAS: Do you have a general philosophy behind all this work that you do?
MANUEL CUEVAS: Well, you know, a pretty dress is not necessarily a pretty dress. It's a person that is carrying that dress. I remember this guy wanted a John Wayne shirt. And the guy says, I don't see John Wayne in the mirror. I said, neither do I (laughter). I can make you a John Wayne shirt, but I cannot make John Wayne out of you, you know. And I've always done only one piece. I don't want to make two of anything. That's why I don't make socks. So it's like history written again every day.
MORELIA CUEVAS: So would you say you're most proud of?
MANUEL CUEVAS: Well, I grew up in love with "The Lone Ranger." And I was 5 years old walking six miles from the little town where I was born to the big towns to see the episodes of "The Lone Ranger." And then, as an adult, I got to make his uniform, his mask. That was the most glorious moment of my life.
MORELIA CUEVAS: Would you ever think about retirement (laughter)?
MANUEL CUEVAS: Yeah, I retired this morning. I put new tires on.
MORELIA CUEVAS: (Laughter).
MANUEL CUEVAS: No, I don't believe in that. I am enjoying life, and people keep giving me checks for it. You know, if I was away from my shop, I probably wouldn't be able to last more than 15 days. The sewing machine and the needle and the thimble, that's it for me, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF EARS' "BRASS BUTTON")
MARTIN: That's Manuel Cuevas and his daughter Morelia in Nashville. Their recording is archived, along with thousands of others, at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.