This week for Song Lyric Sunday, Jim Adams has prompted us with songs written or sung by Tom/Dick/Harry or including one of these names in the lyrics. I’m going to tell you about a country songwriter named Tom T. Hall. Jim opened the floodgates on this topic for me. You are getting a small sampling of Hall’s songs. Otherwise, I’d need to publish an entire novel.
Tom T. Hall is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He could tell a story and bring it to life on stage and is known to fans as “The Storyteller”. When he would be introduced on stage, the MC would put that title in front of his name.
Tom T. Hall was born in Olive Hill, Kentucky and was given a guitar by his bricklaying minister father at the age of 8. Hall was already writing poetry and this seemed to be a perfect fit for him to turn that poetry into music. He began learning music and techniques from Clayton Delaney, a local musician. His mother died when he was 11 and his father was shot in a hunting accident just four years later preventing him from working. Hall quit school, took a job in a local garment factory and organized a band called the Kentucky Travelers who would perform before movies for a traveling theater. They played bluegrass and gigged at a radio station in Morehead, Kentucky. Hall wrote a jingle for the radio sponsor, Polar Bear Flour Company. Hall became a DJ at the radio station when the Kentucky Travelers broke up.
Hall enlisted in the Army in 1957 where he was stationed in Germany. He performed at local NCO clubs on the Armed Forces Radio Network. He sang mostly his own original material that had a comic relief to it. Hall was discharged in 1961.
Once back to the states, Hall enrolled in Roanoke College as a journalism student while he DJ’d at a Salem, Virginia radio station. His songs were heard by a Nashville songwriter who was visiting the radio station one day and the songwriter sent the songs to a publisher named Jimmy Key who ran New Key Publishing. Key signed Hall as a songwriter getting those songs in front of a variety of recording artists. The first Tom T Hall hit was “DJ for a Day” sang by Jimmy Newman and got to #1 on the country charts in 1963. In early 1964, “Mad” sang by Dave Dudley got into the top ten. Hall moved to Nashville to continue his career as a songwriter.
A song that most of you will recognize that was written by Hall and sang by Texas native Jeannie C. Riley is “Harper Valley PTA” which was an international pop crossover hit in 1968. The song was originally recorded by Margie Singleton, but it was Riley’s record that sold over six million copies as a single. “Harper Valley PTA” was Riley’s debut hit and only chart topper, making her the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the US Hot Country Singles charts with the same song. She held that title until 1981 when Dolly Parton recorded “9 to 5”. “Harper Valley PTA” won both a Grammy and CMA Award. It inspired a movie and television program of the same name. I’ve always loved the song for what is stands for. Telling the bigots to shove it up their ass in such a nice way.
Harper Valley PTA I wanna tell you all the story 'bout A Harper Valley widowed wife Who had a teenage daughter Who attended Harper Valley Junior High Well, her daughter came home one afternoon And didn't even stop to play And she said, "mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA" Well, the note said, "Mrs. Johnson You're wearin' your dresses way too high It's reported you've been drinking And a-running round with men and goin' wild And we don't believe you oughta be a-bringin' up Your little girl this way" And it was signed by the Secretary Harper Valley PTA Well, it happened that the PTA was gonna meet That very afternoon And they were sure surprised When Mrs. Johnson wore her miniskirt into the room And as she walked up to the blackboard I can still recall the words she had to say She said, "I'd like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley PTA Well, there's Bobby Taylor sittin' there And seven times he's asked me for a date And Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lotta ice Whenever he's away And Mr. Baker can you tell us why Your secretary had to leave this town? And shouldn't widow Jones be told to keep Her window shades all pulled completely down Well, Mr. Harper couldn't be here 'Cause he stayed too long at Kelly's Bar again And if you smell Shirley Thompson's breath You'll find she's had a little nip of gin And then you have the nerve to tell me You think that as a mother I'm not fit Well, this is just a little Peyton Place And you're all Harper Valley hypocrites" No, I wouldn't put you on because it really did It happened just this way The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Tom T. Hall Harper Valley PTA lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
Over the years, Hall continued to write hit after hit. Hall has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1971. He was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Country Music Hall of Fame on February 12, 2008. In November, 2018, Hall and his late wife Dixie Hall were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. This came 3 years after her death. On June 13, 2019, Hall was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Three of my other favorite tunes that Hall wrote and performed are “I Care”, “Sneaky Snake” and “Old Dogs and Children”. Brings back fond memories of my childhood so I wanted to share that bit of my history with you today.
“Old Dogs and Children” was recorded in 1972 and was the last single from the album “The Storyteller”. It was Hall’s third #1 on the US country singles chart and earned him his second nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Country Song. It spent 1 week at the top and 13 weeks on the chart. On June 1, 2014, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it as #93 on their list of the 100 greatest country songs.
“I Care” was released in December 1974 and was the only single (Side A) released from the album “Songs of Fox Hollow”. The backside (Side B) of this 45 was Sneaky Snake. “I Care” hit #1 on the country charts in 1975 and was Hall’s sixth #1. “Sneaky Snake” charted as a tag-along flip side. “Sneaky Snake” is a fun novelty song about a snake who sneaks up on people and steals their root beer. It is a child’s imagination.
I Care When the TV won't work and your toys fall apart And you have a sad feeling deep in your heart You want to go out but it's rainin' out there I want you to know I care I care I do there's no one like you When they take you some place and you sit in a chair I want you to know I care When you tell a big lie and your parents're mean When being grownup is a faraway dream When you're fillin' your teeth and cuttin' your hair I want you to know I care I care I do there's no one like you I mention your name when I'm sayin' my prayers I want you to know I care When you have a bad cough and you can't go out When you sit for a week with that thing in your mouth When you sleep in the dark and there's something out there I want you to know I care I care I do there's no one like you and sometimes I act like a grouchy old bear I want you to know I care I love you too much Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Tom T. Hall I Care lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
Sneaky Snake Boys and girls take warning If you go near the lake Keep your eyes wide open And look for sneaky snake Now, maybe you won't see him And maybe you won't hear But he'll sneak up behind you And drink all your root beer And then sneak snake goes dancing Wiggling and a-hissing Sneaky snake goes dancing A-giggling and a-kissing I don't like old sneaky snake He laughs too much you see When he goes wiggling through the grass It tickles his underneath Well sneaky snake drinks root beer And he just makes me sick When he is not dancing He looks just like stick Now he doesn't have any arms or legs You cannot see his ears And while we are not looking He's stealing all of our beer And then sneak snake goes dancing Wiggling and a-hissing Sneaky snake goes dancing A-giggling and a-kissing I don't like old sneaky snake He laughs too much you see When he goes wiggling through the grass It tickles his underneath Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Tom Hall Sneaky Snake lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Old Dogs and Children "How old do you think I am?" he said. I said, well, I didn't know. He said, "I turned 65 about 11 months ago." I was sittin' in miami pourin' blended whiskey down When this old gray black gentleman was cleanin' up the lounge There wasn't anyone around 'cept this old man and me The guy who ran the bar was watchin' "ironsides" on tv Uninvited, he sat down and opened up his mind On old dogs and children and watermelon wine "Ever had a drink of watermelon wine?" he asked He told me all about it, though I didn't answer back "Ain't but three things in this world that's worth a solitary dime, But old dogs and children and watermelon wine." He said, "women think about they-selves, when menfolk ain't around. And friends are hard to find when they discover that you're down." He said, "I tried it all when I was young and in my natural prime; Now it's old dogs and children and watermelon wine." "Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes; God bless little children while they're still too young to hate." When he moved away I found my pen and copied down that line 'Bout old dogs and children and watermelon wine. I had to catch a plane up to atlanta that next day As I left for my room I saw him pickin' up my change That night I dreamed in peaceful sleep of shady summertime Of old dogs and children and watermelon wine. Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Tom T. Hall (Old Dogs Children and) Watermelon Wine lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
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