Sunday, February 5, 2012

Remembering My Friend, David Hall

By Peter Rodman

I'm not here to write an obituary; I'm sure you can find that somewhere else.  I'm just here to try to share a very personal story about some of the crazy, disconnected-but-connected  events that led two very unlikely strangers from completely different parts of the country to somehow become "friends for life."
And to do that I'll need to ask your patience, as I'm apt to ramble through my grief.

This-here's a fresh wound.

But if you'd like to save a lotta time, and you just need to know right now what exactly the point is here...

Here's the Short Version: 
It's that we are all basically children, at heart.  And when you can find the child behind a friend's eyes, then you've really found that person. 
[End of Short Version. Read on at your own's long.]

I have always believed that almost anything we do as 'adults' is complete and total fakery.  I've never met a man at any kind of business meeting that wasn't puttin' on airs. Not once.
And all too rarely do you ever meet a man who's willing to shed all that pretense, and just concentrate on sharing his humanity. So it is in that context that I invite you to share in just a little bit of the unfettered joy that was my friend, David Hall.

Dave grew up in Murray, Kentucky…about an hour outside of Paducah toward Nashville, but you wouldn't exactly drive it that way. You might have to back-track some, and (these days) get on the interstate.
He was raised to be humble and he stayed that way--happy just to be an All-American boy who loved baseball, rock ‘n’ roll, and pie.  Probably millions of other kids Dave’s age shared the same heroes and aspirations, but not so many followed their dreams with such a quietly accurate, easy-going compass.

I grew up about 30 miles from Yankee Stadium, in a town appropriately named “Plainview,” on Long Island.  But it might as well have been 1,000 miles away--just like Dave's hometown was--because we never much went to 'the City' anyway. (To be fair to my Dad, he did take me to see a couple of games during the iconic 1961 season...but we invariably left early, to "beat the traffic.")

The point is, whether you were stuck on Long Island or stuck in Murray didn’t matter at all.
All that really mattered to anybody we knew as kids were two people:
1.) Mickey Mantle.
2.) Roger Maris.

Done. That's it.

Nothing else seemed to matter, on those long summer days with baseball gloves and whiffle balls, marking the outer reaches of imaginary 'Yankee Stadiums' in the dirt, hoping to hit the ball over that line just once--and if you did, to trot around the bases affecting Mickey’s trademark hop-a-long limp as if it were your own, which was how you took a bow, whether in Murray, or Plainview, or Peoria, or any other town you choose.

Little boys everywhere knew the name “Mickey Mantle.”
They knew the number 7 then, and they can still tell a fake jersey from a real one (no serifs on that '7', man) and they knew that if you wanted to be like Roger Maris (#9) you had to crop your short shirt-sleeves way up high, to show those goofy 9 year old “guns” of yours.

When the 'game' was over, either your Mom or Grandma would have sandwiches ready, and if your 4th grade homework was done and it was still light out, there just might be time to go flip some baseball cards--a case study in childhood gambling, yes--but also to pore over the details on the backs of those cards---so that by the end of the day, you not only knew who Enos Slaughter and Moose Skowron and Bobby Richardson and Hector Lopez were, but what they batted last year, how many triples they’d hit, and precisely where they fell in the latest Yankee lineup.
And darn, if those Yankees didn’t keep on winnin' every year!
That should put you in the general time-frame of our childhoods. 

It was right about then that David Hall of Murray, Kentucky decided he was going to be a lifelong Yankee fan.  After all, Mickey Mantle himself grew up in Oklahoma, a fact known by every kid in the South.  (Surely, little David had no idea that if you drove due-west on Rural Route 60 from Murray and you just kept on going for about 8 hours, you'd land plumb-in-the-middle of Mickey's boyhood neighborhood, in the little miners' town called Commerce.) 

But that was the thing:
For most kids, Mickey Mantle didn't really live anywhere...except in dreams. 
And that was right where we wanted him to stay.  
Life was good.

Few things outside of baseball ever got the attention of a 9 year old, back then--certainly no ‘current events,’ which was the term for news, at the time. 
But all that changed on November 22, 1963, with the Kennedy assassination.
That was the first time (for most of us) that the headlines ever came crashing into our living rooms, with a force we could not ignore.
Our parents did everything they could do, to make Christmas of 1963 a good one--but a definite pall hung over the whole nation, as though not just the President, but youth itself had been shot and killed.  And now, some 'old man' took over as President--so here we all were, stuck kind of growing up, but not really there yet.

Most of the ‘playing’ that a kid could do in western Kentucky during that winter involved imagining yourself as an astronaut, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or maybe ‘My Favorite Martian.’  That
December and January were even chillier than usual, in Murray. It got all the way down near zero a couple times. 

Baseball seemed far off, and the grey skies and hard dirt didn’t offer much for a kid “to do” outside anyway, except get hurt and come back in crabbier than you were before. It was like chasin' your own tail, and not a lot of ‘extra’ goodies came around, unless there were some cousins in from out of town, or a very occasional matinee movie.

But there came a day--and Dave could tell you this, and his eyes would light up when he did--when the skies opened up, and everything became clear again.
Like so many millions of kids in towns all across America, David’s life changed on February 9, 1964.  I don’t even have to tell most of you what happened on that date, but from the very first note they played on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles seemed to reach right through those round, black-and-white television sets, and into our living rooms. They called it 'the British Invasion,' but in a very real sense, nearly every kid in America was abducted by rock 'n' roll aliens that night.

Our parents were somewhere between flummoxed and dismissive…but that made it even better!

Within hours, every boy who’d seen it was standing in front of a bathroom mirror, quietly combing their hair the opposite way, to check out how this Beatle haircut might look on them. One can only imagine how many parents stood outside the door on that particular Sunday night, demanding to know "What's going on, in there?" 
David Hall's house was no exception.

Those Beatle records would arrive in our local stores soon enough, and promises were made ("Please, Mom! I've got to have it!") allowances advanced, and deals struck--if only to have a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” b/w "I Saw Her Standing There" inside the house, to call your very own.
Not being able to afford more than one or two 45s at first, David Hall found himself glued to his transistor radio.

They were staying where? Which one had tonsillitis? Who wrote “Roll Over Beethoven?”
Studying the backs of album covers eventually replaced studying the backs of baseball cards. David was hooked; not uncommon, this. 
In fact, it was about as ‘All-American’ as it gets--and it would suit David Hall just fine, to hear that.

Never sure this newfound fascination with music was a ‘career’ thing per say, he eventually graduated high school and enrolled at Murray State University, near enough to home to honor his family roots and look after his obligations as a devoted 'only' son. Then too, MSU was just ‘gone’ enough, for him to look around and see what else the world had to offer.
Unlike many kids, he didn’t seek to travel the world, or amaze anybody with his accomplishments at all. David didn’t even really have a ‘major’ that first year, anyway.
All he knew was that he had fallen in love…with music.
All those nights listening to his transistor radio at home had seen David learning the names of radio big-shots from St. Louis and Nashville, and sometimes Chicago, if the weather was right.
The best thing about Murray State was that it had an actual radio station!  He inevitably gravitated to it, putting in his time as a volunteer, until the fateful day when he  very nervously switched that microphone to“ON.” They’d even been thoughtful enough to hang an electric ON THE AIR sign, over the door.

"One of the first things I ever said on a 100 thousand watt FM radio station came right after Jack Buck said, 'We pause 10 seconds for station identification. This is the St. Louis Cardinals baseball network,'" David recalled. "I opened the mic in our rarely-used-for-anything-live FM studio and said, 'WAAW-FM, Murray, Kentucky.'"
That was "it" for David Hall.
There’d be no more looking back.

His polite manner had more appeal than he ever knew, and not being one to assume anything, David really didn’t pursue the girls or the party life that much--at least not with near the gusto of his rowdy freshman friends. Oh sure, he’d tag along…but if you wanted his opinion, he’d damn well make sure it was safe to share it, one-on-one, and even then he was not one to cause a controversy, if at all possible.
It just wasn’t in his raising.

David Hall, Peter Rodman, and Fred Buc
of Lightning 100, at Boulder Falls--August, 1994.
I got to show them around my old hometown,
during a radio convention there.

 All that stuff was other peoples’ fire; his only burning desire was to be on the air and start playin’ great music for all the great people he was sure must be ‘out there.’
Only in that place did David Hall finally find his own voice--and only there, could he make the world the way he wanted it to be.
Others were slaves to fashion, drugs, or danger--but only talking to “that one person out there” brought any real sparkle to the lanky hometown guy, in that faded ol’ Yankee t-shirt.
David Hall was a great son and an only child, whose many cousins today mourn the loss of a childhood pal and confidante, but all would agree--especially Dave--that he was truly ‘born’ on the day he first switched on a radio microphone.
At first imitating the jocks he’d grown up with, he eventually found a voice he liked, listening intently in headphones (a practice he continued throughout his career, always tweaking the sound to perfection) and it was more self-assured than anything he’d ever heard himself say or do before.
He had truly found his home, 'on the air.'

Not that he particularly aspired to any great ‘career heights.'
He wasn’t at all intent, as so many radio dudes are, on jumping from town-to-town just to get ‘bigger’ in bigger markets, until he was ‘King of the Hill.’
(Don’t get me wrong; those are admirable goals indeed, but they weren’t Dave’s goals.)

David Hall’s goals were as simple and as humble as Dave himself:
To be able to touch one listener;
To share as much of the great rock music he loved with as many people as possible;
To avoid insult and controversy, while providing a righteously safe ‘haven’ for his fellow music freaks, known and unknown;
…and perhaps most of all…
To find in his own voice that trusted and steady hand he could believe, himself.
It was David's great gift to everyone he knew and loved, that he worked hard enough to actually become that man.
By the end of his life, he had achieved it all, in full...and yes, "what you heard was what you got."
Never ‘cool’ in that amphibious way that FM DJs can be, but never ‘hot’ in the grating manner of a controversy-seeker, David Hall on the air just seemed to want to be friends.That may account for why so many hearts are broken today, in Nashville and Western Kentucky, and beyond. Even casual listeners felt like they had a friend in David Hall--and the truth is, they did.

If he had an exclusive interview or a brand new record to debut, his manner was never in the realm of “Here comes my Exclusive!”

Rather, it was like your best mate sharing something because he loved you.
“…I just got something very interesting in the mail, this morning…what’ll you hear this!”
He could barely contain his excitement, yes…but it had nothing to do with self-aggrandizement.  In fact, to know David personally, you'd hardly guess that his tenure in rock radio was the all-time longest run in Nashville history.

No wonder he loved his job so much.
David Hall dealt with the music he loved, every single day of his life. And if you asked him about his job, he’d tell you, in words that almost seemed to echo Lou Gehrig's, “…I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” 

See, it wasn’t about money or fame--nor even getting close to the famous.
That wasn’t Dave’s thing.
It was that thing that he’d first found with Yankees and Beatles, but which later extended to Van Halens and Stones, and much later, into making musical discoveries of his own, and going on the air to present them to his listeners--be it Drew Holcomb, One EskimO, or any other great new act.

A digression, if you will...

In 1993, after several years of living here part-time, I finally packed up and moved to Nashville full-time. I’d been on the radio for two decades already, and (call it a mid-life crisis) after years and years of hiding my first love (songwriting) during interviews with other writers and celebrities, I decided to try my own hand at performing again.
I was merrily going along with my Bluebird Café gigs, when one day I got a call from Ray Skibitsky, my old boss at Boulder’s KBCO.
“Peter, I’ve got a guy you should meet in radio, there in Nashville.”
“Why, Ray? I’m retired from radio.”
“Listen, I told him you’d call him. Just do it. You don’t have to do anything, just call him. He wants to meet you.”
That was in the late spring of ’93, and by year’s end, we’d come to an agreement. I would revive ‘Sunday Night with Peter Rodman’ exactly as I had done it for years at KBCO, with no limits or interference, as a contracted show, leased to the station on a one-time basis each week, retaining full ownership of any content I'd created.  No taxes, no meetings, no "employee," no answering to anyone but the owner of Lightning 100. 

In other long as I didn't have to play 'grown up!'

[End of digression; thank you for your indulgence.]

I was scheduled to begin doing SNPR on 'Radio Lightning' on February 7, 1994--30 years (to the day!) after the Beatles had landed in New York City, an irony not lost on me at all.

Then, in early December of 1993, Frank Zappa died.
Ned Horton (Lightning’s co-owner) and myself decided that we would move my start-date up, to accommodate some sort of 'Frank Zappa Tribute'--which I would hastily assemble from existing interviews I’d done with Frank, over the years.
All well and good, but I hadn’t a clue as to how to work any of this new radio station’s equipment!

Ned asked around, and there was only one guy curious enough to volunteer to ‘train’ me, while we cobbled together something that would both introduce me to the listeners and suitably honor Frank, for all his (notoriously rabid) fans.

Lindsey Buckingham
(of Fleetwood Mac) with David Hall
That guy was David Hall.
As we nervously shook hands and got started, David graciously and gently began to ‘show me the ropes,’ and helped me work the unfamiliar machines, and we tried to sort through the many Zappa interviews I owned, some from a full decade before.
At some point during the process, after at least an hour of sweating in an airless, windowless production room full of tape recorders, we “lost” all the work we‘d just done.
Poof!  Gone.
The looks on our faces were of complete horror, knowing we’d have to start all over again, from scratch.  
But within just a few seconds we both began laughing hysterically, irreverently pretending to talk to the deceased  ‘interviewee’ right then and there (“Come ON, Frank!!!”) and before long, these two guys--who’d met only once before, and knew nothing about each other--were uncontrollably howling, in that sort of 'silent-scream' laughter that makes you hold your sides in pain, getting up and walking away and sitting back down again, just to try to control your bladder--almost dancing around the room, like lunatics!
Neither of us had ever had so much fun in a radio production room, before. 

The laughter had brought tears to our faces, and the notion that those poor Frank Zappa fans would never know what went on in there is probably all for the better, looking back on it. (In truth, from my experiences with him, I’m betting Frank would’ve been on our side, here!)
Anyway, the radio special got done--in no small part due to David's dedication to helping some guy he didn’t even know, a guy (me) who walked into that studio a stranger, and walked out a "friend for life."

From that day to this, we had an unbreakable bond.
And now, almost 20 years later, I am humbled and grateful just to say that David Hall was my friend.
Okay…I’m gonna have to stop soon.

I actually thought this would be easier than it’s turning out to be. But if you’ll bear with me for just a few more paragraphs, I’d like to recall another few tender moments that signify so much about the man I knew and loved.

Though he was never one to show too much affection at first, I watched that change over the years. This past Christmas, Dave dropped by my home to hand me a card personally…and right before he left, he gave me a big bear hug, and said “I love you.”
To be honest it took me back for a second, and I wondered if everything was alright. But I finally decided it was just another of those 'surprises' that shouldn’t surprise me at all, knowing David.
I have lots of stuff around here that he just gave me out-of-the-blue, and he has the same from me.  We didn’t actually talk all that often, but we didn’t really have to.  We were always 'one-upping' each other with little surprises, tickled to know somebody else was tickled by all the same exact 'stuff.' 

If I was in New York, did you think he wasn’t going to get something directly from Yankee Stadium?
If he had tickets to see ‘The Concert for George,’ did you think he wasn’t going to ask me along?
Just last night, I found a CD he’d produced expressly for me about five years ago, called 'Surprise, Surprise’--a compilation of the very best Beatles pressings and masters available, back then. It must have taken him hours to find just the right tracks off the right discs and LPs.
He was so enamored of my annual Christmas compilations that for years he’d send me suggestions ("...for next year's disc?" he'd write).

That is who Dave was:
“How can I make YOU better?”

And when I made a serious blunder (read: brain fart!) on a Facebook 'Beatle post' last year, Dave very gently reminded me that “Don’t Let Me Down” was the flip side of “Get Back,” not “Hey Jude.”
I was mortified!
It meant a lot to me that I not make such a basic, doofy mistake in front of Dave--but he actually turned it around to make me feel better, writing “I actually knew you knew that, but I kept checking and re-checking my records, just to make sure I was right--because I was sure you’d know some clever little secret that I might have missed!”
Nope.  Not true, Dave!
But in that, I did learn another little secret:
I learned how far you would go to protect me--more than once.  I’ve only given little examples here, but there are others, believe me.
When I claimed (on facebook) that the government had been paid back in full for the GM bailout, David (correctly) corrected me. Yes, though few people knew it, David Hall kept up on the minutiae of politics with the best of ‘em!
Most peoples’ interests probably intersect somewhat; ours were a virtually-identical lock.

This will be inartfully put, I know…but I never knew how deeply David cared about me, until I began finding e-mails that said, “Check your windshield," and there’d be an amazing package containing some CD he’d made 'specially for me, out in my driveway on a rainy night.
His wonderful wife Trish told me just yesterday, about how Dave actually drove her by my (nothing-special-to-look-at) house one time, just to show her where I lived.
“Why didn’t y’all come in and say hello?” I wondered.
“Oh, I don’t know," she said, "he said he just wanted me to see it.”

Paul Simon was another thing we had in common, and of course it doesn’t hurt that the guy wears Yankee caps a lot, either. David marveled at my stories of meeting Simon & Garfunkel as a kid, and we'd even gone to see them reunite, a few years back. 
But again, we rarely picked up a phone…we just liked to surprise each other.

So last summer, David sends me a message:

“You busy this Thursday?”
“Well, I might be able to get Paul Simon tickets…”
Turns out, he had talked it over with Trish, and she had graciously said, “You guys oughta go!”
I showed up at Merchants an hour beforehand, per our tradition, and after a drink and some food he said mischievously, “GeeI hope these seats don’t suck!”

Now we were virtually race-walking toward the Ryman…like… two little kids, on the way to the ballpark!
“Hey,” I said with my 'adult' faux-confident air, “Don’t worry about whereever the tickets are! There’s not a bad seat in the house!”
We might as well have been 10.
“We’ll see about that!” David said, feigning pessimism.
I wondered why he’d even care about what seats we had at all--that wasn’t like him.
Pretty soon we were inside, being ushered down toward our seats:
Not in the first few rows...Not even in the first row!
No...ours were among a group of about 12 folding chairs--set up, center-stage--

in front of the first row!!!

I’d been to dozens of Ryman shows before, believe me--but I never suspected we’d be lookin’ up Paul Simon’s nose the whole night!
It was to become the best concert in a lifetime of concert-going, for me.
He’d known all along where the seats were; it was all a part of his sneaky little 'plan!'
We were so close to the stage, I felt too guilty to even use my camera or my fLiP very much--because poor ol' Simon could see little else but us, in front of the footlights!

And even though I later gave Dave several framed 8x10 photographs I'd taken of Simon that night, I was blown away to see one little item he'd scanned for his Facebook page, as another kind of memento: 
  With Dave, it was all about the gift; he knew what mattered was just the act of kindness.

Watching this masterful performer at the very top of his game (and I’ve seen every Paul Simon incarnation, believe me) was a marvel. We must have nudged each other a hundred times, remarking about everything from the arrangements, to the half-dozen 'guitar techs' moving stealthily about, onstage. To see us from a fly-on-the-ceiling view,  you’d think you were watching two kids, giggling with utter delight--just about the same way 10 year old boys might, if they ever got close enough to see their baseball hero ‘hit for the cycle.’
It was that special.
As the show drew to a close, I took one last picture of Dave--still sitting less than ten feet from Paul Simon, for cryin' out loud!

In it, you can clearly see Rhymin’ Simon’s sweat-soaked delight (at far left)...and to the right...that's the Kid from Murray, 
Kentucky right there--beaming with pride, not over the show so much (although he truly loved it), but over the surprise he'd just pulled off, and the joy he’d just brought to a friend.
Because, hey…that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
What good is music, if you don’t share it?

Vince Gill once had an album called The Things That Matter, and I always thought that was a great title.  Well, David Hall seemed to specialize in "the things that matter."
Like everyone else that night at the Paul Simon show, I was awestruck and wrung out at the end.  Just after I took this picture, I said, “Dave, I don’t know how to even begin to thank you. You really got me, this time! Yankee Stadium, next month!  On me!!! Come on, man. At least Wrigley...”
“We’ll see...sounds great!”
“I can’t believe you did this for me..”

With that, he turned to me and patted me on the shoulder.
“Why wouldn’t I, Peter? You’re my best friend!

Words I shall never forget.


My heart goes with Trish, Sean, and the rest of David’s extended family. I've written too many words I know, but in truth, no words can describe this loss for them. My prayers are with you all, and always with Dave.
Also, to the staff of Lightning 100, past and present, as well as all of Dave’s other radio friends and industry pals, listeners, fans, and admirers from afar.

Your affections were never wasted; David would want you all to know that.
When it comes to being truly humble and doing the right things for all the right reasons, we can all take a lesson or two, from the David Hall playbook.
David Hall ROCKS, Y’all!

Copyright 2012 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.


Here's a clip from the 1962 movie Safe at Home, familiar to all Mantle & Maris fans, which brought our Yankee heroes to the Big Screen: 

And the Beatles' historic debut on 'The Ed Sullivan Show', just as it aired on February 9, 1964: 
Life-affirming moments we both loved, for sure...

This next song has gotten me through a tough couple days, trying to sort through some of life's unanswerable questions. I guess the lesson must be that sometimes it's okay when you don't have all the answers, to just sing "la la-la la, la la la..." So do yourself a favor...turn this one up, and just go with the "la-la" thing. 
Rest in Peace, David.


  1. Beautiful, Peter. My profound sympathy & condolences to you.

  2. A great tribute to a great guy. Thanks for sharing, Peter.

  3. What a wonderful piece, Peter! Thank you so much for sharing your story. And, it was nice meeting you in Nashville. Your support has been so special for the family. I agree that my cousin David really was a cool guy. Smart, funny, creative and genuine. I can say proudly that his personality was a lot like all the Hughes guys. Our generation of cousins were very avid Beatles fans. (I was president of the Beatles Fan Club in my high school.) And, through the years David would shoot us all an email whenever he heard about a Beatles book coming out, an interview to be aired, concert tickets going on sale, etc. I was so proud of Trish when I saw him lying there peacefully in his Beatles tie. He would have picked that himself. David had a kind soul. He will be missed and remembered by many. Thanks for your tribute. Carol Hughes Harp.