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Interview with Tom T Hall and Miss Dixie Hall

On 14 September, 2007 MIke interviewed Miss Dixie Hall and Tom T Hall as part of the special program about the two great songwriters. The phone interface to the broadcast desk was faulty and the sound quality wasnt very good, so here is a complete  transcript of the interview to help listeners understand what went on during the interview.

Mike Kear
Welcome to Miss Dixie Hall and Tom T Hall! Glad to have you on the show.
Tom T Hall
Thank you. Good morning from over here.
Mike Kear
You're at home in Franklin Tennessee, right?
Tom T Hall
Yes we are, we're on the farm, and we've been through a terrible drought and we just had three inches of rain this week so we're happy.
Mike Kear
oh well good for you then. That sounds good news. A couple of tunes ago we played 'Miss Linda's Mercantile Store' and I thought I'd play that because that was the song that you nearly got me arrested with.
Tom T Hall
That was Miss Dixie's doing
Miss Dixie
Well it was a good try anyway.
Mike Kear
For listeners who havent heard the story before, Miss Dixie sent a little promotional package out about 'Miss Linda's Mercantile Store' and it contained things that the Austalian quarantine people didn't like. And they opened the package and the next thing I had the authorities coming to tell me that perhaps i ought to tell the people who were sending me things not to send me things like that.
Miss Dixie
(chuckles) You know we even packaged it up in bluegrass hay.
Mike Kear
(chuckles) Good for you too.

So .. I'm a bit puzzled. Do you people not really understand the concept of 'retirement'? Because you see, you retired didn't you? And then after retiring, then you started a music business and then ...
Miss Dixie
ah now ... let me come in here a minute. 'Retirement' in my book is giving up work to do what you love doing and we happen to love bluegrass music so we're having a blast.
Mike Kear
Just keep you voice up there please you're fading away a bit.
Tom T Hall
The music business here is real, you know, fast paced and a lot of travel and everything so we backed out of all of that and just came back home here to write songs on the farm so . that's what that's about.
Mike Kear
Well I think that's great. If you do for a living what you'd do for fun you've got your ducks in a row I think.
Tom T Hall
That's the perfect answer. You know I was on the road for about 34 years and I travelled the world over. Well I spent a lot of time in Australia too there. I had a lot of good times and met a lot of people and had some fun but ah, I got kind of road weary so we came home and decided to build ourselves a studio and get into bluegrass music and write bluegrass songs and we've been having a great time.
Mike Kear
So . ah . you used to have a whole lot of dogs there and you evicted the dogs in order to build a recording studio is that sort of how it went?
Tom T Hall
Well the dogs sort of led their natural lives and passed away and then when we didnt have the dogs any more, Miss Dixie had this huge kennel. So we called in some carpenters and turned the kennels into a bluegrass music studio. It's right out behind our house here. We can kind of walk to work, you know.
Miss Dixie
It's pretty nice too - it's very comfortable
Mike Kear
Look the line we've got's dropping in an out. I think what we might do is play another song and I'll call you back and see if we can get a better line is that ok with you?
Tom T Hall
Lets try that.
Mike Kear
OK
Plays a song. - Don Rigsby .. 'He Loves to Hear You Shout'.
Mike Kear
Are you on the phone again?
Tom T Hall
We're on the phone again. Can you hear us ok?'
Mike Kear
That's a lot better.
Miss Dixie
(shouting) Can you hear me now!?
Mike Kear
Hello! yes! We got you. Good!. Miss Dixie, you're English I'm told, or at least you began life as English.
Miss Dixie
That's right, I came over here in 1961, Mike
Mike Kear
1961?
Miss Dixie
1961. I'm an old bird. And I worked for Starday Records and we had some great acts on there like the Goins Brothers, Stingbean, Ralph Stanley .... anyway, I've been here since then and I'm an American citizen now. I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was.
Mike Kear
Fair enough. So how did you come to meet up with Tom T then?
Miss Dixie
Well, Tom T I'm sorry about this but I gotta tell it again. (mike: I dont think she's sorry at all!)
Tom T Hall
Ok .. (laughs)
Miss Dixie
We met at the BMI Awards banquet. And Maybelle - Mother Maybelle was my guest. You got to take one person. And Tom T was across the table, and I was getting an award for a song called 'Truck Driving Son of a Gun' and Tom T had the B side and I'm never gonna let him forget it.

You know we were eating dinner and he looked across the table at me and said 'Do you like potatoes?'

And I said 'well sure, I'm eating one.'

He said 'Is that why you're so fat?'

Well! I was not fat at the time I was skinny - 90 pounds wet, you know? Mother Maybelle looked at me and kind of clicked her teeth and said, 'Loord d'ye ever hear the things?'

And I said 'No Mother Maybelle I havent.' And that was how we met.
Mike Kear
(laughing) Not an auspicious start then?
Tom T Hall
Well you see Mike, that worked out very well I got her attention anyway, you see
Mike Kear
Well they say you've always got to start by getting their attention dont you.
Miss Dixie
Yea, it wasn't just the diamonds and furs I was wearing.
Tom T Hall
Yes the truth of the matter is that she was wearing a fur coat and all sorts of diamonds and everything and I thought 'well here's a rich English lady sitting right across the table from me.' I was broke as a convict at the time, so. and then later when we got married I found out that June Carter owned the fur coat and all the diamond rings and everything. She'd borrowed them off of June for that Awards dinner
Miss Dixie
And Anita owned the dress.
Tom T Hall
Yeah. But it worked out great and we've been married i guess right about 40 years now. Something like that.
Miss Dixie
... Fifty or sixty.
Mike Kear
Well it was a good decision then wasn't it?
Miss Dixie
Hey Tom T .. you wanna spike Mike's show up a bit. You want to have a fight?
Tom T Hall
(laughing) no well we're in different rooms
Mike Kear
Nah let's not go for the fight.

Tell me, about songwriting. I've got the greatest admiration for anybody who can write any kind of song because I couldnt write a song if a gun was ponted at my head, but you seem to be able to churn out not just a lot of songs, but a lot of very good songs. How do you tell what's a good song and what's not?
Tom T Hall
ah.. I think we know when we've got something, you know, pretty exceptional. ah, I don't know why that is, but we just kinda have a little sense. Because normally we can - after we finish a song we say "ah this'll be good for so-and-so". And so we kind of have an ear for who would do a good job on it you know, and kind of get the same message across that we tried to get while we were writing it.

But we take a lot of trips. We get out in our little caravan here we've got, and travel, you know, the - not the interstates or the autobahns, we travel the small what we call blue highways over here on the map. Winding roads that lead out through the country. We travel those roads and stop, and eat and visit, and we get a lot of ideas for songs like that. Miss Dixie will drive and I'll sit there with a guitar or mandolin in the front seat and if we see something that's worthy of a song we'll make a note of it. So a lot of these songs are about something we've seen and witnessed and places we've been and that sort of thing. It's a kind of a journalistic approach to it.
Mike Kear
Have you ever written a song and got to the end of it and then just torn it up, said 'well that's just rubbish, I can't let anybody hear that'?
Tom T Hall
Ah well you do, you know, you get a few that you've just got notes, graphs and ideas and lines and maybe a photograph. You know we keep all that in a little wooden box and some days when we dont have anything to write about we just go to there and kind of flip through all our notes and everything. You might find something and say 'oh that was a good story maybe we ought to take another shot at that one." You know kind of come at it from a different angle or use it for a line in song.

I dont think Miss Dixie throws away too many scraps. She keeps about everything.
Mike Kear
Do you write songs for specific individuals?
Miss Dixie
Yes.
Tom T Hall
Yes we've had people call us and say 'we want ah ....' in fact there's a song on the album they called us and somebody was doing a song about coal mining and they wanted to ah ... you know most of these songs about coal mining or a lot of them are about getting killed in the mines all kinds of tragedies and everything and this fella called us up and said, 'hey we need a happy coal mining song about a guy who's enjoying life working in the coal mines.' I think we kind of wrote that one to order there.
Miss Dixie
Yeah and Larry Stephenson called and wanted a happy mothers' day song, and that's on his new album. It's called 'Every Day is Mothers' Day'.
Mike Kear
I thought you were going to say his Mothers' Day song is 'Clinch Mountain Mystery' (mike: Clinch Mountain Mystery is a gruesome murder song)
Tom T Hall
(laughing)
Miss Dixie
(laughing)
Mike Kear
So tell us about the current album, 'Tom T Hall sings Miss Dixie and Tom T'
Tom T Hall
You want to tell him the story about the Christmas Present, Miss Dixie?
Miss Dixie
Alright, Well. So Tom T can be .. well there are times when he just doesnt want to go out and spend money. Usually this comes round around Christmas. You still not want a fight Tom T?
Tom T Hall
I dont mind spending money I just dont like to shop.
Mike Kear
Well I'm with you on that!
Miss Dixie
Well anyway I woke up one Christmas morning and among my goodies a package. When I opened it was a CD and it said, 'I will record one CD of our songs. You produce and pick out the songs and Paula [Wolak] can engineer and the dogs can provide security.' So that was my Christmas gift. And we immediately started googling over which songs were going to be. So mostly we agreed on that and i got to pick out the musicians and the engineer and then Don Rigsby mixed it at the end. I think it's the best album Tom T's ever done. Several people [inaudible] that.
Mike Kear
We'll play another song from the album now. We're going to run out of time soon. How about we play 'A Hero in Harlan'.
Miss Dixie
Yeah!
Mike Kear
Can you tell us about that song?
Tom T Hall
That was Miss Dixie's idea so she can tell you about it.
Miss Dixie
Well it was my idea that here is a young man from Harlan Kentucky - an old coal mining town up in Kentucky and he was never a real big success at anything. He didn't get dates with the prettiest girls and he couldnt even get a job in the coal mines which is high risk. And eventually he went off to join the army and even there he got killed but he came home a hero. Ah .. for a week. A Hero in Harlan.
Mike Kear
Was this a real person or ..?
Miss Dixie
No he's totally in our heads but its not a war protest song or anything like that he's a character. He'd tried everything and finally ended up a hero.
Mike Kear
Like all the material you do you've got a way to turn just a few words in to a story. You know a novellist has thousands of words, hundreds of pages to tell a story. You manage to do it in a few lines and thats an art form in itself. This song is just as much art as anything you've done I think.
Tom T Hall
Well Mike, I want to put this in here. We have corresponded with you for years now and people here love the fact that you're playing our music and all of that sort of thing, so I just want to say it's nice to hear you voice and get to talk to you. I'll throw that in there, for what it's worth.
Miss Dixie
Now you've been my hero for a while because you are so easy to communicate with
Tom T Hall
I'll go in the office and hear Miss Dixie say 'Got a message from Mike and he's playing so-and-so and such-and-such so we hear about you all the time and we know what you're doing and everybody in bluegrass music knows what a great job you're doing so I just want to pat you on the back there
Mike Kear
Aww now you've made me blush!
Tom T Hall
(laughing).
Miss Dixie
(laughing)
Mike Kear
Tom T Hall and Dixie Hall, thanks for joining me on the show. Here's 'A Hero In Harlan' ..[plays song]