Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall
year of induction2008
place of birthOlive Hill, Kentucky
date of birthMay 25, 1936
Dubbed “The Storyteller” by Country Music Hall of Fame member Tex Ritter, Tom T. Hall wrote songs distinguished by their narrative quality, their rich detail, and their keen insight into the beauty of everyday life. Along with songwriters such as Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, and James Talley, Hall brought to country music a new level of lyric and thematic sophistication and social consciousness.
Born May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky, Hall showed interest in music at an early age. He wrote his first song, “Haven’t I Been Good to You,” at nine, and he benefited greatly from the tutelage of local musician Clayton Delaney. While still a teenager, Hall played bluegrass in his first band, the Kentucky Travelers, at local schools and on radio in Morehead, Kentucky. He wrote a jingle for a radio sponsor and became a DJ before joining the army in 1957. Stationed in Germany, he performed on the Armed Forces Radio Network, often singing original songs.
After military service, while working as a radio DJ in Virginia, Hall impressed Nashville publisher Jimmy Key with his songs, and Key placed Hall’s “D. J. for a Day” with Jimmy C. Newman, who had a Top Ten hit with it in 1963–64. This prompted Hall’s move to Nashville in 1964 to pursue songwriting as a career. His early work was recorded by Newman, Dave Dudley (“Mad,” a Top Ten hit in 1964), and Johnny Wright (“Hello Vietnam,” Hall’s first #1, in 1965).
Encouraged to record his own songs by producer and Mercury Records executive Jerry Kennedy, Hall signed with the label in 1967. That summer, Mercury released his first single, “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew.” Although his recording career started slowly, it hit full stride as the ’60s gave way to the ’70s. Hall’s #1 hits, all self-penned, included “A Week in a Country Jail” (1969–70), “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” (1971), “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine” (1972–73),” “I Love” (1973–74), “Country Is” (1974), “I Care” (1974–75), and “Faster Horses (the Cowboy and the Poet)” (1976). He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1971.
As his singing career got underway, Hall continued to provide hit songs for other artists, chief among them “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” for Jeannie C. Riley. Challenging small-town hypocrisy, the song went to #1 in 1968 on both the country and pop charts, earned Riley a CMA Award for Single of the Year, and inspired a movie and television series, significantly boosting Hall’s profile in the process. Hall’s compositions continued to do well for others, including Dave Dudley (“The Pool Shark,” #1 in 1970) and Bobby Bare (“(Margie’s at) the Lincoln Park Inn,” #4 in 1969 and “How I Got to Memphis,” #3 in 1970).
In his songwriting, Hall explored common-man themes with directness and candor. Country radio—and appreciative listeners—embraced his recordings of self-penned numbers such as “Me and Jesus,” “Ravishing Ruby,” “I Like Beer,” and “Your Man Loves You, Honey.” Hall delighted parents and kids alike with the 1974 collection Songs of Fox Hollow (for Children of All Ages), which included the lighthearted “Sneaky Snake.” His impressive songs earned Hall election to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978.
An accomplished prose writer, Hall won the 1972 Grammy for Best Album Notes, for his liner notes to Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits. The autobiographical The Storyteller’s Nashville appeared in 1979. His novels included The Laughing Man of Woodmont Cove (1982); The Acts of Life (1986), Spring Hill, Tennessee (1990), and What a Book! (1996). His love of literature inspired him to befriend fellow writers William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut. He shared songwriting tips and philosophy in How I Write Songs, Why You Can. (1976).
In the early 1980s, Hall hosted the syndicated TV series Pop! Goes the Country, and in 1984 he scored his last Top Ten hit, a cover of the Gordon Jenkins / Johnny Mercer tune “P.S. I Love You.” Following the release of the album Song in a Seashell in 1985, Hall took a ten-year sabbatical from recording. He returned in 1996 with Songs from Sopchoppy, which included the Hall original “Little Bitty.” Alan Jackson spotted the song, recorded it, and scored a #1 single with it in late 1996.
Hall met his wife and collaborator, Miss Dixie (Iris Lawrence), at a BMI awards banquet. She accompanied Mother Maybelle Carter to the dinner and was on hand to accept an award for co-writing Dave Dudley’s 1965 hit “Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun.” The Halls’ marriage would become a creative partnership, as well. For the past decade, the couple has dedicated themselves to bluegrass music, as supporters of fledgling musicians and veterans alike, and as creators themselves. With music publishing companies and a state-of-the-art studio on their Fox Hollow farm outside Nashville, they are strategically positioned to advance the careers of bluegrass artists. In 2004, the International Bluegrass Music Association presented the couple with a Distinguished Achievement Award. Recently, Hall recorded a CD’s worth of their songs for an album, Tom T. Hall Sings Miss Dixie and Tom T. In 2005, Hall gave a series of performances at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as the Museum’s annual Artist-in-Residence.
In recognition of his many achievements and his large body of outstanding work, Tom T. Hall received the richly deserved honor of election to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.