(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
I met Martha Hume in the early ’70s when she and her husband Chet Flippo came to Nashville to hang with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band while they recorded their landmark album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Chet was freelancing for magazines, and Martha was a budding writer.
Martha met the affable Chet when they were college students in Texas. A dark-eyed beauty from the coal mining region of Kentucky, the bright Martha’s parents owned the newspaper. She was the youngest of three and her daddy’s favorite.
Martha was very close to her brother. Sometimes she’d still get teary when she’d bring her brother up in conversation. But that was Martha’s heart as a small-town country girl who never got above her raising and never forgot those she loved. Even when she and Chet found employment as journalists in New York City, she still remembered her roots and her friends.
Chet became the someone all of us knew. He worked for Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone magazine. Martha became the managing editor for Country Music magazine. Anytime either of them came to Music Town, I saw them. I went to dinner with them, went to the Opry with them. Martha’s been one of my closest friends for all these years.
The very first column I ever wrote, I typed it on a non-electric Underwood typewriter that must have crossed the Atlantic with Columbus in 1492. Martha read the piece, titled it “Hillbilly Central” and sent me a check for $100. She ruined me! I thought I was a journalist. I wrote for that magazine until it bit the dust four or five years ago. Lord knows, I’m still writing.
Martha and Chet called a postage stamp-sized apartment their home in New York City. As small as it was, they had a tiny balcony off the kitchen with flower pots where Martha planted strawberries. Yes, strawberries grew there. Like the fruit in Guy Clark ’s “Home Grown Tomatoes” song, they would not dare fail in the garden. Martha’s strawberries flourished on the balcony for the country girl.
When I’d bum a way to New York City, she’d take me up what seemed like a hundred stories in the tall buildings, and we’d have dinner. We took in Broadway shows and enjoyed hearing Waylon Jennings or Kinky Friedman at Max’s Kansas City, one of the hot music clubs of the day. I remember Kinky playing there when inebriated actor Michael J. Pollard kept yelling to Billy Swan , who was onstage with Kinky, for a frozen Margarita — a double. I remember Townes Van Zandt was there, and so was Johnny Winter , who sang with Kinky. Townes puked on himself and on me. I cleaned both of us up the best I could.
It was always good times when Martha and Chet came to visit Nashville. We went to dinner at the Captain’s Table in Printer’s Alley with Waylon and his wife Jessi Colter , Tompall Glaser and June Johnson. But I cannot recall who else was along, except for Chet and Martha. It must have been 1973 when all those guys were making Outlaw music.
Another good time was when Martha came to town and wanted to write a story about Music Row. We found Waylon and Tompall playing pinball at the Burger Boy, a place at the corner of 19th Avenue and Broadway where Captain Midnite celebrated his birthday the year before.
When we walked in the door, I felt an unfamiliar coolness.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Aw, Tompall moved the pinball machine from the back of this room into the next room and up the steps. He’s gonna pay for it,” allowed the owner-manager.
Martha and I traipsed on to the back, through the small room and up the steps to the left. Waylon was into pinball, and so was Tompall, except he was having problems getting his machine level. You can quote me on this: Swearing does not level a pinball machine.
We watched for a while, then we met Jessi, June, Marijohn Wilkin and Sharon Howard and found an empty table in the all-night eatery at the Holiday Inn. It was my birthday, so some dude sent over a plate-sized pancake with whipped cream that read “happy birthday.” We had no idea who he was, but we thanked him.
Time passed. Martha moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where she stayed for several years. Eventually, Chet moved down, as well. Chet moved to Nashville before Martha did. At first, he worked for Billboard, then he was hired by our illustrious leader — my dear friend, CMT president Brian Philips — as CMT’s editorial director. Martha moved to Nashville, too, and we finally had some time to spend together. She went with me to Los Angeles to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. We had loads of fun, and Chet tells me Martha always loved to tell stories about our trip out there.
When I had cancer, Martha sat by my bedside for many hours at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Afterward, I wanted to go back to Los Angeles and the Ellen show, but it’s been, like, six years, and I haven’t flown again. Martha understood, but she said if I decided to go, she’d go with me.
We had holidays together — Christmas and Thanksgiving at my house in the same kitchen where we shoot CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. I’d think of her often, but we didn’t talk as much as we’d like. She had health issues, and so have I, but hers got the best of her.
Smart little Martha tried to live, but she just couldn’t. She’d recently spent a week at the hospital but had come home. It seemed as though she felt better, but around 3 a.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 18), Chet awoke and went to look in on Martha. She wasn’t breathing. He tried, but he could not get her to respond. As much as he loved her and cared for her, Chet could do no more. Like an angel, her spirit had flown away.
Chet says he feels peace in their home. As he did during her life, Chet will continue to follow Martha’s wishes. I will miss her, but Chet will miss her more.