A poet, musician, instrumentalist, and novelist all rolled into one is Tom T. Hall. He was known to fans as “The Storyteller” and he became prominent for it through the songs that he wrote. A number of artists have covered his penned tunes over the years. The most notable of them was Jeannie C. Riley who recorded his 1968 hit, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Today, the multitalented Hall turns 82 and to celebrate with him, here’s a brief tale of his life and intriguing journey to success.
His Humble Beginnings
Hall began writing poetry at a young age. As such, it was also natural for him to start writing songs. His father, who is a bricklaying minister, gave him his first guitar when he was eight. Accordingly, the young Hall began learning music and honing his musical skills through the help of Clayton Delany, a local musician. When he was 11, his mother passed away and four years later, his father met an accident. His father was then incapacitated and wasn’t able to work. Consequently, he quit school and worked in a local garment factory to provide for himself and his dad.
While working in the factory, Hall has kept his passion for music burning. It’s interesting to know that at a young age, he was able to form his first band. The Kentucky Travelers, as they called themselves, then began performing at local schools and radio station in Morehead, Kentucky. Their music concentrated on bluegrass. Shortly after the group broke up, Hall became a DJ at the radio station where his band used to perform. He also wrote a jingle for the Polar Bear Flour Company which sponsored the radio station.
He joined the army in 1957 and was stationed in Germany. Again, Hall’s fondness in music wasn’t put aside while undergoing military training. He had regular performances at local NCO clubs on the Armed Forces Radio Network. After completing his military service, he went back to the States and studied journalism at Roanoke College. Once again, he served as a DJ at a radio station in Salem, Virginia in order to support his studies. Until one day, a Nashville songwriter heard his songs and was impressed with them. With that, his journey to stardom as a musician has begun.
Rise to Fame
Hall signed with New Key Publishing as a songwriter and brought his original compositions to various recording artists. In 1963, Jimmy Newman took his song “DJ for a Day” on top of the country chart. That was his first major hit. The following year, Dave Dudley brought to the chart’s Top 10 another song that Hall wrote called “Mad.” This continued success inspired Hall to move to Nashville and pursue his dream of becoming a professional songwriter.
After producing another No. 1 hit, “Hello Vietnam,” performed by Johnnie Wright, he received a greater demand in his career. That is, they want him to perform too. He heeded the industry’s call and worked his way up to establish himself as a successful recording artist. The “Ballad of Forty Dollars” became his first Top 10 single which peaked at No. 4. His biggest break came in 1969 after scoring his first No. 1 song “A Week in a Country Jail.” This was followed by “The Year that Clayton Delaney Died” which was a tribute to the man who first taught him musical techniques. Hall had five more No. 1 songs in the 1970s. These included the “(Old Dogs-Children And) Watermelon Wine,” “I Love,” “Country Is,” “I Care,” and “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet).” Hall was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Besides his accomplishments in the music industry, he’s also an accomplished writer. He wrote and published two books in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. These were the semi-autobiography The Storyteller’s Nashville (1979) and the novel The Laughing Man of Woodmont (1982).
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