Tom. T Hall
Tom T. Hall's 50 Greatest Hits is now available from the Humphead Records website.
Tom. T Hall Biography
The Mark Twain of country music, Tom T. Hall is a songwriter from the old school. He almost single-handedly revitalised the storytelling style in country music during the oft-criticised Nashville Sound era when the rock'n'roll invasion had all but rendered fiddles and steel guitars passe in country music. A fine weaver of lyrics and melodies, his songs were each several novels, rather than different chapters or pages, in the same novel. Perhaps this comes from the fact that his songs were written for the love of it and not solely for the money. By his own admission, Tom T's career as a recording artist was spawned primarily as a vehicle for exposing his songs. However, his deadpan delivery of material ranging from humorous to controversial, from poignant to inventive, proved to be a formidable mixture.
Signed to Mercury Records in 1967, within a year he had scored the first of his two dozen top ten hits with the legendary Ballad Of Forty Dollars. With the exception of one stint with RCA, Hall has remained with the label ever since. His career has spawned thirty-five albums (including two children's recordings), fifty-two charted country singles, including several that crossed over to the pop chart, plus numerous hits of his songs recorded by other artists. To discover the personality of Tom T. Hall, one need only examine the songs he has written. He has often drawn from his personal experiences to spark that songwriting genius into such classic hits as Old Dogs, Children And Watermelon Wine, I Love, The Year That Clayton Delaney Died, I Like Beer and Margie's At The Lincoln Park Inn. He earned his nickname the Storyteller with catchy song-stories about the places he had been and the people he had met. He often tapped into the American social conscience.
In 1968, at the height of the turbulent women's movement, Jeannie C. Riley spent three weeks at the top of the country charts with Harper Valley PTA, a keen and highly commercial diatribe on small-town hypocrisy, which also topped the pop charts. Country's leading yarn spinner for more than thirty years, Tom T. gained something of a songwriting renaissance in the mid 1990s, with Alan Jackson taking Little Bitty to number one, then Billy Ray Cyrus includied Harper Valley PTA in his Trail Of Tears album, and Deryl Dodd's revival of the blind-love anthem, That's How I Got To Memphis, a 1996 country hit.
Hall was born 25th May 1936 in Olive Hill, Kentucky, the son of a fundamentalist preacher. Coming from a none-too-rich Southern family, he dropped out of high school to work in a local clothing factory, playing in local bluegrass bands at the weekends. After a four-year stint in the army, mainly stationed in Germany, he started his career more seriously as a budding songwriter and DJ in Roanake, Virginia. He moved to Nashville in 1964 and spent several years turning out songs which became hits for such stars as Jimmy C. Newman, Dave Dudley and Johnny Wright. His songwriting success led to a contract with Mercury in 1967, and following a trio of minor hits, in the late summer of 1968, Jeannie C. Riley had a major hit with Tom's Harper Valley PTA. Named the CMA's Single of the Year, its success brought attention to Hall's own recording career, and he broke through to the top ten with the wry Ballad Of Forty Dollars.
During the early 1970s he became something of a star performer, with his band the Storytellers, he toured incessantly, sending the audience and the media into raptures at his 1973 Carnegie Hall concert. He dominated the country charts with such self-penned songs as Homecoming, A Week In the Country Jail (his first number one in 1970), The Year That Clayton Delaney Died (a pop crossover), Ravishing Ruby, That Song Is Driving Me Crazy, I Love (another pop smash), and Faster Horses (The Cowboy And The Poet). His album collections were well above the Nashville-norm and included In Search Of A Song, Tom T...The Storyteller, The Rhymer & Other Five & Dimers, Songs Of Fox Hollow, which Hall described as 'an LP of songs for children,' and The Magnificent Music Machine, a bluegrass collection that spawned a popular single in Fox On the Run, a Tony Hazzard song which had been a 1969 pop hit for Manfred Mann.
In the late 1980s he more-or-less retired from recording. He built up a reputation as a novelist, The Laughing Man Of Woodmont Cove, Spring Hill and What A Book!, which is a satire on American society, all proved successful. He had sold his Hallnote Publishing company to Music Row executive Tom Collins in 1992, and thought that he had cut all his ties with the music business. Around the same time, Mercury reissued his 1972 Greatest Hits collection on CD for the first time. When originally released on vinyl, it had sold around 70,000 copies. Within four years, the CD version had sold another 500,000 to gain Tom T. Hall his first gold disc.
Interest in Hall and his music continued and in 1999, Real: The Tom T. Hall Project, a tribute set on Sire Records featuring Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley and several alt.country acts such as the Syd Straw & Skeletons, Whiskeytown, Iris DeMent and the Mary Janes, introduced his material to a generation of young alternative country and rock fans. In more recent years Tom T has continued songswriting gaining cuts from bluegrass acts rather than mainstream country. The songwriting has always been more important to him than singing or entertaining. Perhaps Tom's songwriting secret rests in his simplicity. His songs can be classified as simple, down-to-earth songs - songs people like because they can identify with them. He always considered his writing the foremost part of his career, never picturing himself as much of an entertainer. But anyone who saw him perform knows he was an engaging performer. In his act he not only sang, but played guitar, banjo, piano, saxophone and harmonica. He was also known to do a bit of the old softshoe and throw in a little humour. Tom T. Hall calls the business of songwriting 'a strange, wonderful, weird job.' It has sustained him for more than forty years and he remains one of the most prolific and successful of all country songwriters.
Alan Cackett (editor Maverick)