Saturday, August 21, 2021

R.I.P.: Tom T Hall, Nashville Storyteller

Tom T Hall - 1987 (Ricky Rogers photo)

Tom T. Hall, a Country Music Hall of Fame artist who wrote unassuming songs with distinct depth, died Friday at age 85. 

The Tennessean reports Hall died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. 

A consummate country songwriter who captured life's intimate details with lighthearted songs such as "I Like Beer," penned the classic "That's How I Got To Memphis" and showcased era-defining sharpness with "Harper Valley PTA," Hall entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008, alongside Emmylou Harris, The Statler Brothers and Ernest Stoneman. 

He joined Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver in bringing a class of storytelling to country music unlike those before them. Hall timelessly and empathetically chronicled human spirit — from barstool stories to cemetery caretakers — with tales that would influence generations of wordsmiths to follow. 

His songbook of country hits includes "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine," "A Week in a Country Jail," "I Love" ... and the list goes on. 

“Tom T. Hall's masterworks vary in plot, tone, and tempo, but they are bound by his ceaseless and unyielding empathy for the triumphs and losses of others," Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said in a statement Friday. "He wrote without [judgement] or anger, offering a rhyming journalism of the heart that sets his compositions apart from any other writer.."

Born May 25, 1936, in small-town Olive Hill, Kentucky, Hall wrote his first song — called "Haven't I Been Good To You," according to the Country Music Hall of Fame — at age nine. 

Hall, the son of a preacher, quit school after his mother died and a hunting accident left his father disabled. He cut his teeth playing bluegrass, often taking the stage after shifts at a local garment factory. He took a job at a Kentucky radio station before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1957, serving in Germany — where he sometimes performed original numbers on the Armed Forces Radio Network. 

In 1968, Jeannie C. Riley released "Harper Valley "P.T.A.," a song written by Hall that transports listeners to a world where a single mother challenges judgements from small-town hypocrites. It came at a pivotal time for songs by women in Nashville, following Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe" and arriving the same year as Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" and Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."

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