Friday, September 30, 2011

If Trouble Don't Kill Me

A month ago I had never heard of Clayton and Saford Hall, twin brothers from the boondocks of Virginia.  Now, thanks to the dual biography, If Trouble Don't Kill Me, written by Clayton’s grandson, Ralph Berrier, Jr., I feel as if I have known them all my life.  The Hall twins are representative of a distinct era in country music and American history.  They were born in 1919 into a culture that leaned heavily on local musicians when it came to socializing and entertainment.  These mostly self-taught musicians seemed to be everywhere, and they passed their skills on from one generation to the next.  If a boy could get his hands on a fiddle, a banjo, a mandolin, or a guitar, someone was there to teach him what to do with it.

Clayton and Saford were bitten by the music bug when they were just boys and, even in a section of the country crawling with good pickers, Saford’s way with a fiddle and Clayton’s with a banjo soon enough turned the boys into local celebrities.  Like so many others of the period, the Halls used low-powered, regional radio stations to build their reputation.  These stations knew their audience well and gave it what it wanted – live country music at the beginning of the long workday, and the same again at mid-day when it was time to stop for lunch.

The boys were on top of the world by 1940.  They were able to quit their jobs in a furniture factory and were making a nice living by working fulltime with Roy Hall (no relation) & His Blue Ridge Entertainers, the best known band in the region.  Their future was golden - and then it happened.  The U.S. got involved in World War II and Uncle Sam came calling for the Hall twins and so many others like them.  First to go was Saford, but just 16 months later it would be Clayton’s turn.

Ralph Berrier, Jr.
Saford and Clayton were in the thick of some of the war’s heaviest fighting but both of them managed to beat the odds and make it back to Virginia.  Saford, who was involved in some of America’s earliest action in the war, would eventually fight his way from North Africa to Sicily, and on through Europe, ending up finally in Germany.  Clayton would endure some of the war’s most brutal Pacific theater fighting, including the key battle on Okinawa. 

The boys came home to a different world and, being the heroes they were, they got on with life as best they could.  Music remained one of the most important things in their world, but they had missed their chance at real fame and they knew it was time to move on.  Saford, somewhat of a hard-drinking scoundrel, summed up his life this way not long before he died:

            “I know I ain’t been the best person all the time.  But I did the best I could.  I’ve seen and done things that not a lot of country boys ever get to do.  I know I ain’t got much time left, but I know where I’m going when my time comes.  I did my best to live a good life.  That’s all any of us can do, ain’t it?  Just live a good life?  When all is said and done, ain’t that enough?”

Yes, sir, it most certainly is.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. saw a signing for this earlier this week at the E T record shop

  2. Cool, Jan. Did you have a chance to say hello to the author? This is a really good look at a long lost period of American social history.