When I Met Tom T. Hall Over Forty Years Ago In Aberdeen
In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. In other ways, it seems like the day before yesterday. But no, it must have been a long time ago, because things like this don't seem to happen much anymore, if at all.
But there was a day, oh yes there was. A day when the biggest country music stars in the world would come to what many consider small towns. The stars that are now country music Hall of Famers and legends would make stops in places other than Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City, or Sioux Falls.
Places like Aberdeen, South Dakota.
He is famously referred to as 'The Storyteller'. A legend in our music and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tom T. Hall has written and sung many of the biggest country hits of the past 50 plus years. How many times have you turned up and sang along with Jeannie C. Riley's 'Harper Valley P.T.A.'? That is, of course, from the pen of Tom T. And his songs that he himself sang are among the all-time favorites in country music history, from 'The Homecoming' to 'The Year Clayton Delaney Died' to the simple yet profound beauty of 'I Love' and, of course, 'Old Dogs, Children And Watermelon Wine'. (I know, I know, there's dozens more, but I only have so much space).
So as a young radio kid up in Aberdeen, South Dakota, I can now admit all these decades later that I was more than a bit intimidated when I was able to set up an interview with this master singer/songwriter. He was at the time among the biggest country stars in the world, and here he was at the Holiday Inn in Aberdeen, getting set to perform that evening at the Brown County Fair (Think about that, the biggest country stars of today playing a county fair).
And so it was that I knocked on that door and Tom T. opened it with one of the biggest and warmest smiles I'd ever seen on a person's face.
'Well, you must be Randy, come on in and sit down'.
Within about 5 minutes I felt as if I was talking to an old friend I hadn't seen in several years. And what I remember most about that afternoon is, after we had done about a 10-minute interview that I would bring back and play later that afternoon at the radio station, he said the following:
'Randy, if you'd like, you can pick out a handful of my songs you like and I'll tell you how I came about writing them. That way you'll have something for the next week or two on your show'.
What?? An artist who was on top of the country music world wanted to take another 15 or 20 minutes, tape 5 or 6 different segments, for a kid from South Dakota to play after he was long gone and essentially had nothing to gain?
But maybe Tom T. did know he had something to gain. Maybe he knew that simply being nice didn't take much effort. Maybe somewhere in his past that was a lesson he learned and was passing it along. Well Tom T., it stuck. All these many years later, the thing I remember most about Tom T. Hall isn't the music (which I love), but the kindness of a true gentleman from Kentucky who happened to be in northeast South Dakota.
Tom T. is 84 years old now. The love of his life, his wife Dixie, passed away several years ago or so. I assume it hasn't been easy for Tom, just as it isn't easy for any of us to lose someone we love. When I heard the news of Dixie's passing I felt sympathy for Tom T. and his family, and then I thought about something else: I thought about an afternoon in Aberdeen, South Dakota over 40 years ago, and I didn't think about a country music superstar.
I thought about one of the finest gentlemen I've ever had the pleasure to meet.