Tom T. Hall, Country Musics Storyteller, Is Dead at 85

Tom T. Hall is performing for his fans during the RCA Records lunch and show at the Grand Ole Opry House Oct. 13, 1977 that part of the Dee Jay Convention. One of his biggest hits is "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine."
- Dale Ernsberger / The Tennessean

A Tribute by Curtis Ross

For me, the amazing thing about Tom T. Hall isnt that he could write a song so brilliantly and brutally honest as Pay No Attention to Alice, a devastating, no-punches-pulled portrayal of alcoholism.

Its that he ALSO wrote I Love, a song so sweetly and unashamedly sentimental it ought to have its own line of greeting cards.

And that he could split the difference with Little Bitty, which is sweet and fun and also lyrically profound without calling attention to itself.

Hall, who died Friday at 85, was too good for that.

I didn't make judgments, I let the listener make judgments, he once said. When I got to the end of the story, if it had a moral, I let the listener find it.

The morals not too hard to find on what is probably Halls best-known song, Harper Valley P.T.A. Jeannie C. Riley had the hit with Halls tale of a small towns small minds.

Bobby Bare scored with Halls (Margies at) The Lincoln Park Inn, another glimpse of small-town darkness (a couple of decades before David Lynch had a mind to explore it). The countrypolitan arrangement soft-sells a story that must have made church-going philanderers squirm when it played on the radio.

Halls brilliance here isnt just the expertly told tale seemingly mundane details that build to the titles conclusion. Its also in those details themselves. If you grew up in a small, Southern town, you can probably put faces on all the songs characters. They went to your church, taught you Sunday School, coached your little league team. Hall understood what life felt like there and he captured that as well as any songwriter I know.

Little Bitty indeed. Halls songs are filled with the tiny moments that that add up to the beauty and sadness of life. And he honed those observations into lyrics that cut to the bone. Country music lost a giant.

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