According to singer/songwriter Michael Hall, his whole life comes down to this: “Music is how feelings sound. I can write in a song what I can’t say.”
Interview with Indie Music Magazine
We found out there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Michael Hall has been singing and writing songs his whole life, starting in church where he sang his first solo at age 12 and wrote his first song right out of high school. Now, he looks back on his experiences that led to a recent recording contract, the release of his album THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (InStar Entertainment Label Group) and the release of LIVING IN THE COUNTRY, a single that is rising in the independent music charts. We caught up with him in a Waffle House near his hometown of Blythewood, South Carolina, where he was born and raised and still lives today. He showed up in a cowboy hat, jeans and boots that didn’t look at all like a costume. He looked like he had just ridden in to town, comfortable in being himself, not out to impress anyone. The voice was deeper than expected, the handshake firmer, the smile wider, like seeing an old friend again after years apart. We settled in with coffee and got warmed up.
IMM: You’ve got a lot going on. You’re in the Indie World Country chart and the New Music Weekly charts, you’re getting air play on a lot of independent radio stations across the country. You’ve got an album out there, THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, and your single, LIVING IN THE COUNTRY, is creating quite a stir. So what is it like to be you right now?
HALL: I’m grateful. That’s the best way I can put it. I’m just a cowboy who got some help cracking open a few doors. I’ve always said that if that door opens just a little way, I’m going to kick down the wall. There’s many good artists out there that never get heard. They don’t get the chance. And it’s sad that there’s so many of them that never get that chance, probably as good as some of the stars. But I’m grateful for the chances I’ve had. I’m blessed with good friends and family and some of the best fans anyone could have. I’m grateful that I have some music out there that people want to hear. If I can touch just one boy the way Merle Haggard touched me when I was still a kid, then I’ve reached one of my goals. I may not ever be a superstar, but I’d like to make a mark.
IMM: On your website biography, it says you’ve been a cowboy, a bull rider, a race car driver, a truck driver, that you’ve been a paint and body man and that you’re a rancher and farmer. When did you find time for music?
HALL: I used to practice singing on my granddaddy’s tractor before anybody in my family even knew I could sing. I jumped up in church and sang a solo one Sunday morning when the singer was sick — that’s how my family found out I could sing. I sang in church and started a band in high school. The first place I ever played outside of church was the Nine Mile Lounge on Highway 34 between Ridgeway and Lugoff. There wasn’t anybody there except the owner, his wife and a guy who swept the floors. That’s no lie. That started it off though. I’ve played at honky tonks and bars all over the Southeast. I fronted Dottie West in Myrtle Beach and played nightclubs, festivals, concert halls and auditoriums. I’ve been blessed to meet my idol, Merle Haggard, and I did a show with Tommy Cash (Johnny Cash’s brother). I’ve had the honor to meet Juanta Rose and we’ve worked on some things together. Recently, I had the big honor to meet Freddy Powers; I even got to sing one of his songs, NATURAL HIGH, with his wife Catherine. I’d have to say that Freddy Powers, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Lefty Frizzell have been the biggest inspirations to me. I just always kept singing, playing and writing even when I was busy doing other things. What’s the point in doing it if you can’t enjoy it? I’ve had some hard times, bad experiences. That’s where music comes in. Music is what feelings sound like. I can write in a song what I can’t say.
IMM: Do you feel like you learned more from the good times than the bad times?
HALL: I’m grateful for all of it. Even the bad experiences. I look back on my life and say, “What if?” I learned a lot that no one could teach me. I had to learn by experience. The first country music concert I ever saw was Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. I was focused on Johnny of course and I didn’t recognize the greatness of what I was seeing at first. Mother Maybelle was the legend. She was the head of that outfit. Their harmony was so good, it was awesome. I knew right then that I had a lot to learn. I used to sing in the church choir not because I liked it, because I really didn’t like it that much. But I’d stand beside the older people in the choir to learn how to sing harmony until I got an ear for it. Later on, I had a gospel quartet called HIS OWN. We got to be real popular around here; we would pack the churches and get standing ovations. I love to sing gospel music as much or more than I do country music. I love to sing bass in a quartet. I admired and learned so much from listening to J.D. Sumner and George Younce. When you look at it one way, though, my daddy and my uncle got me started wanting to learn to play the guitar because they would sit outside at night and sing Hank Williams. My granddaddy inspired me too because he loved for me to sing HOW GREAT THOU ART. And I wrote my first song in church one Sunday night watching my mother playing the piano. The song came to me like BOOM, all at once. I didn’t even write it down, it came that fast. I still sing that song today, MY COUNTRY FAMILY. It was #1 on ReverbNation for seven weeks in the local chart and stayed in the top ten for over a year. It’s a song I’ll always sing. And now I’ve got my single LIVING IN THE COUNTRY; it was #2 on Amazon in the Cowboy Country section and #1 in Hot New Releases. It’s in the top 40 on IndieWorld Country and it’s in the charts in New Music Weekly. My promoter, James Williams, sent me a report that says they’re even playing it in Japan. Ain’t that something!
IMM: So Johnny Cash and Mother Maybelle made a big impression on you along with the older folks in church and your family. Who had the biggest influence on the artist you are today?
HALL: Merle Haggard. The first time I saw him was in 1977 and the last time was August 23, 2014. I’ve seen him 22 times in concert and I’ve never been disappointed with what I heard. The best one was in 1984 at the Charlotte Coliseum in North Carolina. It was powerful. I’ve never seen him do an encore. He gives you two good hours and he doesn’t need to do an encore. I chased him for 41 years before I got to meet him, maybe longer than that. It was a real honor to meet him. He has always been my favorite and that’s how it will always be.
IMM: What’s next for Michael Hall?
HALL: I’ve got some plans for a new album or two. It’ll all fall together when it’s time. I sure do feel grateful for all that’s happening and I appreciate you taking the time to talk. Thank you so much.