Bittersweet Day for Bluegrass Songwriting

About the time that Tom T and Dixie Hall were being announced as new members of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame on Wednesday – cause for joy for songwriters everywhere – the writing community was hit with sad news. Pete Goble, writer of some of the most recognizable bluegrass songs, and a giant who could stand toe to toe with the Halls, had died.

The one-two punch of news was bittersweet. It was fitting that Tom T and Dixie will be the first Hall of Famers inducted primarily as songwriters – Tom T’s success as an artist came in country. But I couldn’t help thinking how much sweeter it would have been if the induction had come before Dixie died three years ago.

Then came the news of Goble’s passing.

Both the Halls and Goble received their share of accolades while all three were living. Goble, who wrote or co-wrote Big Spike Hammer, Colleen Malone, Blue Virginia Blues and other classics, received IBMA’s distinguished achievement award in 2002. The Halls were similarly honored two years later.

Some day, if the universe is fair, Goble, too, will be in the Hall of Fame.

Until then, bluegrass lovers and songwriters can celebrate the overdue inclusion of Tom T and Dixie Hall and remember Goble and his late writing partner Leroy Drumm for writing songs that pop up in nearly every jam session.

But they should also be remembered for their kindness too, and willingness to share their knowledge with, musicians at all levels.

My songwriting friend Cliff Abbott was blessed to receive advice from both Tom T and Pete. I was with Cliff at IBMA in Nashville a while back when Hall graciously stopped to talk songwriting with someone just starting his way up the songwriting ladder. His advice was solid and he was generous with his time. But he was, he reminded us with his parting comment, still a working songwriter.

“Good luck,” Hall said as he shook my friend’s hand. “But not too much, because I’m still writing.”

Abbott got even more help from Goble. A CD of a few demos and a request for advice earned Abbott an invitation to spend the weekend at the famed writer’s guest house in Michigan. Years later, he still talks in awe about that visit. I find it fitting that Larry Sparks, who masterfully recorded Blue Virginia Blues, also recorded Abbott’s first major cut, Lines on the Highway.

Music, now more than ever, is a cutthroat business. But today’s developments remind us that terrific and prolific songwriters can also be terrific people. And they remind the rest of us who string together words and notes how much more work we have to do on both fronts.

Editor’s Note: Arrangements for Pete’s funeral services have been announced.

Visitation is scheduled for this Sunday (July 29) at the Michigan Memorial Funeral Home in Flat Rock from 1:00-8:00 p.m. Funeral services will be held at noon on Monday (7/30) at the same location.

Lunch with family and friends will follow.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.