The legendary singer/songwriter and true Kentuckian Tom T. Hall turned 80 recently. Happy birthday to him, and many thanks. Tom T. was and is a true one of a kind whose storytelling continues to impact generation after generation including mine. One of my dad’s prized possessions is a Tom T. record entitled “The Magnificent Music Machine.” It is a bluegrass tribute album with renditions of “Fox on the Run” and “Ill Never Do Better Than You” among others.
But as much as Bluegrass is in Tom T.’s veins, it is not what made him famous. That instead was his own songs, written from the pages of his own life. Those lines led to Tom T. being known appropriately as The Storyteller. From “Homecoming” to “The Little Lady Preacher” to “I Love” and the hundreds more, Tom T.’s songs standout in their rhythm and their structure and their take on the complexities of every day life. In every tune is a nugget of wisdom and truth.
This is why I cringe at modern music. Compared to what Tom T. produced, modern music is so shallow and surface level even when it tries to be deep and thoughtful. I find it sad and inappropriate that Carrie Underwood would do a tour called Storyteller when the truth is there are only a handful of those and she ain’t it. Only a handful from a number of genres can truly be called story tellers. We lost one recently in Guy Clark. We could all likely think of a few more. But to me the king of them is Tom T.
One of my favorites of Tom T.’s is a song called “It Sure Can Get Cold in Des Moines.” In it, a lonely young woman is crying in a crowded place yet people pay her little heed. Instead of making some contrived plot line Hall notes so poignantly, “life is just like that some times.” Yes it is.
I could put so many memorable lines in this post. Tom T. wrote about his life and my life and your life. He told stories of poverty and wealth and love and sadness and grief and loneliness and all things simplistically complex. His songs needed no catchy chorus and often were set up like poems with a six string guitar in the background. In fact, Hall was so good that at least one major university once offered a course in Tom T. Hall. That should say it all really.
He is The Storyteller. He just turned 80, and although he made most of his noise in the 60s and 70s his impact still powers on today. Happy birthday Tom, and thanks again.