Marty Stuart's belief, and proclamation, has resulted in an impressive, yet eclectic, mix of artists who came together for "Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash," which was released Sept. 24 by Columbia/Lucky Dog Records. Stuart produced the record.
"Kindred Spirits" is the second Cash tribute project in as many weeks. An independent label, Dualtone Records, released "Dressed In Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash" on Sept. 17.
When Stuart was approached two years ago about doing a Cash tribute record, he spent some time deciding on the right approach.
"A tribute to Johnny Cash is not the most original concept in the world," Stuart said recently from Nashville's Columbia Records office. "But he's never been heralded as a great American songwriter that has affected a whole lot of different genres of people."
So Stuart paired classic Cash compositions with some of music's finest. The end project features Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Keb' Mo', Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakum, Hank Williams Jr., Roseanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris and others.
"I started out just brainstorming, coming up with a dream list," Stuart said of selecting the artists. "Everybody on this record, they're stars, true personalities.
"Some things were obvious," he said. "I had seen Travis Tritt sing 'I Walk The Line' and I saw Johnny Cash give him a standing ovation. (Also) we had just come from New York City where Emmylou, Chapin, Sheryl Crow and I did "Flesh and Blood," so that was a good one to include."
As for some of the other choices, such as Little Richard and Keb' Mo', Stuart said, "I took all of the rules off it."
Stuart even invited Cash to participate.
The Man In Black sang background vocals on "Meet Me In Heaven," which features Janette Carter, a cousin of the infamous Carter Family. Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, a member of the Carter family and Janette's cousin, also recorded background vocals on the song, marking the first time the cousins had ever recorded together.
"There's a whole lot of icon (on that track)," Stuart said.
As the various artists performed their assigned songs, artistic interpretation certainly took over, resulting in songs that may or may not sound like the original.
Tritt's "I Walk The Line" has a slower tempo with different phrasing; Little Richard's "Get Rhythm" features his signature keyboard playing; Dylan's "Train Of Love" is pure Dylanesque; Keb' Mo' changed a line or two in "Folsom Prison Blues" because he was uncomfortable singing "I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die"; and Stuart's "Hey, Porter" is a rollicky rockabilly style in true Stuart fashion.
"We approached every song he had written as the original was unbeatable," Stuart said. "(Then) we approached the rest of it with love and inspiration."