Simply Woman & Home

‘I knew I had something important to do’

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Ever since I was a small child, I’ve always had the gift to rhyme. So

I was making up songs before I could even write. I would rhyme everything, whether it was whatever was on the table, what was on the floor, what the kids were doing.

I grew up in a very musical family, especially on my mother’s side. So it was just natural for my mom to always be singing. My mother had that old-timey voice, and she used to sing all these songs that were brought over from the Old World. They were English, Irish, Welsh folk songs where people tell stories.

Mama had this haunting voice, and, Lord you would feel it. There’s a famous old folk song called Two Little Orphans about two little kids who come up to the door and are frozen to death because nobody’s answering. Mama would emphasise those moments in the lyrics when the two little orphans are talking. It was really like being there if Mama was singing it.

That’s how I try to sing too. I want you to feel it when I’m telling you the story. Mama singing all those old-timey mountain songs was just embedded in my soul, in my psyche. I call it my ‘Smoky Mountain DNA’.

Early on, I would listen to all of those songs and stories. I started to write songs, I guess, because I picked up so many things. My first song was called Little Tiny Tasseltop. It was about a corncob doll that my mama had made me and put a little dress on and put corn-silk tassels on for hair. Daddy made eyes with the fire poker from the fireplace. I loved that little doll.

I expressed myself and my feelings through writing. I’m sure what I was thinking was, ‘Well, Tasseltop has to have a song about her.’ So I wrote: Little tiny Tasseltop

I love you an awful lot.

Corn-silk hair and big brown eyes, How you make me smile. Little tiny Tasseltop, You’re the only friend I’ve got. Hope you never go away. I want you to always stay. Mama wrote that down because Mama would encourage me. She said, ‘That’s really good.’ I must have been five or six when I wrote Little Tiny Tasseltop. We found it years later in a shoebox. Mama kept a lot of stuff I wrote that I don’t even remember.

Later on, when I started playing guitar and writing more serious songs at age seven, whenever somebody would come around Mama would say, ‘I want you to hear this song this little thing has made up. It’s really good.’ And that just made me want to get more attention. Because there were so many of us, any special attention was good. So I learned early on to get attention through my songwritin­g.

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