Tom T. Hall: Still A Hero To Me
Tom T. Hall and Me
Tom T. Hall was magical to teenage boys like me back when I was in high school. His songs rode into our hearts on simple melodies, easy-to-play guitar chords, and lyrics that touched all our emotions, from laughter to tears. To me and the boys I hung out with, he was a hero.
When I was young, I somehow gained a reputation for knowing about music. The reputation was ill-deserved, I should point out, but I did nothing to impede the rumours. I lapped up the popularity and relished the busy jam sessions that spontaneously ocurred at my house on rainy Saturday afternoons.
In 1971 Tom T. had a hit song named "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died." That song provided my group of would-be musicians with hours upon hours of pure pleasure. A three-chord song in the key of C, it was a number every one of us could play... and play we did!
Sometimes now, when I'm in a bit of a down mood, I'll strum the opening bars in that gentle country 4/4 rhythm and allow myself to drift back to when I was 16... "...they said he got religion at the end and I'm glad he did." The words pull the same feelings I felt back then and the world becomes okay again.
Just Tom and a guitar.
A Bit of History
Tom was born in Olive Hill, a small town in northeastern Kentucky. He took an interest in music at an early age and formed his first band when he was just a teenager. Though he was writing poems and songs from childhood, it wasn't until he had served time in the Army, taken a whirl at DJ work for a couple of radio stations in West Virginia, and had one of his songs recorded by singer Jimmy Newman that he gained recognition as a songwriter. He moved to Nashville in 1963 and wrote hits for many of the big acts of the time.
He finally got his break in 1968 when Jeannie C. Riley recorded his "Harper Valley PTA" and drove record sales past six million. Shortly afterward he started his own performing career and made musical history with songs such as "A Week In The County Jail" , "I Love", "Country Is", "Old Dogs And Children", etc. He was rewarded with a Grammy in 1973.
The song "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" is based on a true story. Tom says there was a fellow living in Olive Hill (whose real name is not Clayton Delaney) who turned him on to music and taught him a lot about guitar. When Tom was 11 or so the man died, tragically young, only in his early twenties. The events made such an impact on Tom that he was moved to write the song as a tribute, and it became the hit we all know.
Tom T. Now
Tom released his latest CD, "Tom T. Hall Sings, Miss Dixie & Tom T." in 2007 on his own label, Blue Circle Records. In 2008 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tom reached the age of 74 years 25 May 2008. He is now retired but his lifestyle doesn't much resemble what most people think of as retired. He's up in the early morning writing songs with his wife Miss Dixie, listening to the works of up and coming bluegrass artists, or working with a band in his recording studio. It can hardly be called a life of leisure but, he does what he pleases... and what he does pleases him!
Yeah, he's still Tom T. Hall. And he's still a hero to me.