Given the moniker “The Storyteller” by the legendary country singer Tex Ritter, Country Music and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall has typically told stories in songs like the Grammy-winning CMA Single of the Year “Harper Valley PTA,” which allowed Jeannie C. Riley to top both the pop and country singles charts in 1968, and Hall’s own No. 1 country hit “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine,” which Rolling Stone has ranked in its list of 100 greatest country songs. His songs are known for their richly detailed narrative structure and keen understanding of real people and their lives, and have brought to country music both thematic sophistication and social consciousness.
Hall was born May 25, 1936 in Olive Hill, Kentucky, wrote his first song at nine (with mentoring from local musician Clayton Delaney), and played bluegrass in his teens. He performed on radio in Morehead, Kentucky, wrote a jingle for a sponsor and was a DJ prior to serving in the Army in Germany, where he performed on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Back in the States, he was a DJ in Virginia when a Nashville publisher placed his “D.J. for a Day” with Jimmy C. Newman, who took it Top 10. He moved to Nashville in 1964 to pursue a songwriting career, and had his first No. 1 with Johnny Wright’s “Hello Vietnam” in 1965. In 1967 he was signed to Mercury Records.
Major hits penned by Hall include Alan Jackson’s chart-topper “Little Bitty,” and “That’s How I Got to Memphis”—which was covered by artists including Bobby Bare, Solomon Burke, Rosanne Cash, Eric Church, Bill Haley and Buddy Miller. Among his other 33 Top 20 hits (including seven No. 1s) that he recorded himself are “Ballad of Forty Dollars,” “Ravishing Ruby,” “Sneaky Snake,” “Your Man Loves You, Honey,” “A Week in a Country Jail,” “Country Is,” “I Like Beer,” “Faster Horses (the Cowboy and the Poet)” and “The Year Clayton Delaney Died.” Hall’s highest-charting hit on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 as an artist was “I Love,” which reached No. 12 in March 1974.
Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Duane Eddy, Patty Griffin, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Dave Dudley and Gram Parsons are some of the other artists who have covered Hall’s songs.
Hall landed seven top 10 albums on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, including reaching No. 1 on that chart with The Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers in June 1973.
He also excelled as a writer, winning the 1972 Grammy for Best Album Notes for his liner notes to Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits. His books include the autobiographical The Storyteller’s Nashville and the novels The Laughing Man of Woodmont Cove and The Acts of Life. For aspiring songwriters, he also wrote How I Write Songs, Why You Can.
In 2004 he received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award with beloved wife and collaborator of 50 years, Dixie, whom he had met at the BMI Country Awards in 1964. They were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2018 (Dixie was inducted posthumously after passing in 2015). Hall was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 2011, a stellar artist roster including Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, Bobby Bare and Patty Griffin released I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow, a tribute to his renowned 1974 children’s album. He was named a BMI Icon in 2012.
Respected as being a songwriter’s songwriter, of all the honors he had received in his lifetime, he considered his 2019 induction into the SHOF to be his proudest moment and the pinnacle of his achievements.
Hall is survived by his son, Dean.
He was named a BMI Icon in 2012