Born May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, KY; one of eight children born to a bricklayer and part-time minister and his wife; married Iris "Dixie" Dean, 1964. Education: Attended Roanoke College after serving in the Army. Addresses: Record company--RCA Records, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036,; 6363 Sunset Boulevard, #429, Los Angeles, CA 90028, Phone: (212) 930-4000; (213) 468-4000.
A master storyteller cut from the same cloth as Mark Twain and Edgar Lee Masters, Tom T. Hall's keen powers of observation and insight have helped him create some of country music's most poignant lyrics and vivid musical images. Country Music magazine's Bob Allan wrote, "In my estimation Tom T. Hall is one of the greatest country songwriters that ever lived. Maybe Hank Williams or Harlan Howard have written more hits, but in his heyday Hall took country music someplace it had never been before and has seldom been since." The characters he sings about are likable, and empathetic listeners find themselves humming along to homespun tunes such as "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine," "Mama Bake a Pie," and "The Year that Clayton Delaney Died." Hall was nicknamed "The Storyteller" because of his narrative approach to music. Patrick Carr of Country Music wrote, "Hall has broadened and deepened the country river significantly, and is one of the major architects of the music's modern form." Whether writing songs for other artists, such as his famous "Harper Valley P.T.A.," or singing his own compositions, Hall has been a distinctive, successful part of country music scene since the 1960s, attracting fans such as author Kurt Vonnegut and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Hall was born on May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky, one of eight children born to a bricklayer and part-time minister and his wife. His childhood home was made of pale gray boards and featured a porch with a view of a dusty road. Hall learned to play a schoolmate's guitar at the age of ten. His mother died of cancer when he was 13, and two years later, his father was shot though not fatally in an accident. As a result, Hall had to drop out of high school to help support his siblings by working in a factory. Hall's neighbor had a small traveling cinema show, and Hall began to accompany him when a teen, playing bluegrass with other musicians. He and his bandmates in The Kentucky Travelers were also featured on the local radio station WMOR, where Hall also worked as a disc jockey.
Hall did not consider a career in music because he aspired to be a writer or a journalist. He joined the U.S. Army in 1957, and earned a high school diploma while enlisted. After the Army, Hall enrolled at Roanoke College in Virginia to pursue writing. He admired Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, but discovered that he was actually better at writing country songs than stories or articles. While working as a disc jockey in Roanoke, he sent some of his compositions to Nashville, Tennessee, where music publishers liked his work. One company in particular, New Keys, urged Hall to relocate to Nashville. He did, and his first song recorded, "D.J. for a Day," was sung by Jimmy C. Newman. Hall married Iris "Dixie" Dean in 1964, an emigre from Weston-super-Mare, England, who worked as editor of Music City News in Nashville.
"D.J. for a Day" did well for Newman, but Hall's smash hit came in 1968 with "Harper Valley P.T.A.," which was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley. The song sold more than six million copies and inspired a television movie and a series. Like many of Hall's narratives, "Harper Valley P.T.A." was inspired by a real event: a woman in Hall's hometown who threw wild parties, which irked the town's more upstanding citizens. Her child was singled out for extra discipline at school, so the woman finally went to a P.T.A. meeting and pointed out the hypocrisy of these so-called upstanding citizens. By the time "Harper Valley P.T.A." was released, Hall had begun recording his own works on the Mercury label.
Hall resisted a recording contract for years, hoping to first gain a reputation in Nashville as a songwriter. Hall gave in, however, during the late 1960s, and the result was astounding: throughout the next two decades his musical output rivaled the most prolific country singers of that time. His earliest hits included "The Ballad of Forty Dollars" in 1968 which depicted the memorial service of a man who died without paying back the money he owed the song's narrator and "A Week in a Country Jail" in 1969, which described the unusual conditions of the title's locale. One of Hall's most famous early releases was "The Year that Clayton Delaney Died." As with "Harper Valley P.T.A.," the song was gleaned from a true story; the song is a tribute to a drunken guitar player who fell on hard times and taught Hall how to play the guitar when he was a boy. Hall told Carr, "It started out with just me sitting down with a guitar and thinking, 'Well, I want to thank Clayton.' " Another of Hall's acclaimed songs, the philosophic "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine," was drawn from a conversation he enjoyed with an elderly black man in a Miami bar. Hall's own favorite song was "I Love" in 1974, which lists all the things in life that he holds most dear.
Some of Hall's hit songs strayed from his trademark narrative style and became "sing-along" favorites. The gospel-tinged "Me and Jesus" advocates an individualistic approach to religion and is noted for being a toe-tapping, "feel good" song. The straightforward "I Like Beer" turned out to be more popular in Germany than in the United States, and at least 60 singers in Germany have recorded versions of Hall's song. He also garnered a loyal following in Poland. Hall switched from Mercury Records to RCA in the 1980s and fell into what could best described as a slump. He explained to Carr in 1989, "There are so many writers and publishers; everybody's writing songs. Where there were maybe a dozen guys who were really putting the hot tunes together when I started in Nashville, now there must be hundreds." Hall attributed his musical dry spell to changing tastes among country music fans. In response, Hall focused more intently on his prose, authoring the autobiographical The Storyteller's Nashville and the novel The Laughing Man of Woodmont Cove. He also continued to compose songs and told Carr, "I've got the songs, and one day next week someone will pick up that one tune that's just right for that one singer, and it'll be Number One."
Hall reemerged on the musical scene in 1996 with the release of Songs from Sopchoppy, an album recorded at his winter home on a Gulf Coast island. His timing seemed impeccable, as his reputation was enjoying a renaissance due to the fact that Alan Jackson had just released a hit with Hall's "Little Bitty," a song that appeared on Songs from Sopchoppy, and Deryl Dodd had recently taken Hall's classic "That's How I Got So Memphis" back up on the charts. Buddy Miller, too, offered an impressive version of the song on Poison Love. In 1995 Mercury released a 50-song retrospective called Tom T: Hall: Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher. Iris DeMent and other notable musicians agreed to work on an album-length tribute to Hall in 1998. In 1998 Hall released Home Grown, an all-acoustic album that recaptured much of the eloquence and brilliance of his earlier releases. Hall cowrote the bluegrass/gospel number "The Beautiful River of life" with his wife, Dixie. Hall like many of the greatest storytellers, songwriters, and musicians of our time illuminates the higher meaning in the small, familiar things that comprise our lives.
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Tom T. Hall's Career
Began playing the guitar at the age of ten; performed in a local band and worked as a disc jockey while in high school; joined the U.S. Army in 1957; worked as a songwriter and performer from the early 1960s throughout the 1990s to the present; author of The Storyteller's Nashville and The Laughing Man of Woodmont Cove.
Tom T. Hall's Awards
Grammy Award for Tom T. Hall's Greatest Hits; inducted into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
- Selected discography
- Singles; with Mercury
- "The Ballad of Forty Dollars, 1968.
- "A Week in a Country Jail," 1969.
- (with Dave Dudley) "Day Drinkin,' "1970.
- "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died," 1971.
- "Me and Jesus," 1972.
- "The Monkey That Became President," 1972.
- "Ravishing Ruby," 1973.
- "I Love," 1974.
- "This Song is Driving Me Crazy," 1974.
- "Country Is," 1974.
- "I Care/Sneaky Snake," 1975.
- "Deal," 1975.
- "I Like Beer," 1975.
- "Faster Horses (the cowboy and the Poet), 1976.
- "Negatory Romance," 1976.
- "It's All in the Game," 1977.
- with RCA
- "What Have You Got to Lose," 1978.
- "There is a Miracle in You,"1979.
- "You Show Me Your Heart (and I'll Show You Mine)," 1979.
- "Son of Clayton Delaney," 1979.
- "The Old Side of Town/"Jesus on the Radio (Daddy on the Phone)," 1980.
- "Soldier of Fortune," 1980.
- "Back When Gas Was Thirty Cents A Gallon," 1980.
- "I'm Not Ready Yet," 1980.
- Ballad of Forty Dollars , Mercury, 1968.
- Ballad of Forty Dollars/Homecoming , Mercury, 1969.
- Great Country Hits, Vol. 1 & 11 , Mercury, 1972,
- Great Country Hits, Vol. 111 , Mercury, 1975.
- I Witness Life/100 Children , Mercury, 1975.
- Soldier of Fortune , RCA, 1980.
- The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs , RCA, 1988.
- Country Songs for Children , RCA, 1995.
- Loves Lost & Found , RCA, 1995.
- Tom T. Hall: Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher , RCA, 1995.
- Songs From Sopchoppy , RCA, 1995.
- Home Grown , RCA, 1998.
July 6, 2004: Hall's album, The Magnificent Music Machine, was re-released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp, August 5, 2004.
- Contemporary Musicians, Volume 4, Gale Research, 1991.
- Country Music, January/February 1998; January/February 1989; March/April 1987.
- The Authorized Tom T. Hall Page, http://www.cnct.com/~tomthall (September 24, 1999).
- "Tom T. Hall," Yahoo Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com/shop (September 24, 1999).