'I Love Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow'

Aug 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz



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Interview With Tom T. Hall (Continued)

And he’s made some great bluegrass albums.
He recorded with Ralph Stanley of all people!

Tell me about how and where you made the original Fox Hollow album.
Well, we can start at the beginning if you have time. I had two little nephews who lived in Monaco, south of France. My wife is English and she came here when she grew up, but her sister married a chef and they moved to Monaco. We went there to visit them and they had two little boys—five and six years old—and they would come and visit us one summer. I was helping them unpack when they got here, and they had this comic book. It was called Étranger Solitaire. I don’t know much French, but I said, "That’s got to be the Lone Ranger." And they kept staring at me. They must have thought, well, we’re in America. This is where the Lone Ranger lives, and this guy’s a cowboy so he probably knows the Lone Ranger and he might show up any minute. I was trying to figure out what was going through their heads.

I have 60 acres here and we walked around the farm, and this sounds like a cliché, I know, but I began to see the world as they were seeing it. We live in a place called Fox Hollow, and one day, they said, “Uncle Tom, what’s a fox?” I said, “Hmmm, that’s a good question.” I said, “I haven’t seen him in a while myself, but he’s a very mysterious fellow because he doesn’t like to hang around people much.” I’m a morning person, so I was getting up in the morning before it gets daylight, when I’ve got a couple of hours to write and drink coffee, and so without even thinking about it or having a plan or anything, I was writing down all these things these kids were being fascinated by. We met Sneaky Snake down by the lake, and we had some chickens on the farm and we had a little one-legged chicken, and I wrote that into a song. So without any plan I was just writing these things down in the morning, and by the time they went home, I had all these songs I’d sort of hummed through and written down.

So I asked my producer, Jerry Kennedy at Mercury Records, “What do you think of a kiddie album?” And he laughed. He probably thought I was kidding because that’s not the kind of music I was famous for. Most of my songs at the time were about digging graves and getting out of jail and drinking beer and chasing women and fast horses. But I had a band and I had a studio on my farm, and so one day I told the band, “Before we leave town, let’s set up in the studio and put down a few of these kiddie songs to see what they sound like with music.” I wasn’t up to nothin’; I just wanted to see what they sounded like.

And then I got a phone call from Jerry Kennedy. He said, “What are you up to, T?” And I said, “Well, I’m out here at the barn and the band’s getting ready to leave town, so I’m putting down a couple of these kiddie songs just to see what they sound like.”

He said, “Oh, hell, bring ‘em on down here and we’ll do an album.” So I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Bring ‘em down and we’ll cut ‘em. He hadn’t even heard the songs. The rest is little-known history, but history nonetheless. And we had three hit songs out of it:“Sneaky Snake” and “I Care” and “I Love.” We just sold a ton of those things.

And here’s something else we didn’t expect: Hundreds of kindergarten teachers got a hold of this album, and I don’t know how they all came up with the same idea, but I’ve got probably 200 art projects of “I Love.” One of the students would paint a little baby duck and then another…let’s see [sings] I love little baby ducks… and one would do an old truck, and one would do a little train on a track, and one would do rain—all the things that are in the song, and they would staple them all together, and the kindergarten teacher would write me a note. So it was just a wonderful experience.

Did you ever play these songs live for kids?
I never did any kiddie shows. They’re very difficult to entertain. I like to be around them. I’m afraid to talk down to them, though. I have a couple of dogs, and I change my voice when I talk to the dogs; I talk to my dogs the way some to children. But I talk to children the way some people talk to their dogs. I get a lot of respect from them, you know?

From kids or from dogs?
[Laughs] Anyway, I had done this kind of thing before when I’d made a bluegrass album. I asked Jerry Kennedy, “Do you think they’re going to play this album because it’s bluegrass? He said,”Yeah, they’ll play it.” I said, “What are we going to tell them?” He said, “We’re not going to tell them anything. We’re just going to put it out and say it’s a Tom T. Hall album.” And sure enough, we had a hit out of the bluegrass album, and then when we did the kiddie album, I said, “What are we going to tell people about this album?” He said, “We’re not going to tell them anything. We’re just going to put it out and the single’s going to be 'Sneaky Snake.'”

So back in those days they had CB radios, and these truck drivers would talk to one another, and there must have been 200 or 300 truck drivers on the road with the CB handle “Sneaky Snake.” So it was just kind of a phenomenon. Jerry Kennedy used to tell me, “You know what frightened me about your career, Tom T? Every time we make a record, we have to launch a whole new career.” I kept reinventing my whole thing. But it was fun doing concerts, though, because we’d do a little bluegrass, we’d do a drinking song and a getting-out-of-jail song and a digging-a-grave song and do some kiddie songs; it was fun working on the road with all that choice of material. The last record never sounded like the first two or three.

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