I was invited to observe and write about a radio interview last night with Tom T. and Miss Dixie Hall after their Good Home Grown Music showcase. What a rare treat!
Before the interview started Tom T. announced that he was running for office. His platform: “Open everything that’s closed and close everything that’s open.” Sounds pretty good to me. He chatted with us about how much technology has changed while his interviewer was setting up all of his gear. One thing, Tom T. noted, was that for years they put their melodies down on a hand held tape recorder. One they’d had for 40 years until it just “wore out”. Then they switched to another kind “that did everything”, Tom T. said, “but recordings”. He finally found one that only had two buttons: record and play. He still uses that one.
Miss Dixie and Tom T. have been big supporters of bluegrass music for a long, long time. It’s just not been well known by everyone, related Miss Dixie. The difference between bluegrass and country, says Tom T., is that, “Country’s not portable. You can’t grab the piano and go out in the yard and pick. Bluegrass is portable. Get a stool and go out in the yard under the tree. The best music I ever played was standing out under a tree picking with a bluegrass band.”
Tom T. says that it’s Miss Dixie’s job to run Blue Circle Records, “she does all the bookkeeping and timekeeping,” because he’s got too many other things to do, he said. He let’s her work, he says, “the 18 hour days,” while he takes care of their 60 acre farm. He’s busy, he said, “grading the driveway, feeding the chickens, and weeding the tomatoes. Then in the afternoons we write music together.”
Their farm’s also got a recording studio and some guest cottages for visiting artists to stay in while they’re working on a project. Miss Dixie says that she’d like to see bluegrass, “remain the same and pure so that 100 years from now people can still hear the pure music and not something that’s turned into a mongrel.”
“One of the problems we have in this business is that people don’t know what it [bluegrass music] is exactly. They think that anybody who doesn’t have an amp is a bluegrass picker. We need to define bluegrass music and explain what it is,” she continued, “you’ll feel it when it’s bluegrass.”
Tom T. stepped in, saying that, “Bill Monroe was a cosmic angel. He spent years searching for the right sound, using an accordion and even a cello to get the sound he heard in his head – until Lester and Earl (Flatt & Scruggs) walked onto the Opry stage with him in 1946. That created the sound he wanted. He didn’t make any changes after that. He just found it and stuck to it.”
The storyteller then related a time in Tokyo, Japan at a festival with 175 bands. He said that he knew that Bill Monroe could have walked onto the performance stage without any practice with any of the bands and played with any and all of them because the bands knew all the tunes and arrangements. That’s bluegrass.
Tom T. reminisced about his earlier bluegrass recording (Magnificent Music Machine – 1976) featuring Tom T. Hall (vocals, guitar); Jimmy Martin , Trish Williams (vocals); James Ivory Johnson, Ray Edenton, Charlie Collins (guitar); J.D. Crowe (banjo); Donna Stoneman (mandolin); Johnny Gimble, Kenny Baker , Buddy Spicher (fiddle); William Paul Ackerman, Buddy Harman (drums), and Bill Monroe on mandolin on Molly and Tenbrooks. Tom T. said Bill didn’t know he was being paid for three hours, so after recording his part on the one song, he packed up his mandolin and said: “I think you have a real fine hit song there” and then left the studio. Tom T. said even though the room was packed with top-name bluegrass musicians, that was the only true bluegrass they’d played. He said that something was lost when Bill wasn’t there. He couldn’t say just what it was but only that he “felt it.” Miss Dixie chimed in with the word “Magic.” She said Bill had an aura that was magical.
Miss Dixie is the one responsible for finding the artists who record at Good Home Grown Music. She helps write songs for them and gives them a home. She says, “there’s so much talent without a home out there that’s it’s pitiful.” Tom T. says that they, “started Blue Circle Records to give them a home.”
Lorraine Jordan and Gina Britt came up with the concept for the Daughters of Bluegrass and financed the first projects until Lorraine’s schedule got a bit too busy. She then gave the project over to Miss Dixie when her time got short while working with her own band, Carolina Road. Miss Dixie says she enjoyed the freedom of being able to call on others, like Jeanie Stanley, Gloria Bell and Carol Lee – the true daughters of bluegrass. There’s now more than 50 of them, all making music and sharing the legacy.
The First Couple of bluegrass offered some advice for up and coming musicians: “Write what you know, tell it from the heart. Show up – if you show up you might get turned out, or you might get sent home, but if you don’t show up, you won’t know,” said Tom T.
Miss Dixie added, “be ready when you get there to do what you’re gonna do. And, respect the tradition. The younger generation doesn’t care about clothes. The culture’s changed. It’s not disrespect, they’re just thinking about the music. This may be a good thing. They don’t have the vanity that we had.” She would, however, like to see “people dress to respect the older generation who still put on a coat and tie. Give it some glamour. And use the greenroom to visit and get in tune.”
Miss Dixie closed the interview with “God Bless the Boys in Hats and Ties,” a reference to a current bluegrass song recorded by Big Country Bluegrass and co-written by Miss Dixie and Tom T. Hall.