Walk into the RCA Label Group offices in Nashville, and the first person you see is security director Rusty Martin. The former Mississippi highway patrolman is quick with a smile and a kind word. His sunny personality hides the fact that he’s been through hell and back and has a song to prove it.
Martin and his late wife of 28 years, Rebecca, were the inspiration for Kenny Chesney ’s latest Top 5 hit, “The Good Stuff.” Rebecca was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1994 and bravely fought the illness until her death in 2000.
“Becky was just a mother and a best friend, and she always had something positive to say about somebody,” Martin told CMT News. “We were so blessed in a bad situation, because she was home and we were all around the bed holding hands until the last breath was taken.”
It was that detail, and Martin’s positive attitude in the face of tragedy, that moved songwriter Jim Collins. He took the tale to a writing appointment with fellow tunesmith Craig Wiseman, and the two wrote “The Good Stuff” in one day.
“I think what impressed me about Rusty was, rather than take the negative about it and feel sorry for himself, he took the good things that they had and used them,” Collins said. “He was talking about all the happy times and the memories they shared.”
Wiseman remembers they were mindful of Martin’s feelings about using his life story in a song.
“I felt all weird and thought, ‘We have to give this to Rusty,’” Wiseman said. “I gave him this demo and he went home and listened to it with his daughter and thought it was great. The next thing I know, things were taking off, and I said, ‘Rusty, are you OK with this, ‘cause I’ll put the brakes on it right now.’”
Chesney was aware of the Martins’ struggle long before it was written into a song. When Becky’s chemotherapy treatments were going on, he stopped by the record label and found Rusty with a bald head.
“He had shaved his head completely bald so he could make his wife feel better about it,” Chesney told CMT News. “I thought, man, I want to be loved like that. I want to love somebody that much to do that for them. And remembering that had a lot to do with me recording the song.”
Although the song is not a literal re-telling of the Martins’ story, several details of their relationship made it into the final version including the mention of “that string of pearls” and “a new T-shirt saying I’m a grandpa.” Chesney dedicated the song to Rusty in the liner notes for No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems. And, ironically, the song was released to radio on what would have been the Martins’ 29th wedding anniversary.
“It’s something to keep for my grandchildren, my children and me,” Martin says. “I’m honored they’d do something like this, and I know Becky would be tickled. It’s something that will last us a lifetime.”
The song already has touched Chesney’s fans, many of whom have also lost loved ones to cancer. Several have called Martin to talk about their common experiences and offer support.
“It would be real easy to think about the situation we were going through and the months that Becky wasn’t able to get out of bed, but we’ve had lots of blessings,” Martin said. “And that’s the way I like to look at it.”