It’s a small, old-timey spot on Music Row, a boxy building that’s easily overlooked if you’re just driving by. But there’s a treasure trove of history at RCA Studio B in Nashville, and Marty Stuart used the joint on Wednesday to preview his Ghost Train album for a select group of media.
Studio B practically rings with history. The Everly Brothers, Skeeter Davis, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley all recorded there. Marty’s first session, in October 1972, took place in the studio when he was a 13-year-old member of Lester Flatt’s band. And Marty’s wife, Connie Smith — who was among the guests Wednesday — recorded her first hit in the same place in 1964.
Marty stood in the back of the room — in the same general area where Elvis stood when he recorded “It’s Now Or Never” and “A Big Hunk O’ Love” — as he previewed the new CD, which required Marty to give a little extra effort to get the facility sounding right.
“Studio B is now a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Belmont University,” Marty noted, “so it’s really not a functional studio except for students.”
Marty corralled a few friends — including the Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen and Studio B manager Luke Gilfeather — to figure out some of the old recording techniques and make it workable for Ghost Train, inspired in part by steel guitarist Ralph Mooney. The results are impressive — with slappy drum licks, reedy stand-up bass and judicious tremolo guitar — as Marty captures the stark sound of a previous era’s commercial country radio with a real energy. He draws on “Mama Tried”-era Merle Haggard and Outlaw-era Waylon Jennings in the opening “Branded,” remakes Warner Mack’s “The Bridge Washed Out” with lots of subtle rhythms and gets a crisp sound on Ralph Mooney’s instrumental version of Ray Price’s classic “Crazy Arms,” a song Ralph co-wrote.
Marty duets nicely with Connie on “I Run To You,” and pays homage elsewhere to a couple of Country Music Hall of Famers who contributed to his own resume. “Hangman” is a dramatic number about a man haunted by dark memories of the lives he’s snuffed out in a Death Row government job. It’s also the last song Marty wrote with Johnny Cash — penned literally days before the Man in Black’s death. Marty likewise invokes the memory of another lost legend in “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” a recitation about a cemetery visit from a rhinestone-clad ghost with a message of hope and spirituality.
Marty produced Porter’s final album, Wagonmaster, which he had initially hoped to record at Studio B.
“It didn’t quite line up, but I didn’t take my eye off of this place,” Marty noted. “I love the sound of it, I love the feel of it, and this is a real studio. It’s a special room, an amazing cathedral — especially for country music, because so much of country music’s history was forged here.”
Ghost Train will be released Aug. 24. In the meantime, Marty was set to hit another place he worked with Lester Flatt last night. He hosted his annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium with proceeds slated for MusiCares’ Nashville Flood Relief program. Announced guests included Keith Urban, songwriters Dallas Frazier and Cowboy Jack Clement, Ronnie Milsap, Ralph Mooney, Connie Smith and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band.