Dixie and Tom T. Hall – photo by Terry Herd
Bluegrass and country music legend Tom T. Hall passed away at his home in Franklin, TN on Friday, August 20th. He was born in Olive Hill, Kentucky in 1936.
Known as “The Storyteller” for his ability to turn real life stories into song, he leaves a legacy of songs that are happy, sad, funny, moving, thought-provoking, and always full of humanity. Among his best-known were Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine, The Year That Clayton Delaney Died, A Week in a Country Jail, and I Love, all #1 songs on the Billboard country chart. His first #1 song as a songwriter was Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. in 1968. By then Tom T. was already recording hit songs of his own, his first being 1967’s I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew.
Along the way, Tom T. was a DJ, actor, farmer, and philosopher, as well as a successful writer of prose, having published several books, fiction and non-fiction.
He had a life-long connection to bluegrass music going back to his teen years playing bass with the eastern Kentucky band The Kentucky Travelers in the mid-1950s. The band played on the radio in Morehead, Kentucky, where Tom T. also worked as a DJ. In 1976, Tom T. recorded a bluegrass album for Mercury called The Magnificent Music Machine, which featured a mixture of originals and bluegrass covers, and included legendary bluegrass pickers as guests, including Kenny Baker, J.D. Crowe, and Bill Monroe himself. The album became known for Tom T.’s version of Fox On the Run, the Manfred Mann song previously recorded by Emerson and Waldron and the Country Gentlemen, which he took to #1 on the Billboard charts.
In the 1960s, he had numerous songs of his recorded by Jimmy Martin and Flatt & Scruggs, including Lester and Earl’s entire Bonnie and Clyde album.
In the early 1980s, he and Earl Scruggs recorded an album together called The Storyteller and the Banjo Man, which included the single release, There Ain’t No Country Music on This Jukebox.
After he retired from the road, and his wife Miss Dixie let go of her well-known animal rescue charity called “Animaland,” the two decided to team up and write songs together. The focus of their songs was bluegrass music, and over a period of more than 15 years, they wrote songs recorded by a wide range of bluegrass artists that included Don Rigsby, James King, and Alecia Nugent.
Many of these songs were recorded in their own studio in Franklin, TN, which they built originally because Tom T.—always the renaissance man—had completed a course in audio engineering and wanted to put that knowledge to use. He engineered the first recordings in the studio himself. The use of their studio was a gift to bluegrass artists and the music; they never charged a single artist for the studio time, a testament to the Hall’s generosity and their love for the music.
Tom T. is a member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Tom T. Hall with The Kentucky Travelers