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 Texas : Features : Music : "Words and Music"

One of the Best Interviews I Never Did

by Dorothy Hamm
In the 1970s while I was studying journalism at a community college I began stringing for a country music magazine in Grapevine, Texas. I only had a half dozen interviews to my credit when the editor called and gave me an assignment to interview a famous country/rockabilly artist who was performing at a dinner theater in Dallas. The editor said he would make the necessary arrangements to get me in the door and back stage to do the interview before the performance. He also gave me some special instructions.

"You know about his reputation don't you?" my editor asked.

"I know I love his music," I said.

"Well, if he is drinking and you say something that strikes him wrong don't try to apologize or backtrack or explain, just get your camera and tape recorder and say a respectful thank you and get the h___ out."

"Uh, just thank you, and uh, get out?" I stammer.

"As calmly and quickly as possible," he said.

It was with some trepidation that I arrived at the theater that evening. I checked in with back stage security who told me the "star" had not arrived yet. I checked back a couple more times but as it grew nearer to show time, the security guard suggested I come back during intermission and he would introduce me and if all was well I could then do the interview after the show.

That was fine with me and I settled down to enjoy the show.

The lights soon came up and the star took his place at the piano. He was in good voice and he made the piano rock, throwing in a few classical runs in between the country blues he does so very, heartbreakingly, well. I was a little disappointed that he did not finish most of the songs he started. About half way or two thirds into each song he would stop and start another. But still it was magic.

I don't think such a thing would be allowed today, but a few audience members walked up and placed drinks on the piano. Which, the star drank. Why, I wondered, if you really cared about a person and you knew they had a problem with substance abuse, would you hand them the very poison they were using to kill themselves? The theater was dimly lit but I was starting to read the handwriting on the wall just the same.

"This is not going to be a good night for an interview is it?" I asked security at intermission.

"That's up to you," security said without emotion. "But, when he (the star) came in he opened a fifth of, (he named a popular brand of bourbon,) turned it up and drank the entire bottle before he came up for air."

I mulled that over for perhaps one half of a second.

"Thank you for your help," I said smiling as I turned toward the exit. "I think I would prefer to interview him another time, another place."

But I never have.
Dorothy Hamm
"Words and Music" Column
- August 5, 2006 column
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