We can expect to hear a lot of bluegrass tributes to Tom T. Hall in the next little bit, given the wealth of bluegrass material he wrote, and the great kindness he and Miss Dixie showed to bluegrass artists in the later years of their lives. Some may feel a bit self-congratulatory, but many will come from people who knew and loved the Halls in a real and special way.
One such is Jimmy Melton, whose connection to the great man was deeply personal. As a young teen, Jimmy became a popular performer in bluegrass and country music where he played a banjo that was almost as big as he was. Country music television in the 1980s embraced him, and he appeared regularly on a number of programs, as well as at bluegrass festivals. That’s how Melton became a true friend of Hall’s, long before Jimmy embarked on his successful Nashville career as a country music songwriter.
When he started working on his first bluegrass project in 25 years for Voxhall Records, there was no doubt that he would include a song from The Storyteller, and Jimmy recorded this one last year while Tom T was still with us.
Melton tells us that as a lifelong hunter, he knew exactly which song to choose.
“I first met Tom T. Hall on a Nashville television show in the early ’80s. I was just a kid banjo player and he was already a hero of mine. We soon realized we had several things in common…we both loved bluegrass and beagle dogs. My daddy raised beagles and invited Tom to come down and go rabbit hunting. This became an annual pilgrimage. About once a year he’d host a ‘wild game’ supper at his home in Franklin. He’d call and invite me saying ‘kid, bring your banjo so we can entertain our guests.’ I began writing songs a few years later and he was the benchmark.
When we set out to make this record, I knew I would have to put a Tom T. Hall song on it. Due to our background, The Fastest Rabbit Dog in Carter County Today was the obvious choice. We tried to keep it as close to the original as we could because his records were such a big influence on me.”
Jimmy sings lead and plays banjo, accompanied by Seth Taylor on guitar, Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin, Rob Ickes on reso-guitar, and Mark Fain on bass. In an interesting historical side note, singing harmony on the track is Shelby Kennedy, son of Jerry Kennedy who produced Tom T. Hall’s many albums, and played reso-guitar on them as well. Jimmy Metts engineered and mixed.
Have a listen.
The Fastest Rabbit Dog in Carter County Today is available today to bluegrass radio via Airplay Direct, and will release on popular download and streaming sites Friday, September 10.