Tom T. Hall, Writer of Numerous Nashville Hits, Dies at 85Breaking News
tags: Nashville, popular culture, country music
Tom T. Hall, the singer-songwriter who composed "Harper Valley P.T.A." and sang about life's simple joys as country music's consummate blue-collar bard, has died. He was 85.
His son, Dean Hall, confirmed the musician's death on Friday at his home in Franklin, Tenn. Known as "The Storyteller" for his unadorned yet incisive lyrics, Hall composed hundreds of songs.
Along with such contemporaries as Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford and Mickey Newbury, Hall helped usher in a literary era of country music in the early '70s, with songs that were political, like "Watergate Blues" and "The Monkey That Became President," deeply personal like "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," and philosophical like "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine."
"In all my writing, I've never made judgments," he said in 1986. "I think that's my secret. I'm a witness. I just watch everything and don't decide if it's good or bad."
Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell performed Hall's song "Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken)" when Hall was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.
"The simplest words that told the most complicated stories. Felt like Tom T. just caught the songs as they floated by, but I know he carved them out of rock," Isbell tweeted on Friday.
Hall, the fourth son of an ordained minister, was born near Olive Hill, Ky., in a log cabin built by his grandfather. He started playing guitar at age 4 and wrote his first song by the time he was 9.
Hall began playing in a bluegrass band, but when that didn't work out he started working as a disc jockey in Morehead, Ky. He joined the U.S. Army in 1957 for four years including an assignment in Germany. He turned to writing when he got back stateside and was discovered by Nashville publisher Jimmy Key.
Hall settled in Nashville in 1964 and first established himself as a songwriter making $50 a week. He wrote songs for Jimmy C. Newman, Dave Dudley and Johnny Wright, but he had so many songs that he began recording them himself. The middle initial "T" was added when he got his recording contract to make the name catchier.
His breakthrough was writing "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a 1968 international hit about small-town hypocrisy recorded by Jeannie C. Riley. The song about a mother telling a group of busybodies to mind their own business was witty and feisty and became a No. 1 country and pop hit. It sold millions of copies and Riley won a Grammy for best female country vocal performance and an award for single of the year from the Country Music Association. The story was so popular it even spawned a movie of the same name and a television series.
"Suddenly, it was the talk of the country," Hall told The Associated Press in 1986. "It became a catch phrase. You'd flip the radio dial and hear it four or five times in 10 minutes. It was the most awesome time of my life; I caused all this stir."