Bestowed with the singular honorific as “The Storyteller” of country music, Tom T. Hall’s songwriting captured the intimate details of life with so much depth and sensitivity. Not to mention bringing a new level of pungent wit to his songs that made it even more impactful. His songs may not have earned him a long line of commercial success or awards, but they definitely distinguished him well above the rest.
As a commemoration to his great contributions in the industry, here is everything you need to know about Tom T. Hall and his music career.
Early Life: Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall was born on May 25, 1936 in Olive Hill, Kentucky, to a bricklaying father who gave him his first guitar at the age of eight. He had already started writing poetry at that time, and progressing to writing lyrics was just natural for him. After that, he started learning music and techniques with the help of a local musician named Clayton Delaney.
After his mother died and his father was shot in a hunting accident, he quit school and worked at a local garment factory. There he founded his first band, The Kentucky Travelers, and they did gigs at local schools and a radio station in Morehead, Kentucky playing bluegrass. When the band broke up, Hall became a DJ at the radio station.
The Start of His Music Career: From Disc Jockey to Songwriter
Hall enlisted in the Army back in 1957 and was stationed in Germany. In his four-year stint there, he sang and performed original songs at local NCO clubs on the Armed Forces Radio Network. After that, he attended Roanoke College and studied journalism while DJ-ing at a radio station in Salem, Virginia. With a strike of luck and perfect timing, a visiting Nashville songwriter heard Hall’s songs at the station, and he was so impressed that he sent the songs to Jimmy Key of New Key Publishing.
Hall got signed as a songwriter, and his songs earned smashing breakthrough success, earning recording artists chart-topping hits. One of the first ones who had a hit with one of his songs was Jimmy Newman with “DJ for a Day” in 1963 and Dave Dudley with “Mad” a year later. This convinced Hall to pursue professional songwriting and move to Nashville.
Career Highlights: “The Storyteller”
Tom started his country music career as a songwriter, but after Johnnie Wright got a number one hit with “Hello Vietnam,” a song penned by Hall, people started telling him to become a performer himself. It was 1967 when he decided to finally take the plunge and sign with Mercury Records. He released his debut single “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” that summer. It became a minor hit, and then he followed up with two other singles in 1968. Unfortunately, the songs didn’t crack the Top 40.
And it wasn’t until the late summer of 1968 that his recording career would finally take off.
At the time, Jeanne C. Riley recorded his song “Harper Valley PTA,” hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles charts. The song spent three weeks on the charts, sold over six million copies, and was named as Single of the Year by the Country Music Association. It also inspired a motion picture as well as a television program of the same name. The groundbreaking success of the song brought attention to Hall’s own career and launched his song “Ballad of Forty Dollars” up on the Top Ten chart hits.
For two decades, Hall enjoyed back-to-back success with some of his biggest hits like “A Week in Country Jail,” “I Love,” “The Year Clayton Delaney Died,” and “I Like Beer.” He retired from songwriting in 1986 and from performing eight years later.
Awards and Recognitions
During the course of his career, he earned several nods from the CMA, including five nominations – entertainer, male vocalist and album, single, and song of the year – in 1973 alone. Although he never took home any awards. He also had six Grammy nominations and won one for his 1972 album ‘Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits’.
A member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1971, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2019, he became a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall undeniably built himself a career that would remain impactful even in the next generations. But even with his fame, there are things that you probably didn’t know about the man. Don’t worry; we got you covered.
- As a songwriter, his songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert, and many more.
- He was married to fellow Bluegrass singer Dixie Hall who died in 2015. The two met at the 1965 music industry award dinner. But before Dixie, Tom T. Hall was married to Opal “Hootie” McKinley, with whom he had a son named Dean.
- Hall also authored a few books, including the 1976 How I Write Songs, Why You Can, which featured tips for aspiring songwriters.
- He succeeded Ralph Emery as host of the syndicated ‘Pop Goes the Country’ for 3 years.
- Hall was also a commercial spokesperson for Chevrolet during the ‘70s.
- Hall loved to gift his friends with homemade moonshine from his own still.
- His 1975 hit “I Like Beer” was used by Michelob Ultra in a 2018 commercial while Coors Light licensed “I Love” for their ad campaign.
- He won Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year 12 times from 2002 until 2015.
- In 2018, he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame along with his wife, Dixie.
- Tom T. Hall’s nickname “The Storyteller” was gifted to him by Tex Ritter, another country great.
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