The Storyteller – Tom T Hall
by Rebekah Speer
He called me Rab-a-kah. He stood at the counter making a cup of java that seemed to be ¼ coffee and ¾ hazelnut creamer and told me, “I have been looking at the way your name is spelled, and it seems it should be pronounced Rab-a-kah.” From that day on in the Fox Hollow camp located in Franklin, Tennessee I was “Rab-a-kah” to everyone.
It’s been seven days since I received the sad call that Tom T left this world to finally be reunited with his beloved, Miss Dixie Deen. I have spent the past seven days reading social media posts and articles that other writers have written on Tom T. I must admit I am not going to write about the celebrity facts of Tom T and Miss Dixie though I am a humble admirer of all these two accomplished in their lives. Instead, I am going to write about Tom T & Miss Dixie from my perspective and what they meant to the world of bluegrass and its ragamuffins like myself who they took under their wings until we found our own wings to fly.
My last communication with Tom T was a birthday video that included my best friend and IBMA Songwriter of the Year, Donna Ulisse, and me. We were being our usual silly selves and recorded a gloriously horrendous version of Happy Birthday. I sent the video to his assistant, Melissa, and texted that we loved and missed him dearly. I mentioned I was going to get everybody together to come see him whether he wanted us to or not. He replied back, “The door is always open, and you know where I live unfortunately. – Tom T”. Melissa texted that he was laughing and said, “You guys are great.”
We never did make it out to see him. With the battles of Covid-19 and its mutations it just wasn’t safe on top of the fact Tom T was a notorious recluse. I chuckle thinking about the Miss Dixie that I knew and how she would have fussed at him for locking himself away. I imagine I will always regret not getting to see him one more time.
Tom T was happy to be retired from the road and the spotlight. He avoided it as much as possible even when he was part of the entertainment world. I do believe he still enjoyed some aspects of it though. He told me once that he absolutely hated photoshoots. Conveniently, he told me this on the day Miss Dixie made him stand still long enough for me to snap a few pictures of him for her email blasts. I have seen recent photos of Tom T after my time there, and I can’t help but wonder if those photographers were as nervous in that given moment as I was. Dan Hays wrote about Tom T on social media saying, “…In his retirement he seemed to simply want to be Thomas Hall…not “Tom T.” He was fond of saying he was the only man in Nashville trying to get OUT of the music business. He seemed to earnestly set himself toward that goal shortly after his wife and bluegrass music’s fairly [sic] Godmother, Dixie, passed a few years back.”
I was initially hired as a graphic designer and then as a studio engineer for the Halls. They both loved bluegrass music and the people who play and sing it.
Tom T and Miss Dixie considered it their philanthropic duty to help artists in the bluegrass world. I, for one, know how appreciated they were by this community.
Tom T was an intellect. He had a wry sense of humor and a mysteriousness about him. Both Miss Dixie and Tom T were avid readers. I don’t recall a single wall without books, all of which they had read.
Tom T had a degree in journalism. He was the type of character who would learn all he could about a subject or story then only tell what he wanted the reader or listener to know. He would have the “office girls” help collect facts about whatever subject of which he was curious at the time. He asked me one time to look up how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
I don’t recall finding anything specific other than the answer was supposedly seven or infinite, as angels don’t have a physical form per se. I never thought his request was odd at all, just purely Tom T.
When I first came to Fox Hollow, Tom T was really into painting. His art had a folksy whim to it. He painted his favorite bluegrass artists like Lester and Earl, which he later gifted to Jerry Salley. He also painted Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and several others of his favorites. I think he really enjoyed giving his paintings to friends. I was lucky enough to receive a portrait he painted of me. I have it proudly displayed in my home as a reminder of how he saw me.
Tom T was an avid Nicorette man. He was never without Nicorette gum that I could recall. He would take it out of his mouth to sing and stick it on the music stand or lyric sheet. I can’t say I ever saw him reclaim it after he was done recording.
While I’m on the subject of Tom T recording, he was what we would call a “one-take Jake.”
Very seldom did he ever sing a song twice, but then again, he didn’t need to.
One day Tom T came in while I was working on either an ad or a graphic. He told me, “You know Rab-a-kah, people like to put a period after the T in Tom T, but it’s not an initial. It’s just simply ‘T’.” So, I learned pretty quickly to leave the period off.
Tom T and Dixie were everyday people yet at the same time they were exactly what you expect your heroes to be.
I can hear him now… “Rab-a-kah, hand me my reading glasses”, though he had twenty-five or so odd pairs of them scattered around the studio. He was humble and he had humility. He was one hell of a songwriter.
He was and always will be “The Storyteller”.