Saturday, August 21, 2021

Tom T. Hall: 1936-2021

I found out the news that Tom T. Hall passed away when I arrived from home in the latter half of yesterday. It was by pure luck that I decided to check the internet Friday evening after spending most of yesterday watching national news. I went to the social media sites I frequent and learned that Tom T. Hall had passed away at age 85. It's eerie because I had recently watched a vintage clip on YouTube of Tom T. from the late '60s on an episode of The Del Reeves Show. I've always liked the songs of Tom T. Hall and I've known of his music for more than 30 years. I first heard of him through television. On the weekends there used to be a lot of country music television shows that aired on a local channel...and I'd see him in television commercials for Tyson products. I also think I saw him doing a commercial for Purina as well...but I'm for certain I've seen commercials he did for Tyson in the early 1980s. If you are familiar with his songs then you're very, very familiar with his speaking voice. Ralph Emery once described the vocal performances of Tom T. Hall as being the closest thing to sung narration. Tom T. had a style all his was like rhythmic narration. No, I'm not saying it was primitive rap music, but it was definitely a narration set to music. As I struggle to find a proper description let's simply say, as I previously stated, he had a style all his own. His songs were not filled with a lot of instrumentation and almost all of the songs he wrote were based on something that had happened in his life. He once had an album out called I Witness Life. His songs had such descriptive storylines that he was nicknamed The Storyteller...and it's a nickname that remained with him throughout his career and into retirement. If you are of a certain age, or, like myself, you love hearing classic country music...well, once you hear the nickname The Storyteller you know it's a reference to Tom T. Hall. He was born in Olive Hill, Kentucky on May 25, 1936.

Some of Tom T.'s classic songs run the gamut from heartbreak, aspiration, inspiration, social comment, good fortune, misfortune, and the simplicity of living simply without a lot of trappings and grandeur. "I Love" is the song that had the biggest commercial impact in pop music for Tom T., the singer, as it crossed over from country to pop in late 1973 / early 1974. "I Love", statistically, was his biggest hit as it reached number 1 on the country music chart here in the U.S., for 2 weeks, and it the top in Canada on their country music chart while it peaked just outside the Top-10 on the pop music charts here in the U.S. and in Canada. 

Tom T. Hall was, of course, equally known as a songwriter. While "I Love", written by Tom T., spent several weeks at number 1 country and was a Top-20 pop hit, therefore becoming his biggest hit as a singer, his biggest overall hit came with a song he'd written but was a hit for Jeannie C. Riley. That hit, "Harper Valley, P.T.A.", was massive. It hit the country and pop music charts here in the U.S. in 1968 and it was a smash hit nearly all over the globe. Sales reportedly reached 6,000,000. Tom T. had been a pretty successful songwriter throughout the early and mid 1960s. Mercury Records, in 1967, issued "I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew". The song became a Top-40 country hit...his first chart appearance as a singer. It was followed up by two more chart hits in the first half of 1968 and then, perhaps in the aftermath of Jeannie C. Riley's massive success with "Harper Valley, P.T.A.", Tom T.'s name was elevated to a more higher profile and when Mercury Records issued their fourth single on Tom T. late in October of 1968, "Ballad of Forty Dollars", it became a Top-10 hit early in 1969. 

Tom T.'s albums were produced by Jerry Kennedy throughout the latter half of the '60s and into most of the '70s. Tom T. would eventually move to RCA Records...releasing an album referencing the change in record labels: 1978's New Train Same Rider. He released several albums and singles for RCA during a three year period, until 1980, when television took up a lot of his time. Ralph Emery had retired from hosting the syndicated country music show, Pop! Goes the Country following the 1979-1980 season. Tom T. became the program's new host...unlikely selection some may have thought...but he remained the host of the series for two seasons, 1980-1981 and 1981-1982. Did you know Tom T. Hall recorded a duet album with Earl Scruggs? Oh yes he did! Columbia Records released the album, The Storyteller and the Banjo Man, in 1982. 

Tom T. returned to Mercury Records and released his first solo album in three years in 1983: Everything From Jesus to Jack Daniels. The album reunited him with record producer, Jerry Kennedy. 

In the photo off to the left it's me and the box set that Mercury Records released in 1995 on Tom T. Hall called Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher. When I began purchasing my own music in the mid and late 1990s Tom T. Hall was more or less out of print and there was hardly anything available at retail stores. This 1995 box set is something I came across at a larger music store in a shopping mall several dozen miles away. I bought the box set, as you can see, and I immediately discovered a whole lot of Tom T. Hall recordings that I'd never heard before. The booklet gave me a lot of information about him beyond what I'd already knew. In the beginning of this memorial blog entry I mentioned that Tom T. had written and sang so many songs...and nearly all of them are based in real life experiences he'd had. You can hear the reality hit home on so many of his songs. One of the many wonderful songs from Tom T. is "The Ballad of Bill Crump". The song is simply about a man who was a great craftsman and Tom T. had this ability to make you, the listener, care for the people he was telling you about in his songs. If you're a Tom T. fan then you'll all recall the name, Clayton Delaney. Tom T. told us about "The Year Clayton Delaney Died". Although none of us I suspect have ever seen or met Clayton Delaney...or have met the person that the song is actually based on...Tom T., through his songwriting talents, has us mourning the loss when we listen. The songs he wrote and directed toward children such as "I Care", "Sneaky Snake", "One Hundred Children", and "The Mysterious Fox of Fox Hollow" just to name three, are intelligent and they lack a lot of the other ingredients that populate songs that were 'written for kids'. In other words Tom T. didn't talk down to kids or give lengthy, moral lectures. "One Hundred Children" could be seen as social commentary but I always took it as being aspirational. Speaking of social commentary...Tom T. could infuse contemporary happenings into his songs if he wanted to. There are several that leap to mind: "Watergate Blues", "The Monkey That Became President", and a song that Dave Dudley had a big hit with, "What We're Fighting For". Tom T. had previously written another social commentary recording, "Hello Vietnam". That song spent three weeks at number one for Johnny Wright in 1965. 

A lot of Tom T.'s early songwriting hits came from recordings released by Dave Dudley...and the two of them eventually released a duet together, "Day Drinking", which Tom T. wrote. Some of the songs Tom T. wrote that became hits for Dave Dudley: "Mad", "Listen Betty I'm Singing Your Song", "George and the North Woods", "This Night Ain't Fit for Nothin' But Drinkin'", and "The Pool Shark". Bobby Bare had hits with Tom T. songs "Margie's At the Lincoln Park Inn" and "That's How I Got to Memphis". Jimmy C. Newman had a hit with "D.J. for a Day". A song Tom T. wrote in 1967 would become a hit for George Jones in 1980, "I'm Not Ready Yet". In addition to all of the songs that Tom T. wrote for himself as well as for other recording artists he was also an author of books. A couple of his books were The Storyteller's Nashville and later, The Laughing Man of Woodmont Coves and What a Book!

He was elected to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. When he was elected he was part of the larger group of country music artists that were going into the Hall of Fame that year. The Class of 2008 included not only Tom T. Hall but Emmylou Harris, Pop Stoneman, and The Statler Brothers. One of the ironies is the B-side of The Statler Brothers hit, "Flowers on the Wall", was a song written by Tom T. called "Billy Christian". 

Tom T. was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978. He was given the Icon Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2012. He and his wife, Dixie, were elected to The International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2019 Tom T. was elected to the National Songwriters Hall of Fame.

What a lot of people might not know about Tom T. is he had a love for Bluegrass music. He actually started out playing Bluegrass, locally, but didn't professionally record Bluegrass until many years into his recording career. He put out an album in 1976 titled The Magnificent Music album chock full of Bluegrass flavored songs. "Fox on the Run" leads off that album. The title track was written by his brother, Hillman Hall. The album features a duet with Bill Monroe on "Molly and Tenbrooks". In 1982, as previously mentioned, he released a duet album with Bluegrass legend, Earl Scruggs titled The Storyteller and the Banjo Man. In 1997 Tom T. issued the Bluegrass flavored, Home Grown...and from that album came his single, "Bill Monroe For Breakfast". It was his final studio album for Mercury Records. A decade later, in 2007, he released Tom T. Hall Sings Miss Dixie and Tom T. This became Tom T.'s final studio album of his career...but he remained moderately active within the Bluegrass community as a writer. He passed away at the age of 85 on August 20, 2021.

Tom T. Hall had a fascinating career...and he had a fascinating life...and all of us got to hear a glimpse of the things he experienced as he witnessed life. 

Tom T Hall: 1936 - 2021

Saturday, July 17, 2021

My Review of "Song of the South"...

I was expecting to get this Song of the South DVD next week sometime...based on the Amazon shipping data the window of delivery was to be somewhere between July 20th and July 21st...but I got it today (July 17th)...well ahead of schedule. I've seen this movie, in bits and pieces, and screen caps on animation history documentaries for several decades. I'm writing this as the DVD is playing on a TV nearby...Uncle Remus has just began singing "Zip-a-Dee Do-Dah" and the animation has become part of the movie. There's still a lot of movie left to go but as of now the DVD is NOT skipping or freezing as a dozen or so customers have mentioned. Perhaps on a repeated play the disc may have a glitch but for now it's playing without a problem. In the beginning of the movie it's made clear, without a whole lot of dialogue, that the kid, Johnny, has apparently never been in the South...he gets wide eyed looking at all of the African-Americans walking around on his grandmother's plantation...suggesting that he'd never seen people of a different color before. Later, as Uncle Remus is telling a story, Johnny peaks out from behind a tree. This is interrupted shortly after by a couple of servants from the mansion seeking Johnny's whereabouts. The film originated in November 1946...having it's premiere in Atlanta, Georgia on November 12, 1946 and the rest of the country on November 20, 1946. 

The film takes place during the Reconstruction era, after slavery was abolished, although some of the people who call themselves historians have, for decades, mistakenly tied the movie to the American Civil War.    

There's a comical scene where Johnny and Toby, the son of one of the kids from the plantation, play with a frog and later, the next day, go frog hunting. Toby removes his hat and reveals there's a frog sitting inside it. Johnny later meets a girl named Ginny. Whenever Johnny gets into any sort of dilemma or is feeling depressed he runs to Uncle Remus and is told more stories about Brer Rabbit's misadventures which, in the end, serve as inspiration for Johnny to deal with whatever is going on in his life. 

One of the funniest animated segments is when Brer Rabbit gets into a fist fight with a phony person made of tar, a trick conceived by Brer Fox. In these animated segments the Brer Bear is portrayed as a dopey sidekick of the Fox. Elsewhere in the storyline we're introduced to Ginny's brothers, Joe and Jake, two of the most bratty boys you'll ever see, who infrequently show up to either get Johnny in trouble or taunt him into arguments and fights.

The uptight mother and grandmother eventually come between Johnny and Uncle Remus' friendship. Johnny, in their view, had been following Uncle Remus around and listening to his stories so much Johnny forgot to attend his own birthday party. There's some heavier drama later when Johnny gets injured taking a shortcut through a pasture and meets up with a bull. I've tried not to include too many spoilers or stuff like that since I know this is a movie that's rare and is one that's highly subjective.

The movie, overall, is absolutely wholesome and the animated segments are cute...the reputation that it's received for decades, in my opinion, is a deliberate assault on the movie itself...sort of like manufactured controversy. The main criticism, as far as I can tell, stems from the way in which the southern African-American characters speak...and based on that flimsy criticism the movie's been forever labeled "controversial, racist..." when the storyline nor the characters have no racist overtones at all. The animated segments are spectacular. The movie, as of this writing, is nearly over. Yes, I've spent close to 2 hours composing this review...adding in things and editing things...and I'm at the scene where Uncle Remus, who'd left at the instruction of Sally, has returned following Johnny's injury and he tells another story. The ending features Johnny and Ginny singing "Zip-a-Dee Do Dah", joined by Uncle Remus and the animated characters, skipping off into the sunset. 

Uncle Remus (James Baskett) is the co-star of the film along side Johnny (Bobby Driscoll). Hattie McDaniel is a supporting player as Aunt Tempe. Ruth Warrick co-stars as Miss Sally, Johnny's mother. Luana Patten co-stars as Ginny. James Baskett is also the voice of Brer Fox. Nick Stewart voices Brer Bear. Johnny Lee is the voice of Brer Rabbit. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rush Limbaugh: 1951-2021

This is the Rush Limbaugh, in the photo off to the left, that I became familiar with as a teenager in the early 1990s. I was aware of who he happened to be when a local television station did a story on talk radio. The report stated that talk radio was something of a phenomenon on AM radio and it was pulling in millions of listeners, millions of callers, and millions of dollars. The concept of talk radio wasn't actually brand new but in the report it was said that Rush Limbaugh was the driving force behind it. Until this point in time I hadn't heard of Rush Limbaugh or talk-radio. Whenever I listened to the radio it was usually for music...sometimes I'd listen to a comedian on an AM radio station in Cincinnati, Gary Burbank, but that was about it. I became aware of Rush and discovered that a local radio station in the area carried his show. However, I could never listen to it because I was in school during the time of day it was on and this quite a few years before the internet came along and the advent of podcasts so you either had to live in a town where a radio station was broadcasting his nationally syndicated show live (12pm to 3pm, Eastern) or live in a town where his show was on tape delay and would air at some point in the late afternoon or early evening. The radio station where I found Rush aired the show from 3pm to 6pm, Eastern. I caught Rush in the months leading up to the 1992 Presidential election. He branched out into television in 1992 and the local television stations in my area programmed his show in the late-night hours. In one of his monologues and it became something of a running gag for awhile but whenever he said the name, Bill Clinton, the band would play "Hail to the Chief". 

I don't know how long the syndicated television show ran in my area...being a high school student I couldn't stay up late at night unless it was a Friday or Saturday. The official years of production are 1992-1996 but given it was a syndicated television show it didn't mean the local affiliates in my area aired it for it's entire run. I don't remember it airing for 4 years here...but I do remember watching it. He wrote several books...the one out at the time of his television show's debut was The Way Things Ought To Be. The popularity of his radio show and of conservative politics, in general, spawned a lot of other conservative radio talk shows and his presence on television inspired a sitcom that Henry Winkler starred, Monty. It was also during this time frame when there was an updated version of WKRP in Cincinnati. In one of the episodes they dealt with what the episode described as a 'shock jock' named Lash Rambo. It was an over-the-top spoof of Rush based on how he's perceived by his critics...and oh yes, Rush had his share of critics. 

Some of those critics are celebrating and applauding that Rush passed away. In their minds they've always seen Rush as a modern equivalent of Hitler or the personification of the Devil. The fact that he popularized conservative talk-radio and that he was described as being the leader of the conservative talk-radio industry, and, the fact that it was a multi-million dollar success meant that the critics were very loud, very vocal, and unapologetically harsh and heartless in their criticism of talk-radio, in general, but more specific: Rush's success. He became the target of the left's wrath simply because he was the most popular conservative on a national platform and never mind the fact that leftists and liberals controlled network television news and the newspaper industry, the fact that conservatives had firm control on talk-radio sent shock and alarm throughout the left-wing and liberal factions of the Democrat party. Ever since Rush's radio program and those that followed became incredibly popular and profitable on AM radio the Democrats have been on a crusade to crush all conservative opinion. For some reason the Democrats think the popularity of conservatism on talk-radio is harmful and dangerous...yet Democrats have controlled the flow of information on broadcast newscasts and in newspapers for decades...but nobody within the Republican party is launching boycotts or attack ads demanding that the Democrats loosen their grip on broadcast newscasts. It's never a two-way street with Democrats...they want to control everything and everyone. 

Rush popularized conservative talk-radio and he made it successful. He was the recipient of several Marconi Awards for Radio Personality of the Year. Anyone recall the commercial he did for Pizza Hut when the stuffed crust was brand new? His radio show remained the most listened to from the early '90s to the present day. 

There hasn't been any announcement as to who takes over that 12pm - 3pm time slot for those out there who may be wondering. Some suggest that the radio show Sean Hannity hosts nationally from 3pm - 6pm should be moved into the 12pm - 3pm slot and that Mark Levin's show, which airs nationally in most markets from 6pm to 9pm, should inherit the 3pm-6pm slot that Hannity currently occupies. I've loved the outpouring of sympathy and remembrances of Rush's life and career that have aired throughout the broadcast day on Fox News Channel. I was listening to Hannity's radio program earlier today and he played audio clips of Rush and the announcement made by Rush's wife, on radio, that Rush had passed away at age 70 of lung cancer.