2008 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee: Tom T. Hall

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tom T. Hall was born May 25, 1936 in Olive Hill, KY. He learned to play
guitar at age 4. His father, Rev. Virgil L. Hall, who was a brick plant
worker and an ordained Baptist minister, gave him his own guitar when he
was eight. This encouraged the youngster to grow from writing poetry to
writing music, and at age 9 he wrote his first song, "Haven't I Been Good
to You." A local musician named Clayton Delaney taught Hall the musical
technique that would serve him well in his career.

Hall's mother, Della, died when he was 11. Four years later, his father
was shot in a hunting accident, which prevented him from working. Hall quit
school and took a job in a local garment factory to support himself and his
father. He also formed his first band, the Kentucky Travelers, and played
Bluegrass at local schools as well as a radio station in Morehead, KY. Hall
wrote a jingle for one of the radio stations sponsors, the Polar Bear Flour
Company, and later became a D.J. at the station when the band broke up to
serve their country. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1957 and was stationed
in Germany where he finished high school and performed on the Armed Forces
Radio Network, singing mostly his own original songs.

Following three years in the Army he returned to the U.S. where he
studied journalism at Roanoke College and worked as a D.J. at a radio
station in Salem, VA. A Nashville songwriter visiting the radio station,
impressed after hearing Hall's songs, convinced publisher Jimmy Key of New
Keys Publishing to sign him. Jimmy C. Newman reached No. 1 with Hall's
"D.J. For A Day" in 1963, while Dave Dudley charted No. 10 with the Hall
penned "Mad" in 1964. These successes convinced Hall to move to Nashville
and pursue a career as a professional songwriter. Drawn by their strong
narratives and detailed observations, additional artists started to record
his songs, including Johnnie Wright who reached No. 1 with "Hello Vietnam"
in 1965.

At a BMI banquet in Nashville that same year, Hall met United Kingdom
native Iris Lawrence, better known as Miss Dixie, who was attending the
event because she'd written the Dudley hit "Truck Drivin' Son-Of-A-Gun."
Miss Dixie had moved to Nashville to work for Starday Records after
successfully obtaining a record release for Tex Ritter in Great Britain.
She was living with Mother Maybelle Carter, and was a member of the family.
It wasn't long before Hall also was pulled into the loving circle. The new
friends, who shared a love of songwriting and bluegrass, soon started
dating and eventually married.

Hall signed with Mercury Records in 1967 and that summer released his
first single "I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew." While this became a
minor hit, his following two singles did not crack the Top 40. But in the
summer of 1968, Jeannie C. Riley had a major hit with the Hall-penned
"Harper Valley P.T. A." The song hit No. 1 on both the Country and pop
charts, which inspired both a motion picture and television series.

The success of "Harper Valley P.T.A." put a spotlight on Hall, and his
single "Ballad of Forty Dollars" rose to No. 4. After several additional
hit singles, Hall charted at No. 1 in 1969 with "A Week in a Country Jail."
A year later, he had two Top 10 hits with "Shoeshine Man" and "Salute to a
Switchblade" before reaching No.1 again in 1971 with his biggest hit, a
tribute to his musical mentor, "The Year that Clayton Delaney Died."

The '70s were successful for Hall on radio and as a touring act. He
earned the nickname "The Storyteller," bestowed on him by Tex Ritter,
because his songs contained strong and detailed narratives that revealed
his observations on life. He had five additional No. 1 hits between 1971
and 1976: "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine," "I Love," "Country
Is," "I Care," and "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)." He also had
hits with "Me and Jesus," "Ravishing Ruby," "That Song is Driving Me
Crazy," "I Like Beer" and more. Blessed with a multi-generational
following, Hall released the children's album Songs of Fox Hollow (For
Children of All Ages) in 1974, which contained his much-loved song, "Sneaky
Snake." He also produced a PBS television special on the history of
bluegrass music.

Hall continued to enjoy success in the latter half of the '70s,
including the No. 4 hit "Your Man Loves You, Honey" in 1977. He appeared in
the 1979 television movie "Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol" and hosted
the hit syndicated television series "Pop! Goes the Country" in 1980. By
the early '80s, Hall's success at radio had begun to slow down. His final
Top 10 hit was in 1984 with a cover of the Rudy Vallee hit "P.S. I Love
You." In 1982, Columbia Records put out the classic Storyteller and the
Banjoman by Hall and Earl Scruggs. Then, after releasing the album Song in
a Seashell in 1985, he took a 10-year break from recording.

He wasn't recording, but Hall still had stories to tell. He had already
published his autobiography; The Storyteller's Nashville, in 1979 and went
on to write several novels, among them: The Laughing Man of Woodmont Cove
(1982), The Acts of Life (1986), Spring Hill, Tennessee: A Novel (1990) and
What A Book!: A Novel (1996). He also wrote the children's book Christmas
and the Old House in 1989, illustrated by Laura L. Seeley.

During this time he also helped with his wife's humane shelter work in
Tennessee and Florida, where they had a second home on St. George Island.
He began to write songs again and played music for pleasure with a
community of "swamp billies" who made him a lifetime member of the
Sopchoppy Possum Club Recording Studio.

Mercury Records put out the 2-disc Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher box
set in 1995, reigniting interest in Hall and his career. That same year
they also released Country Songs for Children, featuring all the songs from
Songs of Fox Hollow (For Children of All Ages) plus seven new songs
recorded by Hall. These projects convinced Hall to record his first,
all-new album in 11 years, Songs from Sopchoppy, released in 1996. That
album, inspired by his "swamp billy" friends and their location, contained
his song "Little Bitty," which Alan Jackson covered and took to the top of
the charts that same year. Hall followed up with two albums in 1997: The
Hits and Homegrown, which contained "Bill Monroe for Breakfast," the No. 1
and most played bluegrass song of the year. That year he also appeared in
the TV movie "Miracle on Highway 31," which contained "There's A Miracle
Everywhere You Go."

For the past decade, Hall and Miss Dixie have immersed themselves in a
shared love of bluegrass music. They have extended a helping hand to
fledging musicians and veterans alike, with many established artists taking
a new Hall song up and over the bluegrass charts. On the rising tide of new
music, the Halls created two new publishing companies, Good Home Grown
Music (BMI) and More Good Home Grown Music (ASCAP). The couple also
transformed a building at their Fox Hollow farm outside Nashville into a
state-of-the-art acoustic recording studio. The Halls have jointly received
the Songwriter of the Year Award from the Society for the Preservation of
Bluegrass Music Association's (SPBGMA) for seven years in a row (including
the Master's Gold). They have also received numerous awards from the
International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), including the Lifetime
Achievement Award.

Recently, Hall released a collection of songs he co-wrote with his
wife, Tom T. Hall Sings Miss Dixie and Tom T., on their independent,
multiple-award- winning bluegrass label, Blue Circle Records. The project
has received more than 70 five-star rated reviews.

Throughout his career, Hall was nominated for seven CMA Awards,
including Entertainer of the Year in 1973; received an RIAA Gold
certification for his album, Greatest Hits Volume II for sales of 500,000
units; and received the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes in 1972 for Tom
T. Hall's Greatest Hits. He also had 33 Top 20 singles on the Billboard
Country Singles chart between 1967 and 1985. He is a member of the Grand
Ole Opry, Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Music Hall
of Fame. He has an honorary degree at South Plains College in Levelland,
Texas and has a Doctor of Musical Arts from Morehead State University in
Morehead, Ky.