Two musical couples, who've been both friends and fans of each other for decades, get together to discuss their musical and life paths' crossings...
SHERI: I’ve heard y’all’s answers to this first question and I love it, so here it comes again: “I believe in love at first sight, and everyone loves a good love story, so tell us yours.”
MARTY: OK, it’s like this. Connie was my mom’s favorite singer. Probably the first record we ever had at our house of Connie’s was called Miss Smith Goes to Nashville. I thought she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I loved the power of her voice. It made me stop and listen. I sat the album cover up on our stereo so I could just walk by and look at her. It wasn’t long after that I heard she was coming to town. I remember running through the house hollering, “Connie Smith is coming, Connie Smith is coming!” I had Mom take me to Sears and buy me a yellow shirt so she would notice me. Mama took me and my sister and we got her autograph and had our picture made with her. On the way home, I told Mama, “I’m going to marry her someday.”
SHERI: What are some of your first concert memories?
MARTY: The first group I ever saw in my life who could excite an audience and were famous to me was the Lewis Family.
MARTY: They played at the courthouse in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Little Roy’s first banjo record was just out and I bought it that night. I bought a Lewis Family ashtray. I bought the All Night Singing record. I took my yard-cutting money and bought Lewis Family product.
SHERI: I love it! Connie, what were some of your favorite early concert memories?
CONNIE: The first Grand Ole Opry star I ever saw in concert was Miss Martha Carson. I thought if she took off down the street with that guitar, everybody would follow her like the Pied Piper! She was just wonderful.
SHERI: Marty, I think one of my favorite things about you is how you’ve always been so comfortable with who you are. What are some of the things that you remember that keep it real for you?
MARTY: Well I think my greatest asset was my family—especially my mom’s Christian faith. Until I left and went on the road, it was a really normal existence like everybody else’s. I think as crazy as show business has been and as long as it’s been in my life, having that family flame to go back to has always kept me grounded.
CONNIE: Baby, tell them what your mama always told you when things got rough on the outside.
MARTY: Oh yeah, Mama always said, “Well, when you run out of things on the outside, you go back to Jerusalem. After there’s nothing going on the outside, there’s always plenty of work to do on the inside.”
SHERI: That’s exactly the truth!
JEFF: I remember your story Marty. After you hit rock bottom or whatever you want to call it, you went back to Mississippi, saying you had to get back to find out who you were. I’ve always remembered that.
MARTY: And the beautiful part about God is He always gives us one more chance. I’ve had to have several “one more chances.”
JEFF: Me and you both, buddy.
SHERI: Connie, you’ve been in country music for so many years, but as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always incorporated gospel music into what you do. Is that a part of your upbringing?
CONNIE: Well, I didn’t have a Christian upbringing. My mama taught us right from wrong, but my folks weren’t Christians. I had a cousin who gave me a Bible when I was 10 years old and took us to church. But when I came to Nashville, Jimmy Rogers Snow, Hank Snow’s son, had a church on the north side of town. I did a TV Easter program with them. I didn’t know God, but I couldn’t imagine someone not believing that there was a God. After the show that day Jimmy Snow led me through the steps of salvation. I started going to that church. It not only saved me spiritually, but I think it saved my life because I was trying so hard to be perfect that I was killing myself. It was a wonderful thing to know that I didn’t have to be perfect. That there was Someone who did that for me—the only One who could—the Lord Jesus Christ.
JEFF: And that showed up in your singing.
SHERI: It has been said that gospel music and country music are first cousins. What are your thoughts on this?
MARTY: One-hundred percent right. I promise you on any given Saturday night, the people that watch the Bill Gaither show, watch our TV show, and vice-versa.
CONNIE: Maybe even brothers and sisters!
MARTY: I believe at the foundation of country music, when God first issued it, there was an anointing there. That can’t be erased. You know for a long time in Mississippi where I come from, there was always this real strong message that you can’t play the blues and play church music at the same time. And that always bothered me. Then I met Pops Staples, and he was one of the most godly people I ever met in my life. I asked, “Pops, what do you think of that?” He said, “That’s a bunch of mess! Because don’t you know when God looks down on the world and sees how we all treat each other, He gets a bad case of the blues!”
SHERI: That’s a good one! It rains on the just and the unjust. There are days when we get blue…
MARTY: Yeah. It also rains on hillbillies and gospel fans alike.
SHERI: That’s it. Marty, what are some of your favorite gospel tunes?
MARTY: I still love the Rambos. They have that special country flavor — and honestly, not just ’cause I’m talking to you, but I love the Lewis Family, their early recordings and the early Starday stuff. I’m a big fan of the Statesmen, and then beyond that, I love Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers, and what Bill Monroe did with country gospel music.
CONNIE: I love Miranda Jackson. She was one of my all-time favorite gospel singers. I loved the freedom. The freedom in her singing really impressed me. I also grew up loving the Louvin Brothers’ gospel music—the heart that they had in it, and you could feel the pain and the longing too. I could identify with that so much.
SHERI: We were listening to Louvin Brothers this past week, and Jeff and I looked at each other, and we started crying. We said, “Now that is broken hearted!”
CONNIE: Elvis sang out of a broken heart too when he sang his gospel music.
SHERI: New topic! Jeff loves to fix up old trucks and buses, and I like to read and work with my hands. What do the two of you do when it’s not music related?
CONNIE: I like to get with the kids and the grandkids and with Marty’s family. One of our fun things that’s not business—but it does have to do with music—is we get in the car and we trade songs. Something I’ve found that he hasn’t heard or something he’s found that I haven’t heard.
MARTY: Another thing that we really love is the land. We’re into planting flowers, we love hanging out with God in His nature. I love photography, but another thing I love doing is cathedral hopping. I love cathedrals. Everywhere I go, if I have the chance, I study architecture. We collect gothic architecture and architectural pieces and that’s one of the things I love—divinely inspired art.
SHERI: A while back, you invited us to your beautiful home. The one thing I noticed is it was so similar to the way that Jeff and I like to express ourselves in our home, and that is through history, through heritage and through legacies. Marty, you have always, from the time I met you as a child, been concerned about preserving the past. Can you tell us a couple of quick stories about the history of your home, and then also some of the things you’ve acquired through the years? It reminds me of the scripture where God commanded the people to put stones of remembrance so that we would never forget. So it’s a spiritual thing to go back and keep history alive.
MARTY: Well it’s a spiritual thing, but it’s a family thing. Just because times change, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw people and things away. You know the old saying: “You don’t know where to go unless you know where you’ve been.”
SHERI: You know, when Jeff and I came back from Italy for our 20th wedding anniversary, that’s the very thing that I brought home. There, they celebrate buildings that are older than Christ. When we came back from that trip is when we established the non-profit organization to restore the home place of all of the Lewis Family. It was seriously about to be bulldozed. We have now restored the home. Just like you said, we are so guilty of just pushing the past away. It’s so important to look back. With all of these things that you’ve treasured in your house, you really ministered to Jeff and me that night by just bringing us there.
MARTY: Connie and I think the greatest compliment anyone could pay us is when they walk in and say, “I can feel the peace here.” That’s God’s presence. As far as reclaiming stuff, I think we have to go back to how Christ sees it. I love that part in the Bible where it says He will step over just about everything to get to that one sheep that has lost its way, and bring it back. Well you know, that tells me God has an eye out for treasures. He sometimes sees treasures in things that the world throws away and calls unfit. But our home is a hospital, it’s a healing place, it’s a wonderful place to come. It feels a bit like a cathedral in here, but that’s OK with me because I feel God’s peace here.
SHERI: We love you. I can’t tell you how much you mean to us spiritually, historically and just as good old people. We love y’all so much.
CONNIE: We love you too!