“Few could tell a story like Tom T. Hall,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, in a statement following his death to the next generation. I will always remember growing up with Tom T’s music with my father, who was a huge bluegrass and country fan. “
Hall was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1971, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978, the Kentucky Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. He received the Academy of Country Music Poetry Award in 2010.
“Tom T. Hall’s masterpieces vary in plot, tone, and tempo, but they are tied to his relentless and unrelenting empathy for the triumphs and losses of others,” wrote Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, upon news of Hall’s death . I bet we won’t see something like him again, but if we do, I’ll be first in line for tickets for the show. “
Hall, who often gifted friends with homemade moonshine from his own still, was born on May 25, 1936 in Olive Hill, Ky. As a teenager, Hall had joined his first bluegrass band, the Kentucky Travelers. He also worked as a DJ before joining the army in 1957.
When he returned to Virginia after completing his military service, he impressed Nashville publisher Jimmy Key, and Key placed Hall’s “DJ for a Day” with Jimmy C. Newman, making it a top 10 hot country hit in 1963-64 .
Hall moved from Virginia to Nashville on New Years Day, 1964, with a publishing contract in hand. His first # 1 songwriting was in 1965 as “Hello Vietnam,” recorded by Johnny Wright, who led hot country songs. Edits by dozens of artists followed, including Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and, most recently, Alan Jackson’s Hot Country Songs No. 1 “Little Bitty” in 1996.
Though it’s a rarity now, Hall tended to write alone rather than hiring other songwriters. “I once said, very arrogantly, that writing a song is like writing a letter to your mother: you don’t need three or four guys to help you,” Hall said poster in 2019. “I know that sounds arrogant, but I was just never good at it.”
Mercury Records Nashville signed Hall to his own recording deal, though Hall doubted being an artist was his forte. He was wrong. Fans and radio were drawn to his conversation.
“One day I was listening to the radio and someone said, ‘That sounds like a song by Tom T. Hall,'” he said poster. “I said, ‘I have to do something differently from everyone else because now there is such a thing as a Tom T. Hall song and I’m going to get into it.’ We look for a little difference in the world to distinguish one person from another. “
As an artist, Hall collected 50 songs poster‘s Hot Country Songs charts, including seven number 1 hits: “A Week in Country Jail”, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”, “(Old Dogs-Children And) Watermelon Wine”, “I Love”, “Country Is”, “I Care” and “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet).”
Hall’s most successful hit on the Billboard Hot 100 of all genres as an artist was “I Love”, which reached number 12 in March 1974.
Hall landed seven top 10 albums on poster‘s Top Country Albums chart, including reaching # 1 on those charts with The rhyme and other five and dimers in June 1973.
In the course of his career he received seven nominations for the CMA Award, five of them in 1973 alone, although he never took home an award. He was nominated for entertainer, singer and album, single and song of the year that year.
He received six Grammy Nicks, including Song of the Year (1968) for writing “Harper Valley, PTA,” but he won his only Grammy in an unusual category: Best Album Notes for Writing the Liner Notes for his 1972- album Tom T. Hall’s greatest hits.
Long after he retired as a songwriter, some of Hall’s songs found favor with beer brands, much to his and his delight. Michelob Ultra used his 1975 hit “I Like Beer” in a 2018 commercial, while Coors Light was unlikely to license the sentimental “I Love” for an advertising campaign.
“It added half a million dollars to my bank account,” Hall said of the Coors campaign. “I’ve been listening to the commercials all along, but I had no idea what they were singing about. That’s why they paid so much money for it: They wanted to have the opportunity to rewrite it. “
In addition to his talent as a songwriter, he gave solace simply through his presence as a towering figure in Nashville. “When we were singing Carter’s funeral at Mama Maybelle in 1978, a sad Johnny Cash took the podium and asked Tom T. Hall to stand with him,” wrote the Oak Ridge Boys Twitter. “Johnny said ‘I’m drawing strength from you, Tom!’ Thank you Tom T. Hall for the song and the strength you have given so many. “
Hall’s beloved wife, Dixie, who has been loved for 50 years – herself a songwriter whom he met at the BMI Country Awards in 1964 – died in 2015. He leaves behind his son Dean.
– Assistance in preparing this story from Jessica Nicholson and Paul Grein