Tom T. Hall: The Person Comes First

The Kentucky native wrote the book on songwriting, or at least he wrote a book on songwriting.

Tom T. Hall at his Franklin, Tennessee homestead. Photos by Joshua Black Wilkins Tom T. Hall at his Franklin, Tennessee homestead. Photos by Joshua Black Wilkins

The great man sat on the side of the bed, listening to bird songs out the morning window, balancing a tennis shoe on top of his head, trying to find some humility.

He believed it to be the first virtue. Humility, not shoe-balancing. Johnny Cash told him once that he, too, believed humility to be the first virtue.

“It’s the first virtue, T.,” Cash assured. “And I don’t have an ounce of it.”

Cash did, of course, have some humility. It takes humility to admit the lack of it. But, at his core, Cash knew that both he and his rhyme-spinning, philosophizing, renegade friend Tom T. Hall were great men. They were exceptional, which Hall figured might be problematic.

“I have this theory that songwriters are not good songwriters,” Hall says today, at age 79, sitting in the kitchen nook at Fox Hollow, the Tennessee estate he shared for decades with his wife, Dixie.

Miss Dixie, as everyone called her, had more bluegrass songs recorded than anyone in history. She died in the first month of 2015. Tom T. sometimes thinks of Emily Dickinson’s words: “Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell.”

But back to the theory, and to the tennis shoe that rested daily on Tom T.’s cranium.

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