During an IBMA session on Saturday morning, a panel of musicians shared memories and tunes from the late Tom T and Dixie Hall, titled That’s How I Came to Memphis – A Celebration of Tom T. Hall and Miss Dixie Songs. Seated on the dais were some of those in bluegrass who 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.
Series mastermind of the songwriters, Rick Lang, introduced the panelists. “The panel is made up of singers, songwriters and performers who were good friends with Tom and Dixie Hall,” he explained at the start of the 90-minute session.
Troy Engle served as moderator, starting the conversation and initiating responses from other panelists.
“Collectively, I don’t think we’ve all been together,” he began. “We could talk for three weeks about Tom and Dixie.”
Rebekah Speers shared, “I first met them when Lizzy and I were asked to sing on the Sisters album. I got a graphic design/engineering job with them.
Chris Jones noted that his introduction to the power songwriting pair was gradual. “I did a duet with Tom T on one of their early co-writes, The man on the side of the road.”
Jeanette Williams shared her encounter with Dixie. “I met Miss Dixie at the IBMA in Louisville in 2000. I asked her if I could buy a book and have Tom T sign it for my sister?” A friendship was quickly formed. “She invited us to Fox Hollow (their home and the site of their songwriting retreat). They welcomed many visiting groups.
Jeanette added: “Dixie was the editor of Music City Newsbut was not listed because she was female.
Johnny Williams has said his relationship with Tom T started when the famous songwriter asked a two-part question. “I heard you were a songwriter and drove a tractor? You and I are going to mow some grass.
Williams admitted he really mowed the grass for the Halls. Then Tom T asked him, “Are you ready to do some studio work?” This time, Williams helped Hall build his existing studio, but he was eventually able to record with him.
Joe Newberry remembers: “I sang at Jeanette Carter’s funeral. After his serve, Tom T came up to me and told me I like your right hand on the banjo.
Newberry showed great fondness when reading Tom T Hall’s lyrics I love you too.
“His words were like talking with an old friend.”
Engle also shared her strong affection for the couple. “They would house you and feed you. I felt like I was going to Grandma’s.
All of the panelists agreed, praising Miss Dixie’s cooking, especially her tomato sauce. Engle then played and sang an original tune on the Halls, Memory of Fox Hollows, from his latest album.
Jones pointed out, “Tom was a Renaissance man, and Dixie, there was so much more there. She was from England. Bill Clifton was her sponsor so she could be a US resident.
He then sang one of his songs, He will be a hero in Harlanabout a Kentucky soldier, noting that she always incorporated teddy bears into her tragic tunes.
Johnny Williams added that Tom T was also an accomplished artist. “I bought him a big box of pencils. Miss Dixie came on stage at Bean Blossom and gave me a portrait he had drawn with those crayons.
Johnny, accompanied by his wife, Jeanette, then sang Hall’s song, Can you hear me now?, which was recorded twice by Doyle Lawson.
Sharing humorous stories, Speer reflected on how Tom T Hall chewed Nicoret gum. “He would take it out and leave it there (she gestured at the microphone) and…forgot about it!”
The Aldridges joined the panel and shared their stories.
Darin said, “They always sent you a little gift. They sent us a small globe with the writing “We will always share our small world”.
Engle shared that Miss Dixie loves garage sales.
Johnny Williams easily agreed. “Miss Dixie was the boss. Tom T wanted me to be there one morning at 5 a.m. to clean a building and load it into my truck. He was sweating and working hard. Here comes Miss Dixie. He said, “Oh my God, Johnny, I’m going to play golf” and left. She made me unload everything. It took about three hours.
Darin praised the couple’s affection for each other. “Tom T put Miss Dixie on a pedestal.”
Rebekah shared a common phrase used by Dixie. “Working on the Daughters of Bluegrass box set, nearly 70 songs, almost killed me. Miss Dixie wrote let me fly low and walk slowly. She would never say goodbye. I said “Walk slowly” and she said “Fly low”.
Speer also described a songwriting table used by the couple. “What you brought to the table stayed at the table,” she claimed.
Chris Jones then shared that Dixie was a notorious prankster. “She tricked Tom T into lying to a federal agent during his interview to be a US citizen.”
Jeanette Williams recalled a movie the couple wrote and filmed, Who shot Lester Monroe?
“Chris was the TV reporter. We all had roles.
Jones said Tom T was a philosopher. “He had a unique view of so many things. He said, “everything that can be managed is already managed in the music industry”.
Engle agreed. “He was a genius. He just wanted to garden and play golf. Tom T used to sing ‘Don’t do anything you don’t wanna do’. They both spent their whole lives doing just that.
The session ended with all the panelists singing Tom T’s beloved gospel song, me and jesus. The participants joined in and sang.