IBMA’s celebration of the songs of Tom T. Hall and Miss Dixie  

In an IBMA Saturday morning session, a panel of musicians shared memories and melodies of the late Tom T and Dixie Hall, entitled That’s How I Got To Memphis – A Celebration Of The Songs Of Tom T. Hall & Miss Dixie. Sitting on the dais were some of those in bluegrass that knew the songwriters best: Joe Newberry, Johnny and Jeanette Williams, Chris Jones, Rebekah Speer, and Troy Engle. Newberry had to leave early for a banjo workshop, but his vacancy was filled by Darin and Brooke Aldridge.

The mastermind of the songwriter series, Rick Lang, introduced the panelists. “The panel is comprised of singers, songwriters, and performers who were good friends with Tom and Dixie Hall,” he explained at the beginning of the 90 minute session.

Troy Engle served as moderator, starting the conversation and initiating responses from the other panelists.

“Collectively, I don’t think we’ve all been together,” he began. “We could talk three weeks about Tom and Dixie.”

Rebekah Speers shared, “I initially met them when Lizzy and I were invited to sing on the Sisters album. I got a graphic design/engineering job with them.”

Chris Jones noted that his introduction to the powerhouse songwriting couple was gradual. “I did a duet with Tom T on one of their first co-writes, Man on the Side of the Road.”

Jeanette Williams shared her encounter with Dixie. “I met Miss Dixie at IBMA in Louisville in 2000. I asked her, could I purchase a book and get Tom T to sign it for my sister?” A friendship quickly ensued. “She invited us to Fox Hollow (their home and site of their songwriting retreat). They hosted many bands just passing through.”

 Jeanette added, “Dixie was the editor of Music City News, but wasn’t listed because she was a woman.”

Johnny Williams said his relationship with Tom T began when the famed songwriter posed a two-part question. “I hear you’re a songwriter and drive a tractor? You and me are going to cut some grass.”

Williams admitted that he really mowed grass for the Halls. Then Tom T asked him, “Are you ready to do some studio work?” This time Williams helped Hall build on to his existing studio, but he eventually did get to record with him.

Joe Newberry recalled, “I sang at Jeanette Carter’s funeral. After her service, Tom T came up to me and said I like your right hand on the banjo.”

Newberry displayed a great fondness, reading the lyrics from Tom T Hall’s I Love You, Too.

“His lyrics were like talking with an old friend.”

Engle also shared his strong affection for the couple. “They would put you up and feed you. It felt like going to Grandma’s.”

All the panelists agreed, praising Miss Dixie’s cooking, especially her tomato gravy. Engle then played and sang an original tune about the Halls, Fox Hollow Memories, from his latest album.

Jones pointed out, “Tom was a renaissance man, and Dixie, there was so much more there. She came from England. Bill Clifton was her sponsor so she could be a US resident.”

He then sang one of her songs, He’ll Be a Hero in Harlan, about a soldier from Kentucky, noting she always worked teddy bears into her tragic tunes.

Johnny Williams added that Tom T was also an accomplished artist. “I bought him a big box of crayons. Miss Dixie came on stage at Bean Blossom and gave me a portrait that he had drawn with those crayons.”

Johnny, accompanied by his wife, Jeanette, then sang Hall’s song, Can You Hear Me Now?, that was recorded twice by Doyle Lawson.

Sharing humorous tales, Speer reflected on how Tom T Hall chewed Nicoret gum. “He would take it out and leave it right there (she gestured on the microphone) and…forget about it!”

The Aldridges joined the panel and shared their stories.

Darin said, “They’d always send you a little gift. They mailed us a small globe with ‘We’ll always share our little world’ written with it.”

Engle shared that Miss Dixie loved yard sales.

Johnny Williams readily agreed. “Miss Dixie was the boss. Tom T wanted me there one morning at 5:00 a.m. to clean out a building and load it into my truck. He was sweating and working hard. Here came Miss Dixie. He said, ‘Oh, gosh, Johnny, I’m going to play golf,’ and left. She had me unload everything. It took about three hours.”

Darin praised the couple’s affection for one another. “Tom T put Miss Dixie on a pedestal.”

Rebekah shared a common phrase Dixie used. “Working on the Daughters of Bluegrass box set, almost 70 songs, almost killed me. Miss Dixie wrote Let Me Fly Low and Walk Slow. She would never say goodbye. I would say ‘Walk Slow’ and she would say, ‘Fly Low’.”

Speer also described a songwriting table the couple used. “What you brought to the table, stayed at the table,” she affirmed.

Chris Jones went on to share that Dixie was a notorious practical joker. “She got Tom T to lie to a federal agent during her interview to be a US citizen.”

Jeanette Williams recalled a movie that the couple wrote and filmed, Who Shot Lester Monroe?

“Chris was the TV news reporter. We all had roles.”

Jones stated that Tom T was a philosopher. “He had a unique view of so many things. He said, ‘anything that can be managed is already being managed in the music business’.”

Engle agreed. “He was a genius. He just wanted to garden and play golf. Tom T would sing, ‘Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.’ They both made a whole life of doing just that.”

The session closed with all the panelists singing Tom T’s beloved gospel song, Me and Jesus. Attendees joined in and sang along.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.