TOM T. HALL
Born Thomas Hall, 25 May 1936, Olive Hill, Kentucky
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tom T. Hall, along with a handful of other songwriters, such as Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Billy Joe Shaver, succeeded in imbuing country music with a new level of lyric and thematic sophistication and social consciousness without violating the music's inherent rusticity and simplicity of form. Hall is known as a storyteller, a songwriter with a keen eye for detail and a knack for narrative. Many musicians have covered his songs - most notably Jeannie C. Riley's 1968 hit "Harper Valley P.T.A." - and he also has racked up a number of solo hits, including seven number one singles between 1969 and 1976. Hall was born into near poverty in rural Kentucky. He worked as a DJ, headed a bluegrass band (The Kentucky Travelers), served in the army in Germany (1957-1961), and briefly attended college on the GI Bill before breaking in as a songwriter in the sixties. One day a Nashville songwriter was visiting the Salem radio station where Hall was working as a deejay and he heard Hall's songs. Impressed, the songwriter sent the songs to a publisher named Jimmy Key, who ran New Key Publishing. Key signed Hall as a songwriter, bringing the songs to a variety of recording artists. The first singer to have a hit with one of Tom's songs was Jimmy Newman, who brought "DJ for a Day" to # 9 on the country charts in 1963. In early 1964, Dave Dudley took "Mad" to # 6. The back-to-back success convinced Hall to move to Nashville, where he was going to continue his career as a professional songwriter.
After Johnny Wright had a number one hit with Hall's "Hello Vietnam," the music industry was pressuring Tom to become a performer. He decided to take the plunge in 1967, signing a contract with Mercury Records. His first single, "I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew," was released in the summer of 1967 and became a minor hit (# 30). Hall followed the single with two other singles in 1968 that failed to crack the Top 40. Then, in the late summer of 1968, Jeannie C. Riley had a major hit with Tom's "Harper Valley P.T.A.," which topped both the country and the pop charts and was voted the Single of the Year by the Country Music Association. Its success brought attention to Hall's own recording career, which was evident from the performance of "Ballad of Forty Dollars." The song became his first Top Ten hit, climbing to # 4 in early 1969. Throughout 1969, he had a string of hit singles, culminated by the release of the # 1 single "A Week In A Country Jail" at the end of the year. The following year was just as successful, as "Shoeshine Man" and "Salute to a Switchblade" both hit the Top Ten. In 1971, he had his second # 1 single and his biggest hit, "The Year That Clayton Delaney
Although he continued to have the occasional Top Ten hit in the late '70s, Hall didn't deliver hit singles as consistently as he did the first half of the decade. That pattern continued in the early '80s, when he began having trouble cracking the Top 40; only 1984''s "P.S. I Love You," a cover of a 1934 Rudy Vallee hit, made it into the Top Ten. After 1986, Hall retired from recording, although artists continued to record his songs. In 1996, he delivered Songs from Sopchoppy, his first album in ten years. In that same year he hit as a songwriter with "Little Bitty", which scored a # 1 spot for Alan Jackson.
Official website: http://www.mercurynashville.com/tomthall/ Discography: http://www.tthproject.com/tthall/discography.html CD recommendation: The Ultimate Collection (Hip-O, 2001). 24 tracks.
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