John Milton wrote, “When I consider how my light is spent.” Shakespeare penned, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Charles Dickens began one book, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And Tom T. Hall gave us, “I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died, Nobody ever knew it but I went out into the woods and I cried… “
Tom T.’s earnest love and admiration for his music mentor is stated so simply and so brilliantly. Goodness gracious alive, Mr. Hall made a career out of touching our senses with simple, and yet, compelling storylines…
A lot of writers, including me, would have waxed on and on, explaining the relationship in vivid detail, interviewing neighbors and recalling specific conversations. Maybe adding background on Clayton’s grandparents and looking up the name of the city hardware where Clayton might have bought his first guitar.
Sometimes the story can become too complete, too thorough… leaving out room for thought-provoking self-imagery, imagination, personal connection and that much needed uncomplicated, straight-from-the-heart, introspective look into one’s own soul.
Tom T., like all the great ones, didn’t clutter his stuff.
“He was the best guitar picker in our town, I thought he was a hero and I used to follow Clayton around.” Tom T. paid homage in the most judicious and sincere way he knew how. He got off by himself and wept.
We’ve all lost a friend. It’s no wonder that we grasp a line with such a telling message from the inside out!
Thomas Hall grew up the son of a Methodist minister in Olive Hill, Kentucky. Quite possibly those long sermons each Sunday turned him toward the openness, honesty, and simplicity that marked his future writings. I’m sure it influenced his brevity!
And I’m telling you, a liberal dose of God’s blessings in the literary department didn’t hurt him either.
He wrote a song in 1971 about the time he almost starved to death in Roanoke, Virginia. He entitled it, “Ode To A Half Of Pound Of Ground Round.” I get stark raving hungry every time I hear it. And, of course, ask myself 10 times a day why can’t I write like that…
In the “Ballad Of Forty Dollars” they “hired me and Fred and Joe to dig the grave and carry up some chairs.” Turns out he had more than a passing interest in the funeral as we find out in the end, “I hope he rests in peace, The trouble is the fellow owes me forty bucks.”
When “The little lady preacher from the limestone church” ran off with “a guitar picker by the name of Luther Short, A hairy-legged soul lost out in sin,” Tom T. was most charitable, “Lord if I judge’ em let me give’ em lots o’ room.”
’Course, that didn’t keep Tom T. from asking a mind bafflingly question that still reverberates in my head today, “I’ve often sat and wondered who it was converted whom.”
“I love little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, Slowing moving trains and rain… I love winners when they cry, losers when they try… ” Good sounding words just tumbled in impeccable order from his lips.
He could be funny, wry, dead serious and downright whimsical at times. But never as simple as some of his songs might suggest. Look a little under the surface. He was always mostly way past skin deep.
He was a poet of the first order. And the proof is in the depth of songs like, “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine,” “You Show Me Your Heart (and I’ll show you mine),” “I’m Not Ready Yet,” and “The Old Side Of Town.”
He has entertained us, enlightened us, rattled our memory banks and made us stop and ponder. Brother, that’s getting into your kitchen!
“The Homecoming” takes me back to 1162 N. Stonewall Street before Tom T. hits the second chord. And I think I dated a girl once just like “Ravishing Ruby.”
I will tell you something about him that you may not know. When he shook hands with you, he’d lean in to hear what you were saying. He looked right at you with that East Kentucky sideways grin. And seemed genuinely interested in whatever the chat was about. I’m not so sure all literary giants shared that wonderful down-home quality.
Tom T. Hall passed away August 20. He was 85 years old. He has joined Clayton Delaney’s All-Star Heavenly Five Piece Band.
There is nothing I like better than a good story brought to life by a bona fide storyteller. And he was the master. I wrote this small tribute to him just as soon as I heard the news.
Then I went out into the woods and I cried.