History, News

The Legacy of Tom T. Hall

In the world of country music, there is no other person better known for his knack of telling a story through song like Tom T. Hall.  On Friday, we lost the legendary singer-songwriter, storyteller, musician, mentor, and for many, a friend.  If there is one thing about Tom T. Hall that many know about – he LOVED Kentucky and always talked about his roots of growing up in Olive Hill, Kentucky.

Tom T. Hall was a successful songwriting as he wrote 12 songs that went to number 1 on the Billboard Country Music Chart, as well as over 25 Top 10 songs.  His biggest hits of his own included “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” “I Like Beer,” “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet),” “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine,” “A Week in a Country Jail,” “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and “I Love.” His first song to reach number one was Johnnie Wright’s recording of “Hello Vietnam” in 1965.  His very first song he wrote was “Haven’t I Been Good To You” – at the age of 9 years old.

Interestingly, Tom only had a 9th grade education.  His mom passed away when he was 13 and he was left having to care for his dad, along with working with his siblings.  He served in the Army, where he would earn his high school diploma as he performed original songs on the Armed Forces Radio Network and traveled with a band.  Later, Tom studied at Roanoke College and worked as a DJ for various radio stations.

On New Year’s Day in 1964, Tom T. Hall came to Nashville and worked on his songwriting craft.  Hard work paid off as legendary performers such as Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Waylon Jennings would go on to record his music.  One of his biggest hits was “Harper Valley P.T.A” recorded by Jeannie C. Riley, who ended up winning a Grammy for the performance.

Not only could Tom T. Hall write songs, but he was also known for writing books, as well as hosting his the television show, “Pop Goes the Country” for several years.  He was always intriguing to watch as he interviewed guests and help boost their star into fame.

Perhaps his greatest duet was being husband to Dixie Hall, who continued to encourage Tom to write songs up until her death.  She was a delight to be around and well respected by many in the music industry.  Both were on hand at the 2011 Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony full of laughter on stage and off stage.

Tom T. Hall with his wife, Dixie Hall, share a comical moment during the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame induction. Photo by Jessica Blankenship.

As part of the Pioneer Class, Tom T. Hall was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2008, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and then the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019. He received a BMI Icon Award in 2012 In 2018, he was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame alongside his wife, Iris “Dixie” Lawrence Hall.

Let’s go back to Tom T. Hall’s love for Kentucky. Just over 10 years ago, he was asked to come to Kentucky’s state capital for a special presentation.  It was a treat to listen to him sing “I Love” in the rotunda that was full of guests and media.  On hand with the Governor, Tom discussed the importance of music especially those from eastern Kentucky.  He went on to announce the US 23 Country Music Highway Road to Fame competition.  Tom was always about giving back to others that had the same passion in songwriting that he had over the years.

Country Music Highway Road to Fame being announced by Tom T. Hall, Kentucky music legend. Photo by Jessica Blankenship.
Country Music Highway Road to Fame being announced by Tom T. Hall, Kentucky music legend. Photo by Jessica Blankenship.