Farewell to “The Storyteller”

Tom T. Hall

Tom T. Hall, known as “The Storyteller” for his narrative lyrics whose simplicity belied great depth of insight (and, at times, incisiveness), has died at the age of 85.

Hall rose to fame in the early 1970s as one of a group of fellow country singer-songwriters, including Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford and Mickey Newbury, whose lyrics combined literary profundity with homespun, front porch philosophy. Tom T’s “The Year Clayton Delaney Died,” “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine” exemplify this strain. But he also did not shy away from political commentary or social criticism, as in songs such as “Watergate Blues,” “The Monkey That Became President,” and his biggest and most well-known hit, “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” made famous by singer Jeannie C. Riley.

“In all my writing, I’ve never made judgments,” he said in 1986. “I think that’s my secret. I’m a witness. I just watch everything and don’t decide if it’s good or bad.”

Born in Olive Hill, Kentucky, in a log cabin built by his grandfather, Hall started playing guitar and writing songs before the age of 10. After a stint in the US Army, he took an assignment as a songwriter in Nashville, initially earning $50 a week. He struck gold just 4 years later, with the aforementioned No. 1 country/pop crossover “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” and his career and reputation just kept growing after that. His subsequent successes included “Ballad of Forty Dollars” (also recorded by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings), “A Week in a Country Jail,” (his first No. 1 hit as a singer) and “Homecoming,” “I Love,” “Country Is,” “I Care,” “I Like Beer,” and “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and The Poet).”

Tom T. Hall was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1980, he replaced Ralph Emery has host of the weekly half-hour syndicated country music variety television show Pop! Goes the Country.

His popularity by the early 80s was such that, in 1982, Tennessee Democrats tried to persuade him to run for governor, but he declined.

He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2012, he was honored as the BMI Icon of the year.

His death was announced on Friday, August 20, 2021 by his son, Dean Hall, who confirmed that his father had passed away at his home in Franklin, Tennessee.


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